Boys' Clothing Styles

Boys have been dressed in enumerable different styles over the past 500 years. For most of that period boys simply wore smaller versions of their parents clothes. Little boys and girls were generally dressed alike in nearly

Figure 1.--Velvet Fautleroy suits for boys were popular for many years. After the turn of the century short pants replaced kneepants and white knee socks or white long stockings became more common.
identical dresses to their mothers until the boys were "breeched", usually at 4 to 6 years of age--although some boys were breeched earlier and some later. After being breeched, boys during most of this period were dressed in minature editions of their parents' clothes.

Historical Development

New juvenile fashions specifically designed for children began to appear after the mid-18th Century, but were not widely worn until the end of that Century. The idea was initially to provide children clothing especially suited for their needs, although ideas as to what was suited for children varied. By the late 19th Century, however, the children's clothing were more desihned to meet their parents' social needs, demonstrating the family's position and status. The Fauntlerou suit was clearly a child's fashion, but it hardly was appropriate for the child's needs.

Early styles

Some of the first specialized children's clothes were sailor and skeleton suits. During the early period of childrens clothes, the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, it was the boy who might wear long pants or pantaloons and the father knee breeches. The modern short kilt was introduced as a boys' outfit in the mid-19th Century. A wide variety of styles followed which gradually began to meet the real needs of a growing, energetic boy.


Decissions on a young boy's clothes were generally made by the mother with her son having little say in he matter. Boys simply wore what their mothers purchased for them with little question. This gradually began to change. The increasing extent of public education introduced boys to a widder crossection of their piers and increased their desire to be dresses like the other fellows. The rise of the mass media at the mid-20th Century, especially television, greatly expanded the mass marketing of clothes aimed at children. It was hard to sell clothes over the radio, but television was the perfect medium. Mass marketing made the mother's fashion tastes increasingly irrelevant. Changing attitudes toward child raising also affected decisions on clothes. Increasing the child, even a young child, is consulted as to what he or she wants to wear.

The 19th Century

As the 19th Century progressed, pants legs became shorter until by the end of the century, most boys wore knee-length pants. New styles appeared like Norfolk and Fauntleroy suits and Russian blouse tunics. At the end of the 19th Century Buster Brown suits were popular. In some cases mothers have combined styles, such as using a kilt skirt with a Fautleroy or sailor suit. Boys through the 19th Century and throughout much of the 20th Century wore these distinctly juvenile fashions. Through much of this period formal clothing was very important. Adults and children dressed up for many occasions that today would be seen to involve only casual clothes.

Figure 2.--Styles resembling modern children's clothes began to appear in the 1920s following World War I. Notice the wire-rimmed glasses.

The 20th Century

Other interesting boyish clothes emerged in the 20th century. Scouts and variuous youth groups adapted uniforms. Distictive dress were adopted by dance and choral groups. Other distinctive clothes are associated with different national groups such as kilts (Ireland and Scotlnd), ??? (Greece), lederhosen (Germany), and other garmets in various countries. Various countries also developed a variety of distinctive school uniforms.

Major fashion changes occurred in the mid-20th Century. Boys in recent years, when they dressed up, generally wore suits just like their fathers--including dad's long pants. Dress clothing, however, has become much less important than in the past. Boys now have a great deal of say in the clothes purchased for them. As a result, the current styles probably represent more than ever before what the boys themselves actually want to wear. For the most part, comfortable, casual styles have emerged as the standards for juvenile attire.

Clothing Styles

Some of the most important boys' clothing styles in the 19th and 20th Century are listed below. Available information about the design, ages worn, materials, country differences, boys' opinions and other details on provided on each of these styles.