American Tunics: Chronology--The 1840s

American boy tunic

Figure 1.--We know nothing about this Daguerreotype portrait except that the boy is American. He looks to be about 4-5 years old. We think it was taken some time in the mid-1840s to the 1850s, but can not yet establoshed a more refined date. The boy has a light-colored tunic, the tinting may approximate the color. The pants seem to be white rather than the same color as the tunic. The boy has a dark belt, but strangely the buckle is not showing. Notice the boy's ringlet curls.

With the development of photography we have more images available from the 1840s. We note Daguerreotypes of boys wearing tunics. We find it difficucult, however, to differentite between 1840s and 50s images. Almost all Dags were taken in the 1840s and 50s. A few were made in the early 60s. The problem is that we can not at this time differentiate between the 1840s and 50s Dags. Early 1840s Dags are rare and relatively wasy to identify. Most have plain rectagular or oval frames. By the mid-40s we begin to see much larger numbers of Dags and more varied frames. The problem is differentiating the Dags taken in the mid- and late-40s with 1850s Dags. Hopefully we will eventually be able to better date Dags. We welcome any insights readers may be able to offer. A good example is Edward Edwards which we think was taken in the mid-1840s. As far as we can tell, the tunic was a popular boys styles in the 1840s and 50s. Because we can not precisely date the available Dags, we are not sure to what extent styles varied in the two decades. We see boys wearing tunics with and without belts. We also notice tunics with and without front buttons. We are not sure if the tunics without front buttons had back or side buttons. A good example of a tunic with front buttons is Thomas Smith. As far as we can tell tunic suits with matching pants were not common.

Daguerreotypes

With the development of photography we have more images available from the 1840s. The format was the Daguerreotype. While not available in huge numbers, the number of images are far greater than before the development of photography. Thus the 1840s is the first decade for which we have any substabtial number of images. We find it difficult, however, to differentiate between 1840s and 50s images. Almost all Dags were taken in the 1840s and 50s. A few were made in the early 60s. The problem is that we can not at this time differentiate between the 1840s and 50s Dags with any certainty. Early 1840s Dags are rare and relatively wasy to identify. Most have plain rectagular or oval frames. By the mid-40s we begin to see much larger numbers of Dags and more varied frames. The problem is differentiating the Dags taken in the mid- and late-40s with 1850s Dags. Hopefully we will eventually be able to better date Dags. We welcome any insights readers may be able to offer. Wether we accrately date Dags, they do not just represent more images. While expensive they were far less expensive than pintd portraits. As a result, Dags as well as Ambris and tin-types in the 1850s represent a much more accurate look at popular fashions than the painted portraits thatwe have to rely on earlier in the century.

Prevalence

We note large numbers of Daguerreotypes of boys wearing tunics. A good example is Edward Edwards which we think was taken in the mid-1840s. As far as we can tell, the tunic was a popular boys styles in the 1840s and 50s. Because we can not precisely date the available Dags, we are not sure to what extent styles varied in the two decades. As we see fewer Ambros with boys wearing tunics, we think they were more common in the 40s than the 50s.

Ages

We are nor sure yet about the ages of boys wearing tunics in the 1840s. There is not yet any substantial school photography which means an imprtant source is not avaiable. So far most of the images we have found are pre-school boys. The boy here looks to be about 4-5vyears old (figure 1). We believe this suggests that tunics weremost common for preschool boys, but younger primary school boys, at least in the cities, may have worn them. This we can not yet confirm. Of course the public school system in America was still developing. So far the only school age boy we have found is Edward Edwards. He was about 10-years old. We think social-class factors were involved here. School age boys from wealthy fmilies may have worn tunics, but for most families it was younger boys who wore them.

Styles

We also notice tunics with and without front buttons. Some tunics look more like long shirts, often done in plaid like patterns and front buttons. Other tunics are more like tunic suits we are more accustomed to seeing. They were done in single coloes, perhaps with some band or stripe detailing. Most seem, however, very plain. We are not sure if the tunics without front buttons had back or side buttons. A good example of a tunic with front buttons is Thomas Smith. The collars were commonly some kind of white addition such as a ruff or small Eton or other shaped collar. The one constant is that the collars were not part of the tunic and were small. The boy here looks to have a small Peter Pan collar, although it is difficult to tell because the boy's tunic is such a light color (figure 1).

Belts

We see boys wearing tunics with and without belts.The tunics were worn with belts. Mostly they were worn with belts. The belts were entiraly decorative. There was not practical purose. They tended to be wide in the 1840s. The belts varied. Some were fabric belts done in the same material as the tunic. We also notuce black leather belts. The boy here is a good example, although we do not see a belt buckle (figure 1).

Cut

Most of the tunics we have found had long sleeves. A few were done wih half sleeves. They were all cut at lengths well below the waist but above the knee. There was some variation as to how far they came toward the knee, but most were cute well above the knees. The tunic here is relatively short, but not unusual (figure 1). It is falls below the waist, but well above the knees.

Accompanying Garments

We do nit know wjat l=kind of headwear was worn with tunics. Images showing the headwear are very rare. We do have one Dag showing a rounded-crown hat on he table beside the boy. The rounded-crown hat if not the standard boy's headwear, the nost common headear through much of the 19th century. We notice an older boy wearing a military peaked cap withb his tunic suit. We bellieve this was more common earlier in the century. We do not know what kind of shirt or blouse garment boys wore under their tunics. In most portraits all we see is a small collar or ruff peaking out from he top of the tunic. Here because of the short sleeves we see that he seems to be wearing a plain white long-sleeve shirt. Notice their are no sleeve cuffs. The tunics were worn with long pants. As far as we can tell tunic suits with matching pants were not common. Most of the examples we have found show light-colored pants. We do not notice matching pants.







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Created: 1:34 AM 10/7/2008
Last edited: 6:25 AM 10/6/2017