Boys' Skirted Garments: Types

We have collected information on the various skirted garments commonly worn by boys. Dresses are of course commonly associated with girls, but until the 20th century were commonly worn by younger boys. Dresses are, however, only one of the skirted garments that boys have worn over time. The kilt was a boy's garment as were tunics, although there were differences among countries. Smocks were worn by both boys and girls. Pinafores are mostly associated with girls, but boys did wear them. Tunics were a skirted garment that boys commonly wore. We also notice boys wearing skirts which can be difficult to desriminate with the kilt-skirts worn with kilt suits.


The Highland kilt is a basically a tartan skirt covering the lower half of the body. Many of the kilts shown here worn by younger boys were bodice kilts. Boys tend to be slender without pronounced hips. This makes it difficult for these boys to wear kilts. The solution was to sew on a bodice to the kilt to hold it up. This is the same reason that younger boys wear suspender shorts to hold them up.

Figure 1.--This boy who we believe is America, wears a white dress, probably in the 1900s.

Dresses and Frocks

Europeans for centuries dressed little children, both boys and girls in the same styles of dresses, often referred to as petticoats. For most of this time, no special clothing existed for childrn, boys or girls. Boys when they were "breeched", were simplly dressed in smaller versions of the knee breeches and other clothes worn by their fathers. Special clothes for children appeared in the late 18th centuty with distinctive styles for boys and girls. Even so, many mothers continued to dress small boys in dresses for more than a century. This fashion also became common in America and persisted well into the 20th century.

Figure 2.-- While the Highland kilt was not widely worn by bous outside of Scotkand, the kiltsuit was very commonly worn, especially in America.


The kilt as we know it today has ancient origins. It is generally associated today with Scotland or the Gaelic peoples of the British Isles and Normandy. The kilts use as a style of boys' clothing is much more recent in origin. The kilt has been worn in different socities anf through different periods of history. It is the Gaelic, especially Scottish kilt that is best known to us, but it is not the only kilt worn in modern times. While the Highland kilt was not widely worn by bous outside of Scotland, the kiltsuit was very commonly worn, especially in America. Kilt suits were also worn in Enfland and other countries.


Pinafores were essentially abbreviated smocks worn over other clothes for meals and play. I'm not positive when the pinafore first appeared. It appears to have appeared in the late 18th Century, but it is clearly a widely worn garment by the early 19th Century. I am also unsure as to which country or countries it first appeared. Based upon available images, the pinafore was particularly popular in England and France, but this may be just a function of the greater availability of images from those two countries. There may have been a variety of different styles, but by the mid-19th Century back buttoning pinafores seem to have been most common. Pinafore lengths seemed to have been largely determined by the lengths of the dresses in style during any given period. After the turn of the 20th Century pinafores were not commonly worn by boys, although they were worn by French boys after the style had passed out of fashion for boys in England. Pinafores for girls in the 20th Century became very fancy, stylish garments and not the utilitarian garments of the 19th Century.


Both men and women in the medieval era wore long robes. They are variously described by modern writers as dresses, gowns, robes, and tunics. The men's robes varied in length. Both fashion and age were factors here. Women normally wore long robes. One has to look carefully at medieval paintings to ascertain gender. Ofteb one has to check the headwear, hair, or other aspects to tell for sure. The medieval era streached over about 1,000 years and as a result fashion varies, albeit slowly. We are not entirely sure about children's dress, but for the most part it seems to have primarily been smaller renditions of the parents attire. Modern dresses and trousers began to become more defined in the Renaissance, but the time lin here varied from country to country.

Figure 3.--This American boy wears a blouse with a skirt or kilt-skirt. It is difficult to tell from this image. The photograph looks to have been taken about the turn of the 20th century.


Little American boys until well after the turn of the 20th Century wore dresses and other skirted garments like kilt suits. Other skirted garments include smocks and pinafores. American boys rarely wore actual Highland regalia with bright plaids. One skirted garment I know less about are actual skirts.

Figure 4.--The children in this family see to be wearing skirted garmens including dresses and smocks.


Smocks are a loose, lightweight over garment worn to protect the clothing while working. Initially the smock was a garment for adult workers, especially farm workers. Eventually mothers faced with the need of protecting expensive garments from the hard wear associated with children began dressing their children in smocks. The smock by the late 19th century had become primarily a child's garment, although it was also wrn by shop workers, artists, and other adults. The smock was essentially a large shirt or overgarment with the fullness controlled by the smocking (embroidery on pleats). The use of smocking (the decorative embroidery can be easily traced to the 15th century). Albrecht Durer's Self Portrait (German) shows a smocked shirt, and the Mona Lisa (Italian) has a smocked chemise. The use of needlework to control fullness is a very old technique and became known as smocking. Smocking needle work continues today and is a popular addition to fancy collars as well as garments for younger children.


Tunics were one of the more enduring 19th century styles for boys. As the 19th Century progressed, another garment was added to the small boy's wardrobe--a smock-like tunic. The tunic suit was a form of jacket, close-fitting to the waist, with a gathered or pleated skirt below the waist. It was often the first boyish garment purchased for a boy after he was breehed and allowed to stop wearing dresses. Some tunics look like simple dresses. At first gance it is sometimes difficult to distinguish tunics from dresses. The tunic is very plain, often the same cloth--in many cases of a dark or muted color. Tunics are generally styled very simply. Some did have dress liked puffed sleeves. The major distinguishing feature is that tunics in the late 19th Century were worn with knicker-type pants just as they has een worn with pantallets earlier in the decade. Girls who wore dresses would never wear them with knickers.


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Created: 12:24 AM 4/25/2007
Last updated: 12:24 AM 4/25/2007