The Eton Style


Figure 1.--This Sargent painting of 19?? depicts Essie, Ruby, and Ferdinand Wertheimer. Ferdinand wears a classic Eton suit, the formal dress for boys at the turn of the century that had graduated from Fauntleroy and sailor suits. The Eton suit became standard dress wear for affluent British and American boys.

Formal Eton suits and collars were a style which lasted for about a century in England and were also commonly worn in America. And offshoot of the Eton suit, a colarless jacket for little boys became a staple for younger American boys for an additional half century when the formal Eton suit had disapperared--except of course at Eton College.

Eton School

Eton School is one of the best known schools in the world. Americans think of colleges as small universities. Colleges in most of the rest of the world are secondary schools, as is Eton College, albeit a prestigious one. Eton College was founded in 1440, nearly 58 after the founding of Winchester school, by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, under the patronage of Henry VI--the Scholar King, and with the title of "the College of the Blessed Mary of Eaton beside Windsor." The buildings were completed between 1491 and 1523. The original buildings consist of two quadrangles containing the chappel, the upper and lower schools, appartments for officials, the library, and offices. The school has produced a long list of distinguished former pupils, including Sir Robert Walpole, Robert Hartley, william Pitt the Elder, Horace Walpole, the Duke of Wellington, Thomas Gray, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Ewart Gladstone.

Eton Styles

Several important styles have developed from the uniforms worn by the boys at Eton school.

Eton school uniform

Eton school had a major impact on British school uniforms. The first school uniforms in England were developed for poor charity children. Only in the early 19th Cebtury were unifirms adopted by prestigious schools like Eton for privilged children. They were part of efforts to better discipline the boys whose behavior was beginning to scandalize England as it moved into the staid Victorian era.

Classic Eton suits

The classic Eton suit based initially on the Eton school uniform came to dominate older boys fashions for several generations. After moving from skeleton aand tunic suits or even Fauntleroy suits, an English boy would generally wear an Eton suit. They were also commonly worn in America, France, and other countries. In America it had an upper-class look to it.


Figure 2.--This boy wears an Eton collar, but a suit without Eton styling. I believe this is an English image, but it could be American. It probably dates to the 1920s. Notice he wears a bowtie with his Eton collar.

Eton collars

The wide-stiff Eton collar became a mainstay of English boys clothes during the Victorian and Edwardian era. The tightly buttoned collar in many ways symbolized the Victorians. Eton collars is most associated with the Eton school uniform. Eton collars were,however, worn with many styles in addition to Eton suits, including Norfolk suits and kilts as well as choir costumes. An older boy in the late 19th or early 20th Century was not considered formally dressed in England unless he wore his suit with an Eton collar.

Eton cuffs

The wide-stiff Eton collar attracted the most attention. But Eton boys also wore prominent, stiffly starched cuffs. This pratice appears to havevbeen discarded at today's Eton.

American Eton suits

American boys in the 19th Century wore classic Eton suits just like English boys. A new type od suir, commonly referred to as an Eton suit developed in America for younger boys in the 1920s. With the decline of the fauntleroy suit and tunic suit, a new dress style was needed for the younger boy. Thus a new style with a short lapelless jacket appeared. It was normally worn with an Eton collar and short cut suspender shorts.

Eton collar kilts

Scottish boys through the 1920s and even into the 1930s sometimes wore their Highland kilts with Eton collars. Thgere was no special Highland kilt for this, it was simly a choice of collar. This seems to have ben the case when dressing up. Eton collars were also worn by English boys wearing the Highland kilt. The most dressy kilts for formal occasions were wore with lace jabots. For less formal occasions a boy might wear his kilt with an Eton collar. Of course for casual wear this was less common. We also see this in other countries, although the Highland kilt was less common beyond Britain. One kilt fashion that was very popular outside of Britain was the kilt suit. It was worn in Britain and on the continent, but was especially populr in America. And we note some of the boys wearing Eton collars with their kilt suits. It was only one of the collar options used.

Eton collar choir costumes

Some English boy choirs use Eton collars rather than ruffled collars as part of their choir costumes. We are not sure when choirs began using Eton collars or how common they were. Most of out image archive comes from the 20th century. Presumably it was during the mid-19th century when theur was a revival of interest in boy choir music. At the time the Eton collar was becoming very popular. The classic Eton collzr is no longer worn, but some cathedral choirs still do use the Eton collar.

Country Trends

We note Eton styles being worn in many different countries. The prevalence, style, associated clothing, and chronology varied from country to country and over time. This is a topic we hope to addres as HBC expand.

Neckwear

Any discussuion of the Eton style would be incomplete without an assessment of what kind of neckwear should be worn with it. I am not sure what the arbiters of fashion suggested or if this changed over time. Some boys wore their Eton collars without any neckwear. Other boys wore a wide variety of styles. Mothers clearly preferred large floppy bows for their younger boys. Older boys wore small bows, bow ties, string like ties, and neckties of varying with.





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Created: November 27, 1998
Last updated: 5:59 PM 5/20/2014