Classic Eton Suits


Figure 1.--Eton suits were normally worn with long trousers. Some boys wore Eton collars with knee pant suits and long stockings. This Mary Mary Cassatt painting shows a standard Eton-style suit worn by a boy at mid-century. Click in the image for a larger image.

English boys in the early decades of the 19th Century began wearing short jackets which came to be known as Eton suits as the fashion was worn at Eton school. Entry requirements at Public schools (private boarding schools) varied greatly during the first half of the 19th Century. Some schools accepted quite young boys. These younger boys might arrive in tunics or other more juvenile attire. Many schools at the time did not have a detailed uniform that the boys had to wear. The Eton uniform was originally quite colorful, including blue jackets and red waist coats. The two garments associated with Eton College and the classic suits named for the school weee short black jackets and large stiff white collars. The collar is one of the most destinguishabe features of the Eton suit, but certainly looks uncomfortable. The Eton school uniform had a small, short black jacket. Thus the classic Eton suit involved a similar jacket. Boys at Eton school wore vests with their school uniform. Upper classmen were allowed destinctive bright-colored vess. Thus Eton suits were made with vests, normlly black vests matching the jacket. Eton suits might be worn without vests, byt many had vests. The classic Eton school uniform was worn with long grey pants. The classic grey English school short pants probably owe their color to the grey Eton school pants. Actual Eton suits not associated with schools more commonly had black pants matching the jacket. While clasic Eton suits were almost always worn with long pants, some English prep schools before World War I (1914-18) adopted short pants to be worn with the Eton syule-school uniforms.

Garments

The two garments associated with Eton College and the classic suits named for the school weee short black jackets and large stiff white collars. The collar is one of the most destinguishabe features of the Eton suit, but certainly looks uncomfortable. The Eton school uniform had a small, short black jacket. Thus the classic Eton suit involved a similar jacket. We notice boys wearing a variety of suit jackes with Eton collars. Some such as Norgolk jackets are obviously not Eton suits, but others without destinctive styling might be considered an Eton suit. Boys at Eton school wore vests with their school uniform. Upper classmen were allowed destinctive bright-colored vess. Thus Eton suits were made with vests, normlly black vests matching the jacket. Eton suits might be worn without vests, byt many had vests. The classic Eton school uniform was worn with long grey pants. The classic grey English school short pants probably owe their color to the grey Eton school pants. Actual Eton suits not associated with schools more commonly had black pants matching the jacket. While clasic Eton suits were almost always worn with long pants, some English prep schools before World War I (1914-18) adopted short pants to be worn with the Eton syule-school uniforms.

Usage

The Eton collar was considered esential for a boy when dressing up. It was also widely worn as part of a school uniform and not only at Eton College or with Eton suits. Boys at most English schools commonly wore Eton collar school uniforms. They were commonly worn with with Norfolk and other suit styles. Even at elementary schools where uniforms were not worn, Eton collars were common on all but the youngest boys. Some of the Eton collars for younger elementary boys could be quite large.

Age

Eton suits were often the first suit a boy wore after emerging from tunics and sailior suits and other boyish outfits. The yongest boys weraing Eton suits were about 8 years of age although 10 was more common. Some boys wore the classic Eton suit with a short jacket. More common was a suit with a regular jacket, but worn with an Eton collar. Boys might normally wear an Eton suit to about 15 or 16 years of age, but some older boys also wore them.


Figure 2.--British school boys normally wore Eton suits with long pants. As short pants became popular in the 1920s, younger boys at preparatory schools wore Eton suits with short pants and kneesocks. (Click on the image for information on preparatory schools.) Note the longish jacket this boy wears as well as the bowtie and a kind of jacket under his coat.

Popularity

Eton boys would proudly wear their school uniform at public gatherings such as Lords matches. It clearly marked as an Etonian. In the 19th and through the first half of the 20th Century there was no stigma in Britain for flaunting one's social status. In fact it was considered the correct thing to do. Thus the prestige of Eton school and the tendency of Eton boys to wear their uniforms to identify themseleves as Eton students, proably help popularize the style in Victorian England.

Style Adopted for Boys' Suits

The Eton collar proved so prestigious that it was incorporated into suits for all classes of boys. Many boys eventually worn Eton suits even though they did not go to the famed Eton School--many may not have even heard of the College. Reports from the late 19th and early 20th centuries often mention schools where the boys all wore Eton suits. Boys often wore the Eton collar with their best suit for formal occasions. English boys generally received their first Eton suit when they went to their boarding schools at about 12/13 years of age. Some preparatory schools required Eton collars for their boys, which would mean boys as young as 8 years.

Chronology

The Eton suit as we know it was being worn at Eton school at the turn of the 19th Century. I am not sure just when it originated. Eton suits began to be adopted by other schools sometime before mid century. I am not sure when the style began to be commonly worn in England. I believe the style began to become popular in the 1860s. After the First World War, this style gradually began to disappear. For many years, many did not believe a boy properly dressed with out the collar. Others viewd the style as old fashioned. Many schools continued to require them well after the collars had become generally unfashionable. Boys wanted to wear the more comfortable soft collars. Thus Eton collars were still seen in the early 1920s, but rarely seen by the 1930s, except at the most conservative schools.

National Trends

The Eton suit is of course most associated with English boys wear as it originated there. The style, however, was not exclusevely an English style. Eton collars appeared in America in the early 19th century and proved very popular by the late 19th century. It was worn by some French boys, but was much less common elesewhere in Europe. While very common in England, it proved much less common on the Continent, Conventions for wearing the Eton collar varied somewhat from country to country. In some countries the Eton collar was worn with ordinary suits, not the short jacketed Eton suit. In other countries especially the United States, affluent boys might wear a full Eton suit. The Eton suit was worn with a variety of pants, including long pants, knickers, and kneepants, the pattern varying from country to country. Variations were also noted in the sizes of the collars and how they were worn.









HBC






Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Eton pages:
[Return to the Main Eton suit page]
[Eton School uniform] [Classic Eton suits] [Fashion article]
[Eton collars] [Eton kilts] [American Eton suits]



Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]




Created: 9:40 PM 5/4/2007
Last updated: 9:41 PM 5/4/2007