Classic Eton Suits and Collars: National Trends

Figure 1.--"Brothers" by American prinitive artist Susan C Waters was painted about 1845. It clearly shows that the Eton collar and suit style had already spread to America, even rural America. The collars look much less stiff, however, than the Eton collars commonly worn by English boys.

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.


Portaits show that the Eton collar and Eton suits had crossed the Atlantic as early as the 1840s. I do not know, however, just how popular the style was. The American primitive show here for a variety of reasons. HBC is fairly confident that the style of their suit and collar was inspired by the English Eton suits, the shape of the collars, the short black jackets, the long grey trousers all point to this. The image also shows how common it was during the first half of the 19th century for boys, even very young ones, to wear long pants after breeching. A British expert on Eton collars, however, notes that he wouldn't call the relatively unstiff flat-down-upon-the-shoulders collars depicted in the painting of the American brothers true Eton Collars. Although the latter probably evolved from the earlier type they are different in important respects. The true English Eton Collar stands higher and is much stiffer--and presumably rather more uncomfortable." Photographic evidence and fashion catalogs suggest that Eton suits and collars were not nearly as popular in America as in England. Eton suits were being worn by American boys in the late 19th century and at the turn of the century. The boys wearing them, however, are generally boys from affluent families. The style was much less commonly worn by middle-class boys. The collar itself was more popular than the entire suit. While wealthy boys might wear a proper Eton suit, more common was the Eton collar with an ordinary suit. While the Eton suit generally disappeared in the 1920s, it was still occasionally seen in the 1930s. A destinctly Americam off shoot of the Eton suit was the American Eton suit which was beginnng in the late 1920s wiorn by younger American boys, a suit with a short lapeless jacket usually with suspender short pants. It was initially worn with an Eton collar, but by the 1930s, Peter Pan collars had become more common.

Figure 2.--This 1897 Austrian school photograph shows some of the suits as well as collars and ties that Austrian boys were wearing at the turn of the century. Note that few boys are wearing Eton collars and suits. The one boy with an Eton collar in this photograph wears it below his suit jacket.


Wealthy boys in Latin America, especially those with the stronger European conections, were wearing Eton suits by the late 19th century. A HBC contributor reports a boy of about 16 in immaculate Etons, posed in a Buenos Aires studio.


Eton suits were worn by Australian boys as styles in Australia until after World War II (1939-45) were basically a reflection of English styles. Even so, even in the late 19th and early 20th century there was more of an informal approach to fashion in Australia and Eton suits were not as common there as in England.


I have little information on Eton suits in Austria. I do think that the style was popular there. I noticed in images from Austrian schools that Eton collars were not very common, although a few or occasionally seen--worn disretely under the suit jacket. This is in sharp contrast to comparable English schools where they were very connon. As Austrian schools did not require uniforms, group photos are a good reflection of contemporary Austrian boys'styles. Not only did some Austrian boys wear Eton collars, but we note a few images of boys wearing actual Eton suits--although there are some differences with the classic Eton suits worn by English boys.


No information available yet.

Figure 3.--These two Chilean brothers Pedro and Luis Subercaseuse, were painted by Italian artist, Giovanni Bolldini in 1887. They were living in Europe, the sons of a diplomat. They wear rather severe black velvet suits with Eton collars, somewhat larger than the Eton collars commonly worn by English boys. I am not sure how common Eton collars actually were in Chile.


Wealthy boys in Latin America, especially those with the stronger European conections, were wearing Eton suits by the late 19th century. Images of Chilean boys in France show them wearing Eton suits in the late 19th century. I am not sure how popular the style was in Chile for ordinary Chilean boys.


No information available yet.


It was in England that the Eton suit was created in the late 19th century and it was in England that the Eton suit reached its greatest popularity. The development of the Eton suit in England is described on the main Eton suit page. Eton suits and collars were worn not only at exclusive public schools, but also at state schools which did not require uniforms--a reflection as to just how commonly worn Eton suits were in England at the turn of the century. The state schools did not require that boys wear Eton collars, it was just that they were such an common style of the day. Many preparatory and public (private) schools as well as the grammar schools did require the boys to wear Eton collars. Some boarding schools even had collar monitors! Boys at day chools of course were looked after by their mothers. English boys at the turn of the 20th century wore their Eton suits and collars, just about everywhere, even to picnics or even beach outings. It is even difficult to fathom in our modern, casual era wearing a stiff Eton collar to a picnic or the beach.

Figure 4.--This image shows just how common worn Eton collars were at English schools during the late 19th century. Click on the image for mopre views at English schools.


Eton suits and Eton collars were also worn in France. On the continent, Eton suits appear to have been more popular in France than any where else in Europe. I am not sure, however, about the chronolgical trends or just how popular Eton collars were. An examination of La Mode Illustrée shows many examoles of boys above the sailor suit age wearing Eton suits and collars. I do not see them commonly worn until the 1890s, but this may because I do not have access to an extensive collection of French fashion magazines. French designers also used the Eton collar in many other fashions besides formal suits.


I have little information on Eton suits in Germany. I do think that the style was popular there. I noticed in images from German schools that Eton collars are no very common, while they were in English schools during the same period. As German schools did not require uniforms, group photos are a good reflection of contemporary boys'styles.


I have no information on the popularity of the Eton suit in Italy.


Scottish boys wore Eton suits much as English boys. There was little difference between the use of the Eton suit in Scotland and England, except for the relative affluence of the two parts of the United Kingdom. Eton suits were more commonly worn by boys from more affluent families and England was generally more affluent than Scotland. Some boys even wore their kilts with Eton collars.


No information available yet.


We notice Swiss boys in 1840 wearing small black jackets with light-colored trousers. They wear large white collars, but thwy were open collars. We are not surec to classify these as Eton suits or even Eton-influenced suits. We believe that the style reflects German fashions at the time.


Venezuela like other Latin American countries had a social structure with a very small elite class which dominates the country and a very large lower or working class. The realtively small middle class has been less important than in Europe. Venezuela is different than in many other Latin American countries in that the lower class is not also a ethnic minority. Also theoil wealth has helped to signifiacntly expand the niddle class since the 1950s. Historically the clothing styles of the upper class was basically European. Thus boys in upper-class families looked much like Europeans. Since the 1960s this has changed. But while Eton suits were still stylish, upper class boys wore them--but only boys from the small upper class and perhaps some middle class boys.


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Created: November 28, 1999
Last updated: 2:31 AM 1/6/2010