Figure 1.--This young boy, I think in the early 1880s, wears a pleated, striped wool skirt and solid-color jacket. Note the double row of buttons in the double breasted style. He has a small lace collar with bows. Short hair was prevalent in until the mid-1980s when the Fauntleroy craze began. The carte de viste image is from the Photographic Studio of E.G. Goldsmith, 374 Main St., Springfield, Mass.
Boys began wearing the modern style of jackets and trousers in the early
19th Century. Quite young boys might wear a jacket, but at first with a
skirt/kilt or as part of dress outfit (figure 1). There were endless
variation of this theme, centering on the
style of the jascket and length of the pants. Generally boys wore dresses
when very young and then after they were breeched would wear a variety
of costumes such as:
Often when he was about 12 or 13 he would receive a relativly adult
looking jacket and trousers. One fashion columnist wrote in 1843:
In my opinion a boy when he leaves off wearing a tunic should only wear a single-breasted jacket. As he grows older, say at 12 years of age ... a smartly made and well-fitted double-breasted jacket makes a nice kind of transition between the juvenile single-breasted jacket and the more manly frock (i.e. frockcoat). [J. Couts, Practical Guide, 1843.]
Over time, boys have had several different jacket styles to choose from:
Figure 2.--Boys in the 1860s wore fancy suits with matching jackets and pants. The style of knee or calf-length pants began to be seen with increasing frequency..
Boys have also worn pants and trousers of different length. [Note: the authors have generally chosen the American word pants. In British English
the proper word would be trousers, pants in Britain refer to underwear.] Long trousers were common in the first decade of the 19th Century. Boys wore long pants with their skeleton suits. At mid-century
knee-length pants had appeared for boys, but it was not uncommon to
see even younger boys wearing long pants., but had generally been
replaced by knee-length pants and long stockings by the 1860s
boys under 12 years of age, but some older boys were also wearing
The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine
reported in 1863 that the knickerbocker suit "reigns supreme". It contibued to do
well into the first half of the 20th Cenuary. The development appears
to be a little later in America, but eventually American boys were also in knee-lenght pants. The knee pants were full, closed at the knee
with buckles or buttons, or simply cut off at the knee. The age of boys wearing knee pants gradually increased in the
late 19th Century. By the turn of the Century even older teenagers,
boys of 18 and 19 years of age were commonly wearing knee pants.
The pants worn by boys in the 20th Century have varied widely by decade and country.
American boys commonly wore knickers in the 1920s and 30s, but in the
1940s increasingly wore long pants. English and European boys commonly
wore short pants, but long pants became more common beginning in the
1960s. Since the 1970s American and European boys have begun wearing very
similar styles of clothes, both for dress suits as well as play and
Information is available on the different styles of pants worn
with suits and jackets:
Figure 3.--These American (New York) twins wear identical Norfolk suits with kneepants and long woolen stockings. Notice the boys' straw hats. The photograph was probably taken in the 1890s.
Figure 4.--Madras jackets for were popular for boys of all ages in the 1950s and 1960s. Some younger boys wore then with short pants and kneesocks.
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