Boys' Suits: Garments


Figure 1.--These American brothers wear matching tan jackets, probably about 1950. Notice the wide lapels.

There are three primary elements to a suit. The jacket and trousers are requited. The vest is optional. Suit jackets for boys first appeared with the skeleton suits in the late 19th century. Since then a great diversity of styles have been worn. Some have been quite plain, some very fancy--hardly seen as suitable for a rough and tumble boy in our modern casual era. Some suit jackets have been quite destinct from the suits worn by a boy's father while others have been quite similar. The conventions for wearing suits has changed considerably. 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pants had appeared for boys, but it was not uncommon to see even younger boys wearing long pants., but had generally been replaced by knee-length pants and long stockings by the 1860s boys under 12 years of age, but some older boys were also wearing them. The vest or waistcoat was a common part of many 19th century suits, especially in themid and late 19th century. (The British use waistcoat as a vest there means an undershirt.) Most fashionable suits had them. There were even common with boys wearing kiltsuit. We have noted them both made in the same material as the suit or in contradting material and colors. The three piece suit as it was called continued to be worn in the 20th century, but by the 1930s it began to be seen as a particularly formal style and was optional. There are also a number of accessories worn with suits, including caps, ties, belts, socks, and shoes. The accessories and styles have varried over time and from country to country.

Headwear

A few suits were made with dedicated headwear. This was not very common, but we do see some examples. This was normally the case with younger boys. We note peaked caps made in the same material as the suit. Most headwear, however, was accessories bought separately from the suit. A good example arre the suits worn by George and Ewan McTherson in 1902.

Jackets

Suit jackets for boys first appeared with the skeleton suits in the late 19th century. Since then a great diversity of styles have been worn. Some have been quite plain, some very fancy--hardly seen as suitable for a rough and tumble boy in our modern casual era. Some suit jackets have been quite destinct from the suits worn by a boy's father while others have been quite similar. The conventions for wearing suits has changed considerably. Styles have also changed significantly overr time. Many styles of suit jackets were developed in England in the 19th century. Out modern styles for suit are basically just refinements of these styles. There have also been important difference among countries in the styles of jasckets worn by boys, although perhaps not as significant as the country differences with pants.


Figure 2.--Many suits during the late-19th and early 20th centuries were three-piece suits made with vests. These boys were from Johnstown, Pennslyvania.

The Vest

The vest or waistcoat was a common part of many 19th century suits, especially in the mid- and late- 19th century. (The British use waistcoat as a vest there means an undershirt.) They were also worn inthe 18th centry, but before the Industrial Revolution, the urban middle-class was much smaller and far fewer men wore suits. Most fashionable suits had them. As the Industrial Revolution brought wealth to Americ and Europe, far more men and boys wore suit, including suits with vests. And this included younger boys. There were even common with boys wearing kilt suit. We have noted them both made in the same material as the suit or in contradting material and colors. At mid-century, vests with bright colors and bold patterns were popular. We also notice boys at mid-century wearing vests without jackets. We do not know if they were worn like this earlier. We suspect that they were worn like this earlier, but before potography this is hard to establish. We do not see that very commony in the late-19th century. The three piece suit as it was called continued to be worn in the 20th century, but by the 1930s it began to be seen as a particularly formal style and was optional. Thus many boys' suits wre made with just the jacket and pants. In the post-World War II era, many mothers decided that a boy just did not need a vest. They are still available for particularly formal occasions, but are rarely worn with a suit. We do note that in the 1970s and 80s, it became fassionable for younger to boys to wear vests rather than a suit coat for formal occassions.


Figure 3.--These American brothers wear popular styles of summer suits about 1960. The younger boy wears an American Eton suit with short pants. The older boys wear single breasted suits with long pants.

Pants and Trousers

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 them. 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 casual wear.


Figure 4.--American boys in the late-19th and early-20th centuries commonly wore knee pants and knickers suits. Long stockings were common for many years. In the 20th century, short pants suits were more common in Europe.

Accessories

There are a number of accessories that boys commonly wore with suits. The accessories and styles have varried over time and from country to country. Important accessories included caps, ties, belts, socks, and shoes. Large collars and bows were especially important popular accessories during the late 19th century. Boys of different ages might war the same suit style, but younger boys might wear it with large collars and floppy bows. The yonger te boy, the larger the collar and bow. Some caps were made to actually match the suit. We note that this was an especially popular accessory in the mid-20th century. The primary style of the matching cap was the Btitish peaked school cap.









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Created: December 21, 1999
Last updated: 6:37 PM 1/16/2007