Boys' Suit Jackets


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.

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 jackets worn by boys, although perhaps not as significant as the country differences with pants.

Chronology

The boys's suit jacket has changed comsiderably over time. The first suit jackets worn exclusively by boys with skeleton suits. Boys began wearing the modern style of jackets and trousers in the early 19th Century as skeleton suits declined in popularity. Quite young boys might wear a jacket after breeching, at first mostly with long trousers. During the early 19th century they might commonly wear tunics after breeching before acquiring a suit. Early suit jackets were not well fitted. They commonly did nit have lapels and buttoned at the collar. Some jackets for younger boys appeared with fancy embroiderd design and were cut short to show off the boys' blouse. Older boys wore jackets that completely covered their shirtwaists. After mid-century many different styles of boys suits appeared. Many were quite plain, others like the Fauntleroy suit unbelievably fancy for a boy. Perhaps the most common late 19th century boys' suit was the sailor suit. Older boys wore Eton, Norfolk, Suffolk, and many other styles of suit jackets. Many suit styles from the late 19th century persisted in the early 20th century, but by the 1910s and especially after World War I (1914-19) boys increasingly wore recognizably modern suit styles. Minor changes in lapel sizes or detailing might occure, but by the 1920s the basic double breasted and single breasted suit as well as the blazer were well established. The sailor suit had declined in popularity, although this varied from country to country. In America the juvenile Eton suit for small boys had appeared.


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.

Conventions

The suit in the 19th century was worn quite differently than the suit worn by a modern boy. A 19th century boy, especially in the early and mid 19th century, probably did not have a large wardrobe--unless his family was rich. The suit was not warn exclusively for dressing up and formal occassions. An affluent boy might have a party suit for best, but many boys did not. He might commonly wear his suit, including the jacket, for every-day wear. Only in the 1920s did boys commonly begin to leave their suit jackets in the closet, reserved for special occasions. Other conventions existed over types of collars and ties or bowes to wear with different suit styles as well as the type of pants. Many of these conventions were bassed on age.

Types

The styles of suit jackets worn by boys are as varied as the imaginative minds of their mothers, with an eye for fashion, could make them. Some suits in the 19th century were very plain, even modern looking. Others were extrodinarily fancy, so fancy that now wonder how suits like the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit could have ever been considered suitable for a boy. Some syles at various historical periods were little different than those worn by fathers. Other like the long lasting sailor suit was only worn by boys--and of course sailors. Many basic suits such as the sailor work was endlessly reworked in an amazingly different number of styles, not only the different styles of modern navies, but in styles that differed greatly from the masucline uniform of the sailor which traditional suits were modeled on. Other suits were often berpowered by thecclothes worn with it, such as gigantic collars and floppy bows worn with a Fauntleroy suit. As mass produced ready made suits became increasingly common, the grerat diversity in style began to decline.


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.

Countries

Most enduring suit styles for men and boys develoed in England. While France may have led women's fashions, it was in England that modern men's and boys' fashions were created. There were considerable differences among countries in the conventions for wearing suits and styles of jackets worn by boys, although perhaps not as significant as the country differences with pants. In some cases similar styles were worn, but the styles varied over different time periods.

Stylistic Elements

Suit jackets/coats are not only made in different types, but they are a wide variety of differences in stylistic elements. The major stylistic elements involve buttons, lapels, collars, sleeves, pockets, and belts which are included with some types like the Norfolk jacket. The issue of buttons somewhat complicates a consideration of style. Certain jacket styles like the skeleton suit jacket or the very permutations of Eton jackets have been worn with different numbers of buttons. Blazers have been made in both single and double-buttoned styles. Buttons have been used in a wide variety of ways on boys' suit jackets. The lapel was a creation of the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars. Not one knows for sure who created the lapel. The general believe is that an officer in the heat of battle or perhaps during manuvers on a hot day, opened his tigthly buttoned coat at the collar and folded it back. From that poit on the lapel became to major feature og the men's suit. As such its placement and width has varied widely over time. The collar was a less important eklement of the suit than the lapels. Thus they have never been a major stylitic element. Unlike lapels the width of collars never varied substantially. HBC is noy yet sure why buttons were put on jacket sleeves. The origins of the buttons at the coat sleeves and the imitation buttonholes are also difficult to expain. According to Nystrom, these buttons are vestiges of custom down from the time when outer garments were actually opened at the sleeve, making the button and buttonhole a necessary means of open and closing. Other sources say the style originated in 18th century military uniforms. Commanders reportedly ordered buttons sewn on the sleeve cuffs of expensive military jackets to prevent soldiers and sailors from wiping their mouths and noses on their sleeves. The back slit is means jackets is so that the jacket could be worn when horse-back riding. Allowig the jacket to open up when the man was sitting on the horse. Women who rode bare back do no have these back slits.


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.

Sport Jackets

Sport coats as we now know them began to appear after the World War I (1914-18). I am not positive why they are called sport coats. Certainly they are not worn for sport. Probably the term originated in England where they do strange things (I hope our British friends wont be to offended) like dress up in ties and jackets for sports. British boys at prestigious Public schools (a strange term for exclusive private schools) might wear might wear a brightly colored blazer, for example, for cricket or other sports. Not only did the players dress up, but the spectators who came to see the games ("matches" for our British friends) also dressed up. The term sport coat as it is now used probably refers to a suit-type jacket for informal special occasions, such as sporting events, but not occasions formal enough to require a suit with matching trousers. The players in cricket, for example, would wear the white trousers worn at a cricket match. The players would usually take off their blazers to actually play in the match.

Materials

Suit jackets have been made in a wide range of materials. Especially popular materials for boys suits have been serge, cheviot, flannel, and corduroy, but suits were available in a much larger range of fabrrics. Searsucker became a popular summer material. Corduroy until after World War I had a working-class image. Some fabrics like Madras have been popular for short periods. Since World War II sunthetic fibers appeared. Polyester suits were popular in the 1970s, but today blended fabrrics are more common.

Patterns

We note a wide range of patterns for both suit jackets and sport jackets. Many were solid colors. As the Victorian age progressed, black frock coats became the standard for men. Patterns were allowed for boys, but among adults ere seen as rather sporty. Bold patterns might be worn by younger men but were considered as rather rakish. Patterns were very common in the late 19th century, but werr generally muted. In the early 20th century patterns were still common for boys, but gradually solid color jackets became increasingly accepted for boys. We suspectv that the English school blazer may have been a factor here. Grey suits became a standard in England. Black suits were more common in America. There were also patterns that were popular such as Madaras and ??? in the 1950-60s. and While children wear suits or even sport jackets less today, the classic dress upn tyle for boys has become a blue blazer-style jsacket worn with grey pants.






HBC





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Created: December 21, 1999
Last updated: 12:33 AM 1/4/2007