Boys' Clothing Glossary: "B"

Figure 1.--The Boy Scouts have been the most successful, but not the first, uniformed youth group. The traditiinal uniform was short pants and kneesocks, but this has become less common in recent years.

We have begun to build a glossary of boys' clothing terms. As boys clothes until the 19th century was the sane as adult male clothing, we have included many applicable men's clothing terms. We have also included some women's terms as younger boys commonly wore dresses until the 20th century. As HBC is extensively used by non-native English speakers we plan to give considerable attention to this glossary so that words can be looked up. It will also serve as an index as we will provide links to the appropriate pages. We eventually hope to add foreign words, but that will take some time.

Backstay: A backstrip is a strip of leather at the back of a shoe that is used for reinforcement. It also sometimes used to connect the quarters of the shoe.

Bagwig: A wig with the back hair enclosed in a fabric bag, much used in the 18th century.

Balaclava: One of several garments to emerge from the Crimean War. A close-fitting, knitted cap that covers the head, neck, and tops of shoulders, worn esp. by mountain climbers, soldiers, skiers, etc. Commonly used term in Britain. Americans more commonly use "ski mask".

Ballet shoes: A heelless cloth or leather shoe/slipper worn by male and female ballet dancers. Boys wear soft ballet slippers to dance, usually either black or white. Girls also commonly wear pink dance shoes, but never the boys.

Balmoral shoe: Also called a "bal." An ankle-high shoe, laced in front.

Balmoral tam: A brimless Scottish cap with a flat top that projects all around the head. Also referred to as a Tam-O'Shanter. I am not sure if there is any difference between a Tam ans a Balmoral cap. Worn by both boys and girls as well as soldiers.

Band: A band is a flat collar that was commonly worn by European men and women in the 17th century.

Band uniforms: Bands are musical groups that are smaller or more specialized than orchestras. Band usually are composed primarily of brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Other bands are composed of more narrowly specialized instruments or play only certain types of music. There are two basic kinnds of bands, set and marching. Bands, especially marching bands, generally required a uniform. Some of the best known band uniforms are Scottish and Irish pipe bands. American school bands also have elaborate bands. Scout groups also have uniforms, but this is primarily an English Scout activity.

Bandanna: A bandana is a large, printed handkerchief, typically one with white spots or figures on a red or blue background--the red ones were the most common. Commonly used for neck or head. The word was first used in the West by cowboys. Presumably it was adopted from Spanish.

Bang: Often used in the plural--bangs. A bang is a fringe of hair combed or brushed forward over the forehead--usually cut straight. Bangs are a popular hair style for children. Bangs are a hair cut with a fringe, usually cut straight, over the forehead. The popularity of bangs has varies from time to time. Styles have varied as well as the view of bangs as either a style for boys or girls. Bangs were popular at the turn of the centurt, but then began to be viewed as more of a girls hair cut. Since the Beattles in the 1960s they have been seen more as a boys' cut and are sometimes worn by even high schoolage boys.

Barefeet: Prehistoric man went barefoot until some long lost soul conceived of footwear--probably consisted primarily of tree bark, plant leaves, or animal hides tied around the bottom of the foot simply to provide protection against rocks and rough terrain. During the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th century it was very common for boys and even girls to go barefoot even to school. This was especially common in the summer and in areas like the south of the United States and southern Europe. This is largely forgotton, by Hollywood. One sees very few children barefoot in films and television that is set during this period of time.

Baseball cap: The original baseball caps looked like British school caps, a clue to their origin--presumably caps worn by British schoolboys playing cricket. Thus the modern baseball cap in a continuing reminder of baseball's origins in cricket. Baseball caps were worn almost exclusively for playing baseball and in the United States. As recently as the 1950s it was not common to see American boys wearing baseball caps except for actual play. Since the 1960s, however, baseball caps have become virtually the only headgear worn by American boys and in the 1990s worn backwards. Beginning in the mid-1980s baseball caps have spread virtually all over the world and are worn by boys who have never played baseball and who would object to waring a school cap. The baseball cap is now worn as a general leisure hat virtually all over the world. American Scouts and Cubs adopted baseball caps in 1980 and Scouts in several countries who have never played baseball have followed suit. A HBC reader wonders, "I grew up playing baseball and its city variations. I believe I may live long enough to see the only thing left of the game among kids to be the cap."

Baseball uniform:Baseball is primarily an American game, but it is played in a few other countries as well, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Spanish speaking Caribbean islands. The standard baseball uniform is a cap, jersey, knicker panrs, and long socks. The knickers were at one time knee-length, but now often come to just above the ankles. There are some country differences. New Zeland boys, for example, sommonly wear shorts. Most other countries have followed the American knicker uniforms. Baseball as an organized youth game is, however, most common in America.

Beanie: The beanie was a destinctly American cap. It was a small, round skull-cap, cut in gores to make it fit the head. American boys wore beanies in the 1920s and 30s. Often pins and badges of various sort adorned them as well as novelty propellers. Often the beanies came with multi-colored wedges. Boys with beanies would often be wearing knickers. Beanies were also used at American colleges as part of freshman initition.

Bell bottoms:

Belt: Perhaps the most common approach was the standard belr, originally made of leather, but eventually made of many different materials. Some belts were plain and other highly embelished. The belt buckle became almost an art form. Belts were worn by both men and boys. Belts have never gone out of fashion, but many boys' pants, especially short pants are made without belt loops. A popular style in the 1940s and 50s were pants, especally shorts, for younger boys, with self-belts.

Beret: The beret has to be the most versitle head gear in history. What other head gear has been wore by little boys and girls, elite soldiers, scruffy Cuban revolutionariers, boy and girl scouts, shepards, a president's nemesis, and many others more. It is esentially a visorless cap--but the simple design can be worn for a multiplicity of different looks.

Biggins Cap: A small muslin cap that ties under the chin and used to keep your ears warm.

Blazers: The popular blazer, now commonly worn by boys, first appeared in England during the 1830s. It eventually appeared at fashionable public (private secondary) schools. It became popular at British school as sports wear, especially for cricket. (Leave it to the English to dress up in a blazer for sports.) The origins of the blazer is enduringly preserved in the blazers of cricket clubs around the world.

Block: A block is a wooden form that is used as a mold to shape a hat brim or crown by hand.

Blocking: Blocking is the action of molding a hat shape.

Blouses: A blouse is a top shirt-like garment meant to be worn alone (as versus the chemise), or as a layer. As the name implies, the sleeves are loose, can be short or long, and the overall cut is usually generous, perfectly suited for a small child. Blouses can have various neckline styles, with or without collars. The materials are commonly cottons, linens, synthetics, satins, and silks. Fancier blouses can be made of velvets, velveteen, and valoure (sp?)--essentially, anything of a middleweight material. A blouse can be tightly fitted or drape loose from the body. The blouse has become the essential staple article of women's dresswear, but in past years was also worn by boys.

Boater: A boater is a flat-topped hat with a relatively narrow flat brim. It was traditionally, made of stiffened straw braid, but synthetic fibers are now sometimes used.

Bodice kilt: The Highland kilt is a basically a Tartan skirt covering the lower half of the body. Many of the kilts shown here worn by younger boys were bodice kilts. Boys tend to be slender without pronounced hips. This makes it difficult for these boys to wear kilts. The solution was to sew on a bodice to the kilt to hold it up. This is the same reason that younger boys wear suspender shorts to hold them up.

Bonnet: Generally used to describe a woman's, girl's or babby's cap with long ties or ribbons to secure under the chin. There is also often a deep brim. Also used in Scotland to describe a ma's or boy's caps. Both the "Balmoral" bonnet and the "Glengarry" bonnet are equally correct for Higland wear. Tartan balmorals, like tartan bow ties, should never be worn with a kilt. The Balmoral is a very ancient headgear. It is the old broad bonnet commonly worn in the Highlands and Lowlands for many centuries. It may be black, blue, or fawn, with or without diced band, and may have loose flowing ribbons behind, or a knotted bow. The Glengarry is generally dark blue or black, and may or may not have a diced band. It is invariably worn with loose flowing ribbons, and many people prefer it because of its jaunty appearance. A Balmoral bonnet, however should not be worn with the ribbons trailing behind. The ribbons of any bonnet should be at the centre of the back. Eagle feathers should not be worn as a matter of course in a bonnet. The use of feathers is strictly limited to those whose right to wear them has been established by the Lord Lyon of Scotland.

Bow: Bows became enormously popular in the later half of the 19th Century. Bows are most associated of course with girls' clothing and hairstyles. Generally the largest, most prominent bows were used for girls. Bows were, however, also extensively used on boys, especially during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century as mother's sought to add a little flair to their sons' outfits. The largest and most prominent bows were collar bows used with boys Fauntleroys suits, some almost dwarfing the boy involved. Given the ingenuity of doting mothers, a wide variety of bows were also used with many other fashions, from shoulder ties on dresses for boys before breeching to decorative shoe bows.

Bow--collar: Bows are mostly thought of as girls' adornments, they were an important part of a boy's dressy outfits in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. They passed out of fashion after World War I. While they lasted, however, they certainly added a bit of flair to boys clothes. In some cases the large bows and lace collars almost seemed to engulf the bows of the period.

Bowler: The bowler is an oval hat with round, rigid crown or dome and a small, shaped, curved brim. It was a stiff hat normally made of felt. The bowler is also known as a derby, because it was populaized by the English Earl of Derby in 19th century. This is generally considered to be a man's hat. HBC has noted American boys, even pre-teens wearing them with suits in the 1890s. We're not sure to what extent they were worn in other countries.

Boy Scouts: The Boy Scouts have been the most successful, but not the first, uniformed youth group. The traditional uniform was short pants and kneesocks, but this has become less common in recent years. Lord Baden Powell's choice of short trousers and kneesocks as part of the official uniform of the English Scouts in 1906 are believed to have played a major role in the rapid adoption of shorts as a standard boy's garment.

Breeches: Knicker-like pants ending just below the knee. From the late 16th century until the early 19th century, most men and boys wore breeches as their lower body garment. Through the centuries breeches were seen in many forms and lengths. In the early 18th century breeches were barely seen beneath long waistcoats and coats. By the mid-18th century they were more noticeable beneath shorter waistcoats and open coats, and so the cut of breeches became tighter and revealed the shape of the leg. Worn by all levels of society, breeches were made in a great variety of silks, cottons, linens, wools, knits, and leathers. It was the lower classes, peasants, workmen, and sailors that first wore long trousers, and were first derisevely call sans cullotes", without short trousers. Boys from affluent families began the transition to long trousers when in the late 18th century they began wearing long trouser skeleton suits. The term breeches coined the term breeching.

Breeching: the act of dressiong young boys who had been wearing dresses and other skirted garments in breeches or trousers as the men of the day were wearing.

Brim: The brim is the projecting edge of a cap or hat hat. A hat has a full brim and a cap a partial brim.

Brother/Sister outfits: Generations of mothers dressed their children, in some cases both sons and daughters, identically or in similar outfits--convinced this was a charming fashion. This was a simple matter in the 18th and much of the 19th Century. As little boys wore dresses just like their sisters, it was easy to ooutfit the boys and girls in identical. At the time it was considered in appropriate to outfit girls in boys clothes. As distinctive dress styles for little boys developed in the late 19th Century and the fashion of dressing little boys in dresses disappeared after World War I (1914-19), this became more difficult. Many nothers, however, still wanted to dress their children similarly. Thus styles outfits with girls dresses and coordinate boys outfits were developed.

Buster Brown suits: Buster Brown suits were popular for younger children in the early 20th Century. I'm not sure who introduced the style or precisely when. I'm not sure if it was a style picked up by the Buster Brown comic strip or an entirely new style created by the cartoonist. It does appear, however, to have been most popular after the turn of the century. Toddlers at that time often wore dresses or smocks. One of a boy's first suits was often a Buster Brown suit. Buster Brown suits were worn by boys from about 5 to 8 years of age, but some mothers dressed older boys in them for a few additional years.

Button-on suits: Button on suits were one of the many styles of clothing that developed for boys beginning in the 1910s as fewer and fewer boys wore dresses when they were younger. The button-on suits might be matching or coordinated blouses and pants. The pants were held on by buttons at the waist of the blouse that fitted into button holes in the pants. Yoing boys are very active and with their slender waists, keeping up their pants could be quite a proble. It was these buttons that conveniently kept the pants up rather than suspender arrangements or belts.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: April 24, 1998
Last updated: July 14, 2001