English Boy Choir and Altar Boy Costumes

Figure 1.--A reader asked about destinguishing between altar boys and choir boys. This unidentified English boy had his portrait taken in Peterborough. We are not sure when the portrait was taken, but expect the 1910s. We think that he is an altar boy. Note the Eton collar. Image courtesy of the BP collection.

A reader asks how you tell the difference between altar boys and choir boys in indivifual portraits. We are not sure about this, but have some ideas. We don't think that there is any real way of telling definatively. I think on these individual portraits, the boys are more ikely to be an altar boy. Also choir boys are more likely to have some special item like a ruff adopted by the choir. Some choirs wear Eton collars, but at the time this portrait was taken, boys commonly wore Eton collars with suits. There are other special items that choirs wore. Also choristers often receive awards for their achievements and would often be photographed wearing their awards. This is something altar boys would not have. Boys wearing basic robes like a surplice and cassock are most likely to be altar boys. The location can also be a hint. A chorister would be most liked to be photographed in a cathedral city, although this is also not a definitive matter. A reader weites, "I am not sure here. The ruff is not the only possibility of a choir collar. Two examples in today times are King's College Choir and Westminster Cathedral Choir with Eton collars and there are other choirs without any special collar. And I also saw lots of church choirs with full costume (cassock, surplice, ruff or not). It doesn't need to be a cathedral. So we really can't say for sure whether this is a choir boy or altar boy."


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Created: 5:18 AM 5/27/2005
Last updated: 5:18 AM 5/27/2005