Boys' Musical Costumes: Types of Groups/Situations

Figure 1.-- One source suggested they were a group of New Jesey Boy Scouts. They would be called a band. As they are all violins they wouldn't be an orchestra. We are actually not sure if they are a performing group. Perhaps they are a group of students from a music school or the boys the teacher poseing with the boys is instructing. We are unsure when this portrait was taken, probably about 1920. Note that some of the boys are wearing sailor suits. There look to be two girls involved. This leads us to suspect that these are not Scouts. A caption from the source suggests that a grandchild recognized an ancestor and wanted to know who the other people were.

Boys have participated in a wide range of musical activities, many of which required uniforms. These actvities have include both instrumental and choral music. There are costumes associated with many musical activities. Boys participating in choirs have distinctive uniforms. Bands commonly wear uniforms. A generation ago it was expected that a boy participating in fine arts programs would dress up for recitals and performance. This usually meant a boy's best suit. Until recently this would mean a short pants or knicker suit. Boys involved in the fine arts would generally be from more affluent families or middle class families aspiring to climb the social ladder. Such families would be the most likely to dress their boys in short pants suits. Some of the costume or appropriate dress associated with the fine arts include:


Concerts were once primarily for adults. Children did not normally attend. A youths first concert was often an important event. Times have changed. Music is now a much more important thing in many children's life than before. There are now concerts specifically for children. Many parents like to make attending a concert a family event. Of course rock concerts re a major part of teen life. Elvis and rock muscians have taken music out of the image of an elite efete passtime. Dressing up for performances, except for classical performances is no longer expected. In fact rock muscians like to dress down.


Bands are musical groups that are smaller or more specialized than orchestras. Band usually are composed primarily of brass, woodwinf, 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.


Boy choirs once wore very distinctve costumes. Many perforned in liturgical costumes. Ethbic costumes and saiolr suits were also popular. Many costumes had short pants. Less flamboyant cosumes are now the rule. Blazers and long trousers are now the most common costume.

Home Music

We note a range of interesting images concerning music in home environments providing views of family relationships and clothing trends. Music in the home during the 19th century mostly meant family memmbers playing instruments together or the mother playing the piano and the father and children singing along. Music was a medium the entire family could enjoy together. Here sheet music was very important and continued to be so through the 1920s. Thomad Edison invented the phonograph (geamaphone) in 1877. This and the development of commercial radioin the 1920s brought music into the homes of those who were mot musically gifted. At first the whole family could listen to music together. This began to change especially by the 1940s with jitterbug music and bobby soxers. Today there are substantial generational differences in musical tastes. Teenagers and adults often have very different tastes in music. Here there are differebces among ethnic and religious groups.

Instumental Music

Boys practicing their instruments generally dressed informally. They sometimes, however, dressed up to have their photograph taken. Many boys studying musical instuments never play in a band or orchestra and thus never had performance costumes. Most will, however, paricipate in recitals. Mothers once insisted that boys wear their very best suits for these recitals. A wide variety of uniforms were selected, some were more popular than others.


Youth orchestras did not require uniforms, although dress is usually standardized. Many schools had the boys wear their school uniforms for orchestral presentations. Schools without uniforms will often adopt simple orchestra outfits like white shirts and dark pants. Schools and a variety of other groups have formed children's groups. Unlike choral groups, the orchestras have generally been mixed groups including both boys and girls. Some schools are not large enough to have large orchestras, but manyblarger schools have them.

Popular Music and Entertaiment

This is not a section which intially occurred to HBC. A HBC reader has suggested that we should add a section on popular music and entertainment. This is alittle difficult to define and would appear to be a rather minor phenomenon. There have for centuries been musical prodigies and child actors. HBC already has sections ob both. Recently a new category has developd with children singing popular music and involved in entertainment. These childrn do not seem to quite fit in the prodigy category as their talent is often not prodigious. Rather their appearance comes from the bugeoning buying power of children--especially pre-teens.


There are many famous child music prodigies. The most famous is certainly Mozart in the 18th Century, but there have been many others in the 19th and 20th Century. The clothing they wore for their performances were often examples of contemporary formal boys' clothing. I've just begun this page, but would be interested in any comments or contributions by HBC viewers.

Unknown Groups

We have noted a varietyof unidentified images. The image here is a good example (figure 1). One source suggested they were a group of New Jesey Boy Scouts. They would be called a band I don't think. As they are all violins they wouldn't be an orchestra. We are actually not sure if they are a performing group. Perhasps they are a group of students from a music school or the boys the teacher poseing with the boys is instructing.


Schallenberg, E. Glenn. Psychological Science (2004). Schallenberg is a researcher at the University of Toronto.


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Created: 1:07 AM 7/13/2005
Last updated: 1:07 AM 7/13/2005