Boys Fashions: Country Trends (1900s)

Figure 1.--This looks like some kind of extended family gathering in Germany. The portrait was taken at Nordseebad Langeoog in 1908. I'm not sure where that was, but may be a North Sea Resport. Mote how many of the boys wer sailor suits and one girl. The boys all seem to be wearing kneepants, some with long black stockings. Some with short socks.

We note considerable similarities in how boys dressed in many countries during the 1900s. Some younger boys still wore dresses and kilt suits. We see some boys wearing fancy styles like Fauntleroy suits, but some newer more informal styles like tunics were increasinly popular The sailior suit was worn in just about every country, but there were differences. Sailor suits were more popular in some countries than others. They seemed to have been particularly popular in Germany. Styles also varied from country to country. Knee pants were very common. Younger boys might sear short socks, but long stockings were worn by older boys. This depended somedwhat on climate, explaing some of the national differences. We note other variations. Kneepants seemed especially common in America, particularly for older boys. Also the shift to knickers had begun in America by the end of the decade. A similar shift did not occur in Europe.


American boys fashions were similar in mab\ny ways to European fashions, especially British. There were some differences. The Buster Brown suit and bangs were especially popular in America. Perhaps the greatest difference, however, is that the school age legs of American children were still mostly encased in kneepants or knickers and long stockings although socks were coming in and being covered by leggings in winter. Kneepants seemed especially common in America, particularly for older boys. Also the shift to knickers had begun in America by the end of the decade. A similar shift did not occur in Europe. The new style of short pants did not prove popular in America. Even Boy Scouts in America wore knickers rather than short pants.


A good indicator of British children's fashion in the 1900s are E. Nesbit's children's books. Both the text and charming original drawings provide a good snapshot of boys clothes. In the books written at the turn of the century (The Story of the Treadsure Seekers (1899) and Five Children and It (1902)), the girls--including the older girls--often appear in pinafores, but never the boys. The boys wear mostly knickers with long stockings. Some of the younger boys are pictured in short pants. Some sailor suits are worn for summer play with floppy hats. Smaller boys still in the nursery often appear in Fautleroy suits with lace collars, and velvet knickers. Velvet short pants had not yet appeared. Nevertheless, the velvet suit and lace collar was a style the older boys do not approve of. Nesbit in the The Story of the Treasure Seekers describes one such boy, Albert is very tidy. He wears frilly collars and velvet knickerbockers. I can't think how he can bear to. The older boys dress up in Eton and Norfolk suits. Short pants or trousers worn with knee or even ankle socks appeared in England for younger children. Cold weather always called for high, buttoned or laced shoes and in summer, Oxfords and strap shoes.




Sailor caps and hats were popular in the 1900s. Some boys wore militar-style peaked caps. Another popular style were flat caps. Some boys wore Fauntlroy suits, but they were not as popular as in France and England. We notice many German boys in the 1900s wearing sailor suits. Germany at the time was involved in a naval arms race with Britain and a country' navy, especially battleships, were the hallmark of a great power. Boys also wear a variety of suits, most with kneepants and long stockings. Some boys wore short pants and kneesocks which the Scouts and Wandervogel help popularize.


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Created: 11:46 PM 3/15/2006
Last updated: 11:46 PM 3/15/2006