*** English boys clothes Victorian era chronology decade trend

English Boys' Clothes Chronologies: Victorian Era--Decade Trends

English boys clothes 19th century
Figure 1.--This painted portrait is unattributed and the subject us unknown. We believe, however, that it was painted in England during the 1840s. The boy is dressed in a black suit with a coloful plaid vest (waistcoat) and string tie. Note the large curled collar. He has some sort of pin on the front of his shirt. He looks to be from an affluent, but not rich family.

Queen Victoria ruled for over 6 decades, an incredible reign. While much of it after Prince Albert's death was done from seclusion. She left an enormous impact on English society. Not the least was the impact on fashion, including boys' fashions. Given that the Queen was so young when she ascended the throne and lived such a long life any analysis of the era has to separate her reign into that covering mid-19th century (1840-70) and late 19th century (1870-90) Britain. Many of the fashion inovations introduced or influenced by Queen Victoria in the mid-19th century, such as sailor suits and kilts, had become accepted and imortant fashion conventions by the late 19th century. Through the development of photograph we have an incredible record of fashion, especially during the late-19th century. Unfortunately, photography did not take off in England like it did in America. Thus we have very few early photographic types, Dags and Ambros, (1840s and 50s). Only with the popularity of the CDV (albumen process) do we begin to see large numbers of English photogrsphic images (1860s). Photography only grew in popularity from that point, leaving us a detailed record of fashion trends. .

The 1840s

Photography was invented in France (1839). It soon spread across the Chanel, but unlike in America, not yet in large numbers. Most photographs in the 1840s were Daguerreotypes. Virtually all taken in studios. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were married February 11, 1840. It was one of the most famous and certainly most important royal marriages of the 19th century. Children soon followed to the delight of the British public. It had been some time since there were royal princes and princesses. The British public were delighted and eagerly sought out information on the royal brood. Victoria and Albert were anxious to remake the image of the monarchy and thus provided information about the growing family to the public. Conveniently, the marriage ad children were contemporaneous with the appearance of photography. Victoria has an enormous impact on Victorian society. Not the least was the impact on fashion, including boys' fashions. It was Victoria and Albert that introduced both the kilt and sailor suit to boy's fashions. Both had very significant political implications. We notice girls and younger boys wearing identical dresses, often with low necklines. Balloon sleeves seem stylish. A good example is a Thornburn painting of unidentified children. This portrait here is unattributed and the subject us unknown (figure 1). We believe, however, that it was painted in England during the 1840s. The boy is dressed in a black suit with a plaid vest (waistcoat) with a string tie. Note the large curled collar. He has some sort of pin on the front of his shirt. He looks to be from an affluent, but not rich family.

The 1850s

While photography was invented in 1839, we still have relatively few English images for the 1850s. As in the 1840s there are relatively few of the early photographic types like Dags and Ambros. We have, however, found some images. We see another Thornburm painting. This Thornburn portrait shows the grandchildren of the Duke of Wellington in 1852. Girls and younger boys continue to wear dresses. Here there was a social class factor. Working class children tended to be breeched earlier. Boys after breeching wore suits. We notice a painting of an idealized Victorian family in the early-1850s. The boy about 6 years old wears a maroon tunic with a black belt, lacy pantalettes, white socks, and strap shoe. Much of our information comes from studio photography. This shows how the privileges classes dressed. A photographic portrait cost only a fraction of that of a painted portrait. Still Dags and Ambros were not cheap in terms of contemporary wages. They were beyond the buying power of even the working poor. The Industrial Revolution was changing the face of England in the 1850s. The cities were rapidly growing. Much of the population, however still lived in rural areas. One amateur photographer has left us a wonderful collection of rural Britain in the 1850s with images of how ordinary boys and girls dressed at the time.

The 1860s

We finally begin to see large number of English photographic images in the 1860s with the advent of the albumen process and a first the CDV. This brought down the cost of a portrait. Thus we have a wider view of English society, although it is still weighted toward the privileged classes which could afford to have photographic portraits taken. The vast majority of the images taken during the 1860s were studio portraits, mostly CDVs. As a result we have a vast repository of these portraits giving us details on fashion go trends on a unprecedented scale. We see boys wearing suits which for the first time generally had jackets and pants that matched, We see a variety of pants, including shortened length pants (knee pants and knickers) and long pants. We mostly see boys wearing these suits, Cut-away jackets were a popular style. Older boys wore lapel jackets or collar buttoning styles. What we see mostly is what boys from well-to-do families. We have less information on working-class boys. And school photography was not yet an established tradition, but we see studio portraits of boys posing in their school uniforms, again meaning well-to do boys. Britain did not launch its public (state) seduction system until the 1870s. As photography was virtually all in the studio, we do not get to see how children were dressed when they were out and about, not only at school, but in every day activities away from home. One exception to studio photography were albumen stereo view cards. There was a huge demand for images during the Victorian era. Photographs could no yet b printed in newspapers ad magazines. So English families had stereo view scopes and bought the cards to see what the wider world was like. America had the largest market for these cards, but the British market was the strongest. This was only possible with albumen process of the 1860s. Now many of these cards were land marks, buildings, wildlife, natural features, far away countries and colonies, as well as other subjects. A few had, however, images of Britain capturing British children. This was a small part of the photographic record, but a valuable addition to the studio photography. There are also paintings and drawings, including fashion magazines going backtio the early-19th century.

The 1870s

We do not yet have a lot of information on English boys' wear in the 1870s. There is an extensuve English photographic record, but not nearly as large as the American photographic record. And it is more biased toward the affluent class than the American photograpohic record. We do note that sailor suits were popular for younger boys. We note a 1873 portrait of an unidentified Birmingham family shows a range of fashionable clotyhing, including a tunic suit, cut-way jacket, and heavily embrodered dress. Another example is a fashionble London boy Osborn Richards in 1876. As in America, stripped stockings were also popular in the 1870s.

The 1880s

Little boys continued to ear dresses in the 1880s. We also notice English boys wearing kilt suits, but this style was not as common as in America. We see more boys, however, wearing Highland kilt outfits. The Fauntleroy suit appeared in England during the 1880s. The style was an important fashion for boys after breeching. We no longer commonly see cut-away jackers, excepot for Fauntleroy suits. Like kilt suits, Fauntleroy suits were not as common as in America. English boys tended to wear bloomer knickers with Fauntleroy suits, while American boys were more likely to wesar straight-leg kneepants. The sailor suit was a well established style, although often it was not worn by boys older than 8 years. That was because this was the approximate age that boys began to attend their preparatory boarding school. Shortened-length pants became increasingly common for boys in the 1880s. While long pants were still very common, shortened-length pants were much more common than in the 1870s. Here there were variations from family to family as well as social-class factors involved. They were widely won by boys at private schools, although this varied from chool to school. We note both knee pants and knickers. Eton collars were standard for well dressed boys. We see large numbers of boys wearing these gleaming white, stiff collars. We note boys wearing both Eton suits as well as other styles like Norfolk suits with Eton collars.

The 1890s

We still see mostly formally dressed children from studio portraits in the 1890s. One wonderful exception are the phoptographs takem by Francis Meadow Sutcliffe in the Yorkshire seaside port of Whitby. He took photographs outside the studio, aided by adbances in camerasl and photographic materials. Among his body of work are several images of ordinary working-class children. The boys wear suits, mostly with caps. Boys at the time did mot have wardrones of casual clothing. Quite a number are barefoot. We also have some information on 1890s families. Family information is useful because we not only see the boys, but other members of the family as well as some context concerning the family condition. These family images tend to be more affluent families. We mostly see school-age boys wearing caps. Peaked caps were standard, but not universal. Younger and older boys more commonly wore hats. Suits were common for both ordinary and school wear as well as dressing up. Boys might have one suit for best and anolder suit for everydaywear. Younger bioys wire destinctive styles like Fauntleroy suiys and sailor suits. Stangely, sailor suits were not as common. Lapel sack suits were becoming standard. We still see some collar-buttoning jackets. Knee pants were standard for boys. We see some knickers, epecailly at some boarding schools Long stockings were still common. High-top shoes were common, although not nearly universal as in America.


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Created: July 10, 2003
Last updated: 7:18 PM 11/17/2023