*** English boys clothes : garments

English Boys' Clothes: Garments

English boy sandals
Figure 1.--This English boy riding a carosel wears comfortable looking summer clothes, a casual shirt and short pants with ankle socks and school sandals. The photograph looks to be taken about 1970.

England has had a greater impact on boys' garments than any other country. Important boys' garments and styles developed in England. The prestige and importance of the English monarchy may well have played a major role here. An English monarch, Queen Victoria, popularized the Scottish kilt for boys. She also made the sailor suit into a boys' staple throughout Europe and North America. Other major boys' suit types like the Eton and Norfolk suit developed in England. English boys have worn kneepants, short pants, knickers, and long pants, although the chronology is somewhat different than in America. Some garments like short pants became almost associated with English boys--although they are not now commonly worn in England except during the summer and at a few schools. Boys coats around the world have been grearly influenced by English styles. Sweaters have been very popular in the often chilly English climate. Many important sweater types first appeared in England. Knee socks were commonly worn year round for school, play, leasure events, and formal wear. Sandals were more popular in England than any county and became a school staple.


Engish boys have worn a wide range of headwear. There were many popular styles of sailor hats and caps. These were notable in that sailor headwear was often worn by boys and girls. There were also a variety of school headwear, including both peaked caps and boaters. Here girls began wearing boaters, but never peaked caps. There were many other school headwear styles for girls, including berets and other styles. Flat caps were also worn by English boys, normally working-class boys. We also note boys wearing stocking caps. School caps went out of style in the 1950s, but were retained at many private schools. Boys began wearing American baseball caps in the 1980s.

Skirted Garments

English boys have worn a variety of shkirted garments. These garments have included dresses, kilts, pinafores, skirts, smocks, and tunics. These garments are generally associated with girls, but the situation in England is more complicated. They were, however, widely worn by boys, especially younger boys. Younger English boys for several centuries wore dresses. They were essentially the same garments as their sisters worn, although we do begin to see stylistic differences in the later half of the 19th century. We also see boys wearing smocks, although not as commonly as in France accross the Channel. Despite the association with girls, two skirted garments are strictly male garments. Tunics were for boy, but kilts were worn by males of all ages. Kilts were of course Scottish, but we see English boys dressed up in kilt outfits for special occassions. This ocuured mostly in the 19th and very early 20th century. A kilt knockoff was the kilt suit which appeared in the second half of the 19th century. This was essentially a skirted suit, but often called a kilt suit. It was worn by younger boys before breeching.

Sailor Suits

Queen Victoria also made the sailor suit into a boys' staple throughout Europe and North America. The origins of the boys' sailor suit or vague. Apparently it was in England during the first quarter of the 19th century when someone had the inspiration that boys should wear sailors' trousers. (Some sources suggest an even earlier appearance of the sailor suit as boys' atire, but as yet I cannot confirm that.) It is not known who first coceived of the idea. It is known with certainty, however, who popularized it. It was Queen Victoria who began to dress the young princes in sailor suits during the 1840s. The 5-year old Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) was not the first English boy to wear a sailor suit. It was, however, when in 1846 the prince's portrait was painted onboard the royal yacht during the Queen's visit to Ireland that the sailor suit began to attract the interest of English mothers and eventually mothers around the world. The prince wore a scaled down version of a real Royal Navy uniform. The uniform was arefully chosen to be an enlisted man's sailor suit. This can not have been an acident. It was almost certainly a carefully chosen decision calculated to give a favorable impression of the monarchy to the British people. Unfortunately HBC does not yet have details on precisely how the uniform was selected.

Inclement Weather Garments

English children have worn a variety of knitted garments, especially during the winter. The most important was sweaters. Many important sweater types first appeared in England. Some English boys during the 1920s began wearing sweaters, which tended to to be made longer than now, over their pants--usuallly short pants. This fashion was, however, not as pronounced as on the Continent. We have observed this same convention in other countries--including Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. We do not know why this convention developed. Later the swearters becam more shorter and were cut at the waist and often tucked inside the pants. We also note important coat styles, especially sailor styles such as such as sailor styles, including reefer jackets, pea jackets as well as duffle coats. One cold weather garment that does not seem very common are leggings. Other garments include gloves, mufflers, and scarves. An especially destinctive cold weather garment is the balaclava. Amother type of inclement weather gear is rainwear. This is particulary important in England where it rains a good deal, both during the summer and winter. Several different types of rainwear are worn in Englnd.


English boys have worn a wide variety of suits. The suit used to be a much more important par of a boy's wardrobe than is the case today when suits are not commonly worn. Many suit styles originated in England, including the sailor suit, the Eton and Norfolk suits as well as several other lesser known styles. Suits with cut-away jackets were popular in the mid-19th century. Sack suits gradually became the sandard style. Single-breasted coats have been the major style worn by boys in England. Suits were worn with different types of trousers. Engish boys have worn long lants, kneepants, knicker, and short pamts suits. We see boys in the 19th century wearing both kneepants and knicker suits. Many English boys after World War I wore short pants suits. The popularity of short pants suits began to decline in the late 1950s. They were still available for younger boys in the 70s, but rarely seen since except as part of school uniforms.


Rompers do not appear to have been as popular in England as they were in France and many continental countries. An English reader confirms that as in America, the garments were called rompers. While we have not noted many examples of English boys wearing rompers in the photogrphic record, we do notice a few. As we have so few inafes and no catalog information at this time, we have no idea about the conventiins involved. We are not ure if they were a boys' garment as in France or also worn by girls as in America. They do seem to have been a kind of plsy suit. We have not noted the more formal rompers as sometimes seen in France. After the 1950s they seem to have been basically an infant outfit.

Decorative Items

Clothing has a variety of practical, utilitarian purposes. There are also a range of secorative elements to clothing. It is likely that decoration developed as soon as homonids developed the technology to make clothing. With modern boys, decoration is not as important as fior girls. But there are a variuety of decorarive times. While most garments are decorative to some extent, they also have largely practical, utilitarisn purposes. Some garments are, however, largely decorative with little or no practical purpose. A purely decorative items worn by boys is neckwear. And neckwear such as ties is particularly associated wuth England. Bows were commonly worn as neckwear, perhap[s not as commonly as in America, but still were common. There were other decorative usages for bows. And there are many othger types of neckwear and types of decorative items. These items are of varying importance. They include: belt buckles, crests, fdathers, garter flashes, lanyards and whistles, logos, tassels, poms, and other items.

Shirts and Blouses

HBC has not yet been able to access English shirts and blouses. We have, however, done some work on collars, in particular Eton and lace collars. The Etpn collar ws a major style worn by English boys during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but rapidly declined until after World War I. We notice younger boys wearing fancy blouses, but not nearly as common as in France. British boys commonly wore standard pointed collars. We do not notice boys in the post-World War II era wearing colorful shirts, perhas because school uniforms became so common. Also button-down collars were mnot nearly as popular as in the United States.


English boys have worn kneepants, short pants, knickers, and long pants, although the chronology is somewhat different than in America and other countries. Until the 20th century, the types and styles of trousers appear similar in both England and the Continent and America. Modern trousers appeared in the 17th century. Knee breeches were standard thrrought the 18th century. An exception here were the long pants skeleton suits that boys began wearing in the late 18th century. Long trousers were sandard in the early 19th century. Various style of shortened-length trousers became popular for boys beginning in the nid-19th century. At first only little boys wire them, but they gradually became popular for older boys as well. Some garments like short pants wgich became popular after World War I became almost associated with English boys--although they are not now commonly worn in England except during the summer and at a few schools. After World War II, especially by the 1960s, long trousers became increasingly popular for boys. Short trousers continued to be worn at school for a while. Graddually shorts became more casual, summer wear.

Coats and Jackets

Boys coats around the world have been grearly influenced by English styles. Perhaps the best known is the gabardine overcoat. This was adopted as the official uniform item by many schools. A HBC reader recalls the rubberized raincoat he wore as a boy. There are significant climatic differences between England and America. England never gets as cold as it does in the northern states or as warm as it does in the southern states. Sweaters have been very popular in the often chilly English but rarely bitter cold climate. We note some terms common in Britain that are not used in America. Cagoule is a British term. I do not think many Americans will recognize it. It means a lightweight anorak. This would be a lightweight hooded waterproof top or jacket. It is made of such a light-weifgt material that it can even be folded up and easily. We have noted brightly colored ones (often red or yellow) being carried by Cubs on their belt as a compact bundle at the back. It is useful in England and Scotland where rain showers can come up quickly. So boys can carry this garment instead of a heavy raincoat. The term appears to have appeared in the mid-20th century, adopted ffrom French. The term reltes to �cowl,� from Latin cucullus �cap, hood� which is the source of the English word cowl. All cagoules have hoods for rain protection.


Many of today's popular sports were created in England (cricket, soccer, and rugby) or based on sports created in England (baseball and football). As in most of the world, soccer (football) has emerged as by far the most popular sport. Each of these sports have distinctive uniforms and equipment. Boys not only wore actual uniforms, but also active, casual wear based on those uniforms. Sports inspired active wear began to become very popular in the 1970s and has become a major type of boys' clothing. Here both enthusiasm for sports and the trend toward casual clothing were involved. We are working on pages for the various sports, including cricket, rugby, soccer, swiming and other sports.


English boys have wore a range of hosiery over time. British boys became rather associated with short pants and knee socks during the early and mid-20th century, but they are no longer very common. Boys have also worn ankle socks, three-quarter socks, and loing stockings. Unlike some European countries, Wnglish boys have never commonly wore tight, although they are worn by girls. Boys and their fathers in the 18th century wore stockings with knee breeches. Long pants became popular at the turn of the 19th century, first for boys and later for men. We see boys wearing white socks. More information becomes available at the mid-19th century because styles of shortened length pants began to become popular at the same time photography appeared. Boys wore long stockings, but we see some younger boys wearing socks, commonly before being breeched. Long stockings were very common in the late 19th century as knee pants became increasingly standard for boys. Barefeeet were generally seen as a sign of poverty. Knee ocks at the turn of the 20th century were also common, but not always apparent because knee pants wre so long. Baden Powell when he created the uniform for the new Scout movement helped popularize short pants and knee socks for boys. Knee socks were standfard boys wear during the inter-War era and early post-War era. During the summer boys might wear sandals or sneakers without socks. By the 1960s short pants and knee socks began to become less popular. Even the Scouts dropped short pants, but the Cubs continued to wear short pants and knee socks. English boys in the late 20th century continued to wear short pants, but mostly as casual summer wear without knee socks, The exception was school uniforms. Some schools continued to require scgool uniforms and this often included knee socks.


We have only limited information on English footwear at thus time. Some footwear is the same styles as worn by boys in many other countries. We note boys at the turn-of-the-20th century wore heavy boot-like shoes. Poor boys might wear wooden shoes or clogs, but they seem less common than is the case of many boys on the Continent. The oxford shoe is a standard boys' style, but notably named for Oxford, England. One of the most destinctive English footwrear style is the school sandal. Another destinctive English style is Wellington boots. Canvas shoes were mkostly worn for school gym classes and called plimsols. Sneakers became popular in the 1970s and were called trainers.


English underwear terms are different than American terms. The common union suits worm in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were called cominations in Britain. Underpants are referred to as just pants. Actual outergarments are referred to as trousers, never pants. Girls underpants are called knickers, a term one used for short pnts as well. Long stocking were not as common in England during the 20th century as in America and several European countries, but they were worn. The common xstocking supporter garment or waist was called a Liberty bodice.

Jewelry and Glasses

We have not yet developed information on jewlry worn by boy English boys. We note American boys weraring rings, especially in the mid-19th century. We do not know if that was common in England. Unlike Amerri=ca, Daguerreotyoes and Anbvroitypes were noit very common in Englsnd. The principal itemn of hewlry worn bu English boys in the 20th century was wristwatches. They seem to be fairly ciommon as boys approached their teen years. An English reader has sent an interesting assessment of his experience with National Health System glasses.

Garment Selection Approaches

One interested aspect of the garments chosen for boys clothing is the selection of the garments in relationshiop to the age oif the child. One appraoch here was age grading. Here the children in the family have their clothes determined by their ages. As they grow older major changes are made in their clothing such as braeching. Hair styles were also agre graded. Other steps might be more modest such as changing the accessories worn rather than the garment. A younger boy might wear a large bow, but after a year or two the size of the bow or the type of collar might be cahnged while the boy continued to wear the same suit. This approach conflicted with another popular fashion, dressng all the children alike, espcially the like gender appraoch. Her some mothers adopted both appraoches. The children were dressed alike, but minor changes such as with bows and collars were made or an older boy might be allowed to wear long trousers or a watch fob with his suit. The pratice if age greading apopears to have begun in the early Victorian era or just before it and continued through the Edwardian era and World War I.


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Created: January 5, 2001
Last updated: 7:25 AM 4/19/2012