*** English boy clothes -- suits

English Boys Garments: Suits

English boy vested suit
Figure 1.--Here we see an English boy wearing a single-breasted three-piece knickers suit with vest. Notice the Eton collar and Windsor knot necktie. While he wears an Eton collar, this is not an Eton suit. His little brother wears a Scottish outfit, but with short psnts rather than a kilt. Click on the image for a fuller discussion of this. Notice his tam complete with eagle feather. The portrait is undated, we might guess the 1890s. A reader tells us, "The elder boy does not have a Windsor knot in his tie, hence the right side of the knot is nearer to vertical than the left. This confirms that he is right-handed, starting the process by taking the wide end of the tie over the other from a position to the right of the neck. Left-handers tie their ties in such a way that they produce a mirror-image of what you see in this picture." Another reader writes, "The small boy is in fact wearing a kilt, you can just see the top of his sporran above his balmoral hat." HBC see all sorts of Scottish items, a Balmoral cap with eagle featger, a nilitary-style jacket often wirn with a kilt, and a plaid. What we do not see is a kilt. As far as we can tell, the boy looks to be wearing short pants.

English boys have worn a wide variety of suits. The suit used to be a much more important part of a boy's wardrobe than is the case today when suits are not commonly worn. The basic suit garments were the jacket or coat and matching trousers. Some three-piece suits came with vests. There were also suits with matching caps, but this was not very common. 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. English boys have worn long pants, kneepants, knicker, and short pamts suits. We see boys in the 19th century wearing both knee pants 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.


The suit was one the most important part of a boy's wardrobe. We are not sure bout the 18th century, bit in the 19th and early-20th century it was a boy's most important garment. Here there were important social class differences. Some working-class boys may not have had suits in the early-19th century, but suits were vry common by mid-century. A working-clss boy may have had only one suit or at best a suit for best and aan older suit for most occassions. Boys from more affluent families would have a larger wardrobe, depenbding somewht on ge. Suits and school blazers were still very common in the first half of the 20th century. Over time the importance has declined. Clothing became much more informal after World War I. Gradually the suit became less important. Today boys do not commonly wear suits. Many boys do not even have a suit.

English Influence

English boys have worn a wide variety of suits. England actually had a major role in shapeing men and boys fashions. In much the same way that France was more influential in setting women's fashions. It is easy to see why Britain was a style setter. Britain in the 19th century when these fashions developed was the center of a huge empire with a large textile industry and vast commercial power. It is less obvious why it was men's fashions that Britain most influenced.


Younger boys wore suits with cut-away jackets in the mid-19th century. Some of these suits were plain, others had elaborate styling and detailing. The Eton suit became very popular after mid-century. It originated of course at Eton College and was adopted at other public schools, but was worn as a basic suit style outside of school as well. The standard sack suit became common in the late 19th century. Many came with vests. Lapels were often set higher on the coat than was common in the 20th century. The single-breasted jacket was the most common. Other styles like Norfolk jackets appeared at this time. So did blazers, but they became more popular ater the turn of the 20th century. We note the Rugby suit at the turn of the 20th century.


A suit is a set of clothing intended to be worn together. Normally suit garments are made of the same material, but there there are some exceptions. The basic suit garments were the jacket or coat and matching trousers. While this was the basic compnents of the suit, they were of course done in many different styles. There were also three-piece suits. The three-piece suits came with vests (waistcoats). The vests were normally made of the same material as the jacket and trousers, bit some 19th century vests were made to contrast with the rest of the suit. There were also suits with matching caps, but this was much less common. These caps were primarily see in the 20th century and were done as peaked caps in the style of English school caps.


English boys have worn a wide variety of suits. England had a major role in shapeing men and boys fashions. Here by suit types we are referring to jacket styles. Many if not most boys' suit styles originated in England, including the sailor suit, the Eton, and Norfolk suits as well as several other lesser known styles. Sailor suits used naval middy blouses. The Eton suit had a small, short jacket. The Norfolk suit had a jacket with belts and strap-like vertical elements. Suits with cut-away jackets were popular in the mid-19th century for younger boys. Older boys wore sack suits and these gradually became the sandard style. We also see suits that button at the collar. Boys wore both single and double breasted suit jackets. Single-breasted coats have been the major style worn by boys in England. Here the prevalence of the blazer ans single-breasted jacket in schoolmuniforms were probably a major factor.


The types of suits worn by Ebnglish boys could vary substantially depending on the age of the boy. This was not the case as late as the 18th century. The skeleton suit which appeared in the late-18th century was the first dedicated boy's outfit. And boys commonly wore destinctive suits throughout the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. And there were different styles for boys depending on their age. Younger boys might wear kilt suits, Fauntleroy suits and sailor suits. Somewhat older boys might wear Eton suits or suits with Eton collars. As boys moved into their teens they begsan to wear more adult-looking suits. The styles and the age cpnventions varies over time. Social class was another factor that affected the type of suit worn at different ages.


A variety of material or fabric are used for suits in England. The most important material is wool and since World War II, wool blends with sythetic fibers. Silk might be used in expensive blends, but this swas lss important for boys' suiting fabrics. Cotton is also used, the most important cotton fabric being corduroy. Corduroy was an inexpensive fabfric and hard waring thus especially suitable for boys. It seem especially common for low cost suits worn by working-class boys. Even so, Some of the corduroy suits we have noted seem fashionable. Some fabrics seem especially important for boys' suiting, including corduroy and flannel. Flannel was espcially popular for blazers, but was also used for suits. After World War II we see synthetic fibers being used in blends. Terrylyn worsted was especially popular. Other fabric include mohair, tweed (including Harris tweed), worsted (at first pure wool), and a wide range of other fabrics. Available photographs commonly are not detailed enough to show the fabric, although corduroy can often be destinguished.


There are two isues concerning color. There are both the subject of matching suit garments and then different color shades used for suits. First, at the mid-19th century we see men and boys wearing suits that did not match, primarily meaning different colored jackets and pants. Vests might also vary. This could mean different colors or also different ptterns. This normally but not always meant a different colored jcket or a jcket with a pattern and solid colored pants. This was not always the case as e also see patterned pants. Rarely do we see two different pattens for th jacket and pants. We note mostly matching jackets and pants by the 1870s. We are not yet sure about the 1860s. Second, is the actual color shades used for suits. Unfirtunately the black and white photography of the 19th and 20th century provide very little color information. So we are not sure about the 19th century. here is some information, including paintings, oloied images, and catalogs. We do note that in the 20th century grey became especially important for boys's suits.


Boys' suits in contrast to girls' dresses were normally plain with few decorative touches. We note both purely decorative touches and utilitarian decoration. The purely decoratove touches included emroidery, frogging, and piping. The embrodery and frogging was most common on fancy suits for youger boys. We have also noted vertical strips on the trousers, mostly for younger boys. The use of these decorative elements seems most common in the 1870s-80s. The piping was most common on blazers, especially school blazers. There were many other ways of adding flashed of color or decorative touches by adding garments such as fancy blouses and pin-on collars, neckwear, sashes ect., but these were mot actual parts of the suits. Utilitarian decorations include the arrangement of belts, buttons, lapels, pleats, and pockets. Belts and pleats were used on Norfolk jackets. Almost always the decorative elements were on the jacket, but in the second half of the 19th century we have noted jacket styling repeated on the trousers.


Suits were widely worn by English boys in the late-19th and early-20th century. In the 19th century, economics was a factor. The Industrial Revolution gerated great wealth and substabtiated expanded the middle class. This is a little had to follow because there is no photographic record for the early-19th century. We believe that few boys in the still larger rural population and the growing urban working class wore suits. Suits might be worn by the upper- and middle-clas, but not working-class boys. By the mid-19th century this had begun to change and England became increasingly wealthy. And there is a photographic record to assess. There are realtively few Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes (1840s-50s), by a substanial number of CDVs (beginning in the 1860s). And we see boys wearing mostly suits. Of course most of the portraits look like middle- and upper-class boys. This is often difficult to tell and the cost of the CDV was low enought that unlike Dags and Ambros they were low enough the working-class families. England lagged behind Germany and America in free public education. It finally began in the mid-19th century, but wa finally established (1870). And in the schools we see in the 1870s we see boys wearing suits. Most boys at the time and even into the 20th century did not have large wardrobes. Thus they war suits to school and mamy other occassions that we would never think of today such as play and outings like going to the beach. Thus we often see boys wearing school uniforms outside of school rather than a suit. Some boys made there school uniform or outfit due for both school and special occassins outside of school. This continued until well after World War II when the economy began to improve and the modern more prosperous society began to develop in which children might have substantial wardrobes.


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Created: 10:51 PM 7/15/2005
Last updated: 4:16 AM 6/15/2017