English Boys' Clothes: Personal Experiences--Chronology

Figure 1.--A HBC reader has provided this charming photograph of himself and his brother taken in 1948 with their pet guina pigs. He is the younger boy wearing his first pair of corduroy shorts. He remembers them as brown and very soft and velvety.

Some interesting details are available on specific families as well as articles from fashion magazines. We have also added some historical accounts as well as published memoirs. We have also included named portraits, even though there is often little information available. HBC's English readers are encouraged to provide HBC information about their personal experiences or historical accounts with which they are familiar. These personal accounts add greatly to the other informnation HBC has garnered from fashion magazines, catalogs, and available images. Often the personal perspective is not avialable from these other sources. Thus these personal accounts are a very important part of HBC. We now have accounts dating back to the 1850s. While we do not yet have every decade covered, some decades are covered in considerable detail.

The 1790s

Joseph Walton (1783- )

Thirteen year old Joseph Walton was enjoying a very hot summer in 1796. He always managed, despite his chores, to get in a spot of fishing every day. He lived in a small Lancashire village called Ribchester. It is very close to the River Ribble. The children had a favourite spot on the river. Here the river bends and flows passed the village church. The children found that fish always seemed to be easy to catch at this spot. Also that summer there was an archaeological dig looking for Roman artefacts. The dig was near to where the children fished. A group of children went searching for worms. Joseph was with them and they explored the archaeological site because they thought worms would be easy to find in the soft earth. Instead of worms, Joseph found a Roman military helmet that day in 1796. Since then no better example has ever been found.

The 1800s

Willim Henry Betty (1791-1874)

An English readers mentions a child actor at the turn of the 19th century, William Henry Betty. William was born in Shrewsbury. We have no information about his parents or early childhood. We have no informatin on how William dressed as a boy. The portrait here shows him as an older teen ager at about the time he retired from the stage. William began acting in Belfast when he was 11 years old. I'm not sure why he was in Ireland. His first role was Osman in Aaron Hill's "Zara". This was an English version of Voltaire's "Zaire". (Authors of the day were none to shy at plagerism." His success was immediate. He was prodigy. Not only was he an extrodinarily gifted actor, but had a progigal memory.

The 1820s

William Webb Ellis (1806-72)

William Webb Ellis is credited by Matthew Bloxam as the originator of Rugby football. This is a remarkable story of a 16 year old boy, from Salford, Lancashire, who played soccer and invented a new ball game called Rugby. Bloxam recalls that this happened in November, 1823. It was in the days prior to the Matthew Arnold becoming one of Rugby School’s famous headmaster. Rugby School was and still is an independent boarding school in Warwickshire. This is in the middle of England. The book about the early 19th Century Rugby School was written in 1858 by Thomas Hughes. He was the first author to write a novel about boys and their adventures in a boarding school. The story is called Tom Brown’s School Days.

The 1830s

John Hardcastle (About 1830)

This is a photograph of a painting of John Hardcastle, presumably the family patriarch, when he was a child. At the time of the 1881 census John Hardcastle was 59 years old and retired from his occupation of 'Merchant'. He looks to be about 8 years old in the painting which would date it around 1830, he was born in Abingdon, now in Oxfordshire but formerly the county town of Berkshire. He is wearing a what appears to be akeleron suit that is evolving into a moder modern suit style. Is is difficult to tell from the image if he is wearing a vest (waistcoat) or ome kind of one-oiece vest-trouser garmnt. He has a kind of square lace collar which he wears with a small bow. He looks to be about 6 years old in the portrait shown here. His hair is cut relatively short here. Notice the hoop that he is playing with (figure 1).

Alfred Fuller (1836)

Here we see a water color painting of Alfred Fuller, an English boy. He was 4 years old when the portrait was painted. We know nothing about his family, but surely he must come from a very affluent family. We do not know who the artist was. We do know that it was painted in 1836 which is helpful. The boy wears a low-cut blue dress with lace edgeing and ballon sleeves. We have noted other paintings of boys wearing dresses with baloon sleeves, but the baloon sleeves here are as about as large as we have noted. I believe these sleeves were also called gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves. The boy here also wears white patalettes, white socks, and strap shoes. The boy looks to be about 5-6 years old, but estimating ages is often more difficult in paintings than in photographs. While the child is unidentified, the short hair and side part, whip, and stick horse all suggest a boy to us. Note that the dress here is just the same style a girl might wear, although a girl might wear fancier pantalettes.

The 1840s

We do not yet have many personal accounts or photographs from the 1840s. Photograpy was developed in the late 1830s and some Daguerreotpe studios were opened in the 1840s, but we have not suceeded in finding many examples. We are not sure just how common they actually were.

Unidentified boy (1840s)

HBC has been able to find very few English Daguerreotypes. We are not sure why. This boy is unidentified. A photographic dealer believes the dag is English because the case is an English style. It is a beautifully colorized dag. The portrait is undated, but the plane frame suggests the 1840s to us. The boy looks to be about 3-years old. The boy wears what might be called a kilt suit, although the skirt has no kilt detailing. He has a lace collar. The kilt suit is green. The vest he is wearing is colored blue. We are not sure just how accurate this depiction is. We suspect that the colors are probably accurate, but the actual shades less so. He is wearing pantalttes. The boy's hair is tinted brown.

The 1850s

The Brownings (1850s)

Elizabeth Barett Browning and Robert Browning are two of England's most noted romantic poets. Elizabeth grew up in a priviliged, wealthy family. Their mother, like many mothers of the era, dressed her sons in the same dresses and pantalettes as her daughters. Elizabeth and her siblings were schooled at home. She was an accomplished student. She led a closeted life until meeting Robert. The relationship was one of the great love stories of the Victorian era. Elizabeth and Robert had one child, Pen, who Elizabeth schooled at home and dresses with the same flair as her romantic poetry. Pen did not object as a younger boy, enjoying the attention and compliments from his mother's friends. As an older boy he began to object, but with little success in the face of his strong opinioned mother who had very definite ideas on the subject. Elizabeth is now best known for hautingly beautiful romantic poetry as well as her iterest in women's rights and social justice.

Unidentified boy (1851)

Here all we have is a drawing, but it is dated so we know it was drawn in 1851. Unfortuntately the boy is not identified. It shows a smartly dressed British boy. He wears a short dark jacket with a waistcoat and trousers in a contrasting color. This was quite common in the first half of the 19yth century. In the second half of the century, suits with mstching kacket and trousers were more common.

Joseph Smith (1852)

We have no information about this boy, other than a oil portrait. The boy was was English. His name was Joseph Smith and was 7 years old when painted by G.W. Jackson during May 1852. He is not an artist with which we are familiar. The lack of a background suggests that the artist did the portrait as quicklyas possible. but it is an excellent likeness atr a time that photography was beginning to make real inroads in portraiture.

Unidentified boy (late 1850s)

This English ambrotype shows a boy about 7 years old, perhaps 8 years. He is wearing a tunic. We do not know what color the tunic was, but blue would seem a likely possibility. Notice the dark highlight stripping. I am not sure if that was ribbon or velvet. This boy wears his tunic with a large white collar and bow. We do not know if the collar has pointefd or rounded collars. The ambtotype format probably dates the image to the late 1850s, although the early 60s is possible. The outfit and fact he had a portrait made of himself alone suggests that he came from an affluent family.

The 1860s

We have a few personal accounts from the 1860s. Some of these accouts have or are based on photographic collections.

The Tennysons

Alfred Lord Tennyson is one of England's most beloved poets of all time. No English poet has produced acknowledged masterpieces in so many different literaray genres as Tennyson. The consumate artistic excellence of his verse, resembling in many of its qualities the stately and heroic measures of the ancient Roman poet Virgil, has securred an enduring place in literature for Tennyson.

Cambridge family

A HBC reader has acquired a wonderful Carte de Visite album from an English fmily duing the 1860s and 70s. All the subjects are identified by Christian name and the date the photo was taken. Unfortunately, the family surname does not appear anywhere in the album. Itdoes look like a prosprous family, but thatis all we know about it.Most of the photos were taken in Cambridge so I would assume the family resided in that area, some of the later ones (circa 1873) were taken in Brighton, possibly on vacation. This was a typical large Victorian family. he two boys were Bertie and Allan. Thre were also photos of five sisters as well: Florrie, Connie, Nellie, Grace, and Ethel.

Haigh family

A HBC reader reports, "At a recent photo fair, I purchased the contents of two Cdv albums that once belonged to the Haigh family of Grainsby Hall, Grainsby, Lincolnshire - there are about 50 cdvs of the children of the family (5 boys and two girls acccording to the 1881 census) over the period 1863-1871. Almost all of the CDVs are dated and identified on the reverse, which is just as well as this family kept the boys with long hair and in dresses until they were 6 years old at least--a gender identification nightmare as you will see when I scan and send you some of these remarkable photographs."

The 1870s

Haigh family (1863-71)

Some of the Haigh family portraits described under the 1860s are from the early 70s.

Cambridge family

Some of the CDVs fom the Cambridge family mentioned above were taken in the 1870s.

Robinson, Edward and William (1870s and 80s)

Edward and William Robinson were the grandsons of a country pastor. A HBC reader has sent us a wonderful collection of family photographs from the 1870s and 80s. The Victorians loved to create albums. Our reader has found one of the family photograph albums. The photographs not only show how the boy dressed but convey a great deal of information about contemprary life style trends. The collection is especially interesting because the photographs are not just static formal studio portraits, but rather family snap shots from an era when sbap shots were not very common and the term had not even been invented.

Petly, J. (England, 1878)

We do not know a great deal about J. Petly. We do have one photograph from about 1878. It is easpecially interesting because it shows two prep school boys at the time on their summer vacation. J. Petly's school friend is Edward Robinson. They are with Edward's older brother. The imsge is interesting because it shows what the boys probably wore at school.

The 1880s

HBC has collected details on a number of English boys during the 1880s, including the Allinghams, Shepards, and the Stracheys. Especially the Shepard account provides a wonderful glimse of an English boyhood in the 1880s. Boys wore kilts, Fauntleroy suits and sailor suits. Of course the sailor suit was most preferred. Younger boys wore dresses and some boys wore smocks.

The 1890s

HBC has collected details on a number of English boys during the 1890s. Boys wore kilts, Fauntleroy suits and sailor suits. Of course the sailor suit was most preferred. The Eton collar was widely worn by school boys and for dress occasions. Younger boys wore dresses and some boys wore smocks. The Llewyn-Davis Boys were of course imortalized in Lewis Carol's Peter Pan.

The 1900s

Manu garments and styles from the 1890s or late Victorian period continued The 1900s or Edwardian era. There was still coinsiderable infoirmality in dress.

Stephen Tennant

The Tennants were an upper class English family. The mother, Pamela was born in 1871. Pamela married into Tennants, a very rich Scottish merchant family. The Tennants moved in high circles. The father, Edward-- Lord Glenconne, was familiar with important government ministers. Pamela was from a much more gentil (Whyndham), artistic background than the Tennants. She was members of the "Souls" a group of upper class intellectuals. She and her two sisters are the models for John Singer Sargeant's painting "The Three Graces".

Unidentified family

A HBC reader has provided us images from an English family with two brothers. Unfortunately we do not know who the boys are, except that one of the boys became a judge. We also do not know when the available portraits were taken. The location is also not identified. We can, however, make some assessments based on an examination of the phtographs.

Antony Knebworth (1903-35)

An interesting, but obscure book titled Antony, A Record of Youth, published in 1935 by Peter Davies Ltd provides a fascinating insight into the life of a British boy in the early 20th century. It is written by his father the Earl of Lytton with a foreword by J. M. Barrie, of course the famed author of Peter Pan. It is a book which chronicles the life Antony Knebworth, born May 13, 1903. Christened at the Chapel Royal, St. James in the presence of his Royal Godfather, King Edward VII. He spends his formative years at Eton and Oxford, then going to India with his sister. When returning to London, he starts an enterprise and becomes a successful businessman. Later he becomes a MP for the Conservative Party of his home constituency. He also joins the Auxiliary Air Force to train as air pilot for the 601 squadron. During a practice formation flight for a special display for the Prince of Wales in 1933, there is an midair accident and the (then) Viscount Knebworth is killed. The book has many anecdotes of Antony growing up and there are many letters displayed written by him whilst he was at school and correspondence as an adult to his associates. The book displays him as an adventurers young man who lived life to the full before his untimeious death in 1935. There are quite few photographs in the book and some from his boyhood are enclosed. Note the mansion in the background of the 'School Race 1916'.

The 1910s

Gareth Jones (1905-35)

Gareth was born in Wales in 1905. His father was the headmaster of Barry County Boy’s School. His mother had worked in the Ukraine in the late 19th century. She had been the governess to the children of a steel industrialist. It was position she enjoyed. Gareth’s mum also liked living the Ukraine. As a boy Gareth listened to the stories his mother told about as the adventurous life she led as a governess in the Ukraine. His mother’s stories had given him a longing to visit the Ukraine. The chance to go came in the early 1930’s after he had graduated from university. He joined Lloyd George’s staff has its Foreign Affairs Adviser. This position came with opportunity to travel. The first country he visited was the Ukraine. It was his reporting that revealed the causes of the wide spread famine which had gripped the region. He had the makings of becoming a great journalist but in 1935 he was murdered while investigating a news story in China.

Graham Greene (1904-91)

Noted English author Henry Graham Greene was one of a number writers who were very unhappy at their private schools. Graham had a hard time, not only because hedidn't like sports, but because his father was the headmaster. Some biographers believe that his experiences at school has a profound impact on his outlook on life and personal outlook projected in his novels. His father thought he was disturbed and set him to a therapist. One of his most noted books is The Power and the Glory addressing religious oppression. He is also known for his Cold War books, especially The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana. He also did a number of screenplays, the most famous was "The Third Man".

Odell, Jack (England, 1912)

A HBC reader has provided an account about Jack Odell. He is an 11 year old boy who in 1912 went with his family went on a motor tour of Ireland. The photographic record of the holiday became an important historical document. The photographs taken onboard the White Star liner Titanic are the only primary source historians and documentary makers have of the ship's onboard life and they give an idea of how the boys on board were dressed.

Dad and Aunt Genevieve (1916)

Despite the fact this looks like two little girls, it is a picture of my father at about age 6 years (therefore the summer of 1916) and his sister Genevieve (who would have turned 4 that summer). In all his earliest pictures, my father wore what seems now like little girls' clothes. You cannot see it from here, but his shoes were white and an early version of a Mary Jane. He has white long stockings. He probably graduated to boys' short pants at age seven when he started school. This was taken in the West End of St. John's, probably near the top of Topsail Road. My father, who died in 1999, traveled widely in his lifetime but Genevieve never traveled further than about 15 miles from the spot where this picture was taken. She died at age 89 in 2001.

The 1920s

Wallace Brereton

Wallace Brereton’s Salford childhood covers the years from 1923 to 1933. He tells his autobiography in his book called Salford Boy. The author is also the illustrator of his book. Wallace was a boy who grew up never knowing who his father was. When he was 4 years old his mum went to Canada in the hope of starting a new life. The plan was to send for the boy when her circumstances were better. Unfortunately this never happened. After going to Canada when Wallace was 4 he did not see her again until he was 11. In 1931 she returned to Canada and he would be a teenager of 17 when he next saw her.

William Woodruf

William Woodruff wrote a wondeful book, The Road to Nab End beginning in 1929. It is about growing up in Blackburn, Lancashire during the depression.

The 1930s

We have collected both published accounts and reader contributions about boyhood in the 1930s. Suits were still very common. Unlike the Continent, sailor suits do not seem very common. Most English readers recall wearing short trousers. Flannel and corduroy shorts were common and cotton during the summer. Boys often wore shorts with knee socks and sandals. Most boys did not attend secondary schools. There were still major class differences in England. The younger boys at scondary school also wore short troiusers and knee socks. In addition to clothes we are also collecting information about boyhood activities including toys and games. Of course boys in the 1930s were confronted with World War II in the 1940s. London and other British cities were targeted by the Luftwaffe in the Blitz..

The 1940s

HBC has commpiled a list of 1940s experiences from both literary sources and accounts provided by readers. These include both war-time accounts. This includes both life on the home front as well as well as life when Britain became the front blines duringthe Blitz. And then there was post-war England where economic conditions were still very difficult.

The 1950s

Beginning in the 1950s, HBC has much more detailed personal accounts on boyhood recollections from HBC readers. Quite a few English readers have kindly provided interesting accounts describing the clothes that they wore as boys. Many of these accounts concern school uniform, but they all include descriptions of the play and dress up clothes they wore as well as Cubs and Scout uniforms and other topics converning clothing.

The 1960s

HBC readers have also provided several accounts of their personal experiences in the 1960s, describing their clothes and school uniforms. Most are from English boy, but a Scottish boy who moved to England has provided us an especially detailed account at his experiences in sevral different areas of England. Most of our contributors note that boys fashions and the attitudes of boys toward their clothing changed substantially during the 1960s.

The 1970s

HBC readers have also provided several accounts of their personal experiences during the 1970s, describing their clothes and school uniforms. These reports include accounts from several areas of England. We have also included a report from a Scottish reader. Most of our contributors note that boys fashions and the attitudes of boys toward their clothing had changed substantially since the 1960s, but some had traditionally orinented parents. There are accounts both of their school uniforms as well as clothes they wore at home.

The 1980s

The 1980s

The 1990s

The 1990s: Andy

The 2000s

The 2010s

The 2010s: Shooping with a 6 year old


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Created: 3:25 AM 6/27/2010
Last updated: 12:10 AM 7/30/2010