Belgian Boys Clothes: 1850s Tunics

Figure 1.-- A Belgian costue magazine in 1852 showed this boy of 5 wearing a tunic next to his 11-14 year old sister wearing a dress. Image used courtesy of La Couturière Parisienne

La Couturière Parisienne website has noted an tunic-like outfit in a 1850s Belgian fashion magazine. The tunic is depicted as that for a young boy 5 years of age. It looks to HBC like a tunic rather than a dress. While looking much like a short dress, the boy appears to be wearing trousers with it. It was worn with a small lace collar and plaid bow and elaborately puffed long sleeves and long trousers. It was worn with a military styled cap. HBC has also noted English and American boys wearing similarly styled caps. We have less information on the extent to which tunics were worn in the 1850s. We have noted them being worn in England, but we are less sure about America.


La Couturière Parisienne website has noted an tunic-like outfit in a 1850s Belgian fashion magazine. The illustration originally appeared in the Journal des Dames et des Demoiselles published by Bruylant-Christophe et Comp., Brussels.

The editor describes the boy's outfit as: "Deuxième figure - Petit garçon de cinq ans. -- Casquette en paille d`Italie, à visière de cuir verni. Blouse en popeline. Elle est unie à l`encolure et descend au-dessous du genou; la manche, de forme pagode, est fendue du côté et boutonnée. Il y aussi sept boutons devant au corsage pour fermer la blouse. Col rabattu en batiste plissée. Manche large au poignet avec garniture sur la main. Cravate écossaise. Pantalon droit en coutil blanc. Petites bottines noires ferrées à dents sur le côté." HBC translates this as: "Second figure - five year old little boy. -- Cap of italian straw , with leather visor. Poplin blouse. It is plain with round the collar and goes down below the knee; the pagoda sleeve is split at the side with bouton trim. There are also seven buttons in front to close the blouse. Collar folded back out of folded cambric. Broad sleeve with trimming on the hand. Scottish bow. Straight `pantalon' in white drill. Small black boots hobnailed with teeth on the side."


HBC notes that this garment is described in French as a "blouse". The term "blouse" in English does have many meanings. The English best describing this outfit is "tunic". HBC does not know if the Belgians and French continued using "blouse" for this garment in the late 19th century.


The tunic shown here was worn in the 1850s. The actual image appears to have been published in 1852.


HBC had initially assumed that this was a French image. La Couturière Parisienne tells us, however, that it is from a Belgian magazine. HBC believes that Belgian fashions were very strongly influenced by French fashions. Thus these styles probably reflect what affluent French boys were wearing as well in the mid-19th century.

Social Class

The depiction of this outfit in a fashion magazine suggests it would have been worn by a boy from an affluent Belgian family. It is likely that middle-class boys have worn similar garments, perhaps not quite as elaborate. We are unsure to what extent tunics would have been worn by working class boys.


The tunic is depicted as that for a younger Belgian boy. La Couturière Parisienne indicates that the tunic is for a boy of 5 years. HBC would estimate that such a tunic may have also been worn by older boys, but that younger boys would more likely have worn dresses like his sisters.

Stylistic Elements

It looks to HBC like a tunic rather than a dress, although in this case the difference between a dress and tunic is somewhat blurred. The tunic looks much like a short dress, but as it is being worn with trousers we would tend to classify it as a tunic. The cap also suggests it is a tunic because a boy still in a dress would have been unlikely to wear such a cap. Few stylistic elements are visible on the tunic. It appears to be back buttoning. The principal stylistic element visible are the sleeves which are cut open with decorative buttons.


HBC is unsure as to what material would have been used to make this tunic.

Accompanying Fashions

The boy is wearing a variety of other garments and accessories with his tunic. It was worn with a small lace collar and bow and laborately puffed long sleeves and long trousers. It was worn with a military styled cap.


HBC has also noted English and American boys wearing similarly styled caps. This one was described as Itlalian style. It had a patent leather bill or visor.

Lace collar

It is difficult to tell, but the boy's modestly sized collar may be pinned on to the tunic rather than part of the blouse he is wearing. It appears to be a rounded collar rather than the more severe pointed Eton collar that was beginning to appear, especially in English fashions. The plain white collar appears to trimmed in lace.


Both children wear colored bows. The boy's bow is much smaller than his sister's bow although they are tied similarly. The boy's bow appears to be patterned, but is appears primarily pink. The text explains that it is a Scottish (meaning plaid) cravat or bow. Such collars bows were to become more common for boys and less common for girls as the 19th century progressed.

Figure 2.-- One interesting detail is the large puffed sleeves that both the children wear. HBC has noted a similar fashion in French children's wear during the 1860s, although we do not yet have a complete chronology on it. We have not noted it as commonly in American fashions. The styles was described as pagoda sleeves.


The boy's tunic covers his blouse, except for the sleeves which appear to be very elaborately puffed and gathered at the wrist. The elaborate use of material suggests that this was an expensive garment. Note that both the girl and boy wear the same sleeve styles. We do not have much information on this style at this time. We do not know when it first appeared, but we notice that it was still popular in the 1860s as it is widely seen in French fashion magazines of the time. We are unsure about the collar which could be pinned on or a part of the blouse.


Note that the boy's tunic is unbelted. Many tunics at mid-century were belted. We are not sure at this time just what the stylistic conventions were concerning the belts which on tunics were decorative serving no practical purpose. HBC notices that boys wore smocks in a simailar manner, both with and without a outside belt.


The he boy appears to be wearing long white trousers with his tunic. Here we are unsure if these are actually trousers or rather long pantalets. The white color and plain nature suggests that they may be pantalets, especially as the boy is only 5 years old. Some pantalets were indeed quite long, but often not this long. We note that a painting by Ludwig Aumont in 1838 shows a German boy, Wilhelm Fischer, wearing plain long white pantalets that look very similar to what this boy is wearing. Wilhelm's outfit can be seen at HBC Aumont page. HBC has also, however, noted older boys at this time wearing long white pants, but usually with jackets--not tunics. HBC notes that these tunics were often worn with knicker length pants, but this appears more common with older boys in the next decade.

Hair Style

Both children wear long, but not shoulder-length hair. The boy's hair in fact is longer than his sister's hair. The curls are probably natural curls.


The color of the boys tunic is difficult to make out. It looks to be black or a dark green. Notice the use of color in the trim of the children's fashions. Pink is used in the boy's small bow. The girls hat and dress is trimmed in blue ribbon and she wears a matching blue bow. Pink is worked into the flowers on the dress.


Boys in Europe and America often wore dresses until they were about 5 years of age. This varies widely, however, from family to family. Some boys were breeched at a younger age and others at an older age. In this regard, the tunic appears to have been used as something of a transition garment between the dresses of a younger boy and the suit and trousers of an older boy.

Other Countries

We have less information on the extent to which tunics were worn by boys in other countries during the 1850s. We have noted them being worn in England. Available English images show the son of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and sons of Lord Tennyson wearing tunics at a much older age. The Tennyson boys wore them with knicker like trousers. We are less sure about how extensively tunics were worn in America.

La Couturière Parisienne Website

The image here comes from a wonderful European costume website. HBC has received many requests for readers about women's and girl's clothing. We find ourselves unable to handle the information we have gathered on boys clothing, so this will not be possible. Although we include many family images showing what contemporary girls and women were wearing. La Couturière Parisienne Website has a wonderful collection of women's and girl's fashions over a wide historical period. HBC on its pages tends to enlarge images so that stylistic details can be examined and to help the pages load faster. We know that some viewers would prefer to see the smaller, clearer images. These are avilable in the La Couturière Parisienne website.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: August 7, 2001
Last updated: September 15, 2001