*** boys clothes: France -- garments

French Boys Clothes: Garments

French boys' garments
Figure 1.--This little French boy is attending a rally with his grandfather. He wears a beret with a heavy coat and scarfe as it must have been a col day. I'm not sure what was pinned on to his beret.

French designers apparently focused primarily on women's fashions. Unlike neigboring England, they do not appear to have created a lot of new boy's garments. They do, however, seem to have thought of many embelishments for existing styles. Younger French boys like other European boys wore dresses. One garment which did become destintly French was the smock--especially the school smock. Fancy suits for boys were in fact the inspiration for the American Little Lord Faintleroy suit. French boys began wearing short pants in the 1900s and they rapidly replaced the kneepants that boys had been wearing since the mid-19th century. The beret has to be the most versitile head gear in history. What other head gear has been wore by little boys and girls, elite soldiers, scruffy Cuban revolutionariers, boy and girl scouts, shepards, a president's nemesis, and many others more. The beret is another garment commonly associate with France. French boys commonly wore strap shoes, but this was primarily with dressy outfits. I am not sure when boys began to wear closed toe sandals for casual wear.


We have just begun to collect information on boys' headwear in France. The cap most associated with French boys is of course the Berets The beret has to be the most versitile head gear in history. What other head gear has been wore by little boys and girls, elite soldiers, scruffy Cuban revolutionariers, boy and girl scouts, shepards, a president's nemesis, and many others more. It is esentially a visorless cap--but the simple design can be worn for a multiplicity of different looks. While men, boys, women, and girls have worn berets in many different countries, no country is more associated with the beret than France. French boys as other European boys also common wore various styles of sailor hats and caps. Boys also wore Tam O'Shanters or tams.


French readers have provided some information about infantwear. Important garments include christeming robes, cache couche, and bibs. Rompers have also become infantwear although they were earlier worn by todlers and pre-school age boys.


Babies and todlers were dressed with a " Brassière " on a diaper. A brassiere is a sort of pinafore with always back buttoning. All the babies had without exception a smart bib. This garment was related to the romper or barboteuse which became very popular in the 1930s-50s.

Skirted Garments

French boys like boys all over Europe wore a variety of skirted garments. The styles and conventions varies among countries, but the basic harments were the same. The most common was the dresses that younger boys wore throug the 19th century. This becamne less common in the lare-19th and early 20-th century. The custom virtually disappeared afer World War I. Tunics appeared in the early-19th century were popular throughout the century and the very early 20h century. during the 19th and early-20th century. Unlike dresses, tunics were a skirted garment only worn by French boys. We see a few boys weaing kiklts, but not as commoly as in Britain. Kilts were most common among the wealthy class that liked to adopt foreign styles. Kilt suits were also not very common, as best we can tell--our 19th century French archive is still relatively limited.One skirted garment strongly associated with France is the smock, especiall the school smock. We think younger boys wore pinafores, mostly in the 19th century.

Cold Weather Garnments

We note a range of warm weather garments worn by French boys in the colder months. France has a varied climate. Warm weather clothing in less needed in the the south along the Mediterranaea, but it can get quite cold in the nortdurung the winter, especailly in th Vouges Montains of the northeast. It does not get as cold in France as in Gemany and the countries to the est, but it can be cold in some areas during the winter and thus warm clothing is needed. We see boys wearin coats, swaters, knits, leggings and long stockings. ome of the garments had dual uses such as knits which were also worn during warmer weather. Long stickings might be worn for formality rather than warmth. Thse garments were of course worn in other countries, although French styles and conventions can vary somewhat. .


We have noted French boys commonly wearing bows in the 19th century, but have little so far developed little historical information on this which was a common fashion in America, Britain, and other countries at the time. Neckties appeared in the early 20th century, but were not nearly as widely worn in France as in Britain or even America. One of our French readers reports an aversion to neckties as a boy. One alternative to the necktie is a kind of narow ribbon tied into a bow. I am not sure what the English-language term for this is, but the French call it " un noeud papillon ", literaly " butterfly tie ". They are narrow bow-like lies worn instead of neckties I tend to associate these with the american west in the late 19th century, but perhaps I have seen too many Hollywood Westerns. I am not sure to what extent if any that they were actually wirn in the West during the late 19th century. I have not noted modern American boys wearing them, but French boys did during the 1950s-70s. We note them, for example, advertized in a 1971 La Redoute catalog. They were worn at scome private schools and choirs. We also note another Western looking neckwear style--the string tie. Since the 1940s this has been worn in the American West, but rarely in the East, by both men ans boys. We also note it was adopted at some French schools after World War II. We note a French school wearing string ties, proabably in the 1970s. I'm not sure why these butterfly and string ties caught on in France. Parents may have had sucg difficifulty getting biys to wear ties, that this was an acceptable compromose. Boys fir there part may have seen them in American cowboy films--making them more acceptable. This is, however, just speculation.

Blouses and Shirts

We have not yet been able to develope information on French shirts and shirt-like garments. We note a range of different styles. Our vinformation on the 19th century is especially limited. We do have information on the blouses worn by younger boys. Younger boys for formal occasiions might wear suspender romper bottoms or suspender shorts with a fancy blouse. There were also button-styles. As girls mostly wore dresses, these fancy blouses were worn by boys. Fancy blouses for formal occassions were very popular through the 1960s, but since the 1970s have declined in importance. They wre commonly made in sizes to about age 7, but some older boys also wore them. Today blouses are mostly worn by girls. We have also some done some work on collars. There were quite a range of different styles. French boys wore Eton collars, but not as commonly as in England. We also note Peter Pan collars, but believe this collar was more common on blouses as well as other garments like rompers and smocks.

French rompers
Figure 2.--Rompers were one of the most popular garments for younger French boys from the 1930s through the early 1960s. They were exclusively for boys. This little boy in a new romper suit for Easter had his portrait taken about 1948.


Rompers or "barboteuse" were a popular style in France. France appears to be one of the countries in which rompers were especially popular. HBC still does not yet know, however, just where rompers originated. I do not yet have enough information to develop a time line for French rompers. They appear to have appeared about the turn of the 20th century, but became more common in the 1910s and especially after World War I (1914-18). They were primarily a play suit, but dressy versions also appeared. They were mostly worn by pre-school age boys to about 6 years, althogh boys as old as about 7 might alsdo have worn them for formal dress occasions. They were still being worn by pre-school boys in the 1950s, although by younger boys to about age 3 years. By about the 1960s, however, they became increasingly less common, except for infants and toddlers. Rompers were initially a boys garments, but today both boy and girl infants wear them.


French boys have worn the same stles of pants as worn in other European countries. Knee breeches were worn in the 18th century. Long pants and keepants were worn in the 19th century. Quite old French bots wore kneepants. Younger boys wore them with smocks ro scool. Knickers and short pants became common in the 20th century. Most French boys after World War I wore short pants. Older boys wore knickers as did some younger boys during the winter. Some suits were made with both shorts an knickers. Some younger boys were allowed to wear knickers during the winter. Long pants became more common in the second half of the century.

Shorts Sets

HBC has noted a variety of shorts sets. These are outfits where the top matches or is coordinated with the short pants. These included two-piece outfits, button-on outfits, and one piece outfits. They were may in both dressy and play versions. The dressy versions often had Peter Pan collars. HBC begins to ntice these outfits in the late 1920s and they contintued to be worn through the 1950s.


French boys have worn a wide variety of suits over time. The style of a suit is largely, but not completely determined by the jacket style. French boys have worn basically the same suit styles worn by other European boys. We do not notice any destinctive French suit styles. Some of the basic suit sytles were detailed somewhat differently in France than in other countries. French boys mostly wore kneepants suits in the late 19th century. After the turn of the 20th century, shorts pants suits began to appear and after World War I were the primary suit type worn by French boys. Older boys might wear knicker suits. Some boys ha suits with shorts for the summer and knickers for winter wear. After Worl War II, long pants suits became more common, especially during the 1960s. By the 1980s, virtually all French boys wore long pants suits--except for the very youngest.


French boys in the early 19th century wore white socks with skeleton suits. In the late 19th century, three-quarter stockings were commnonly worn. Unlike neighboring Germany, long over the knee stockings do not appear to have been very common. In the early 20th century three-quarter length stockings remain common, although kneesocks begin to grown in popularity as short pants begin to replace knee pants. Knee socks do not appear to have been as common as in England. Although commonly worn in the inter-War years, they were worn more seasonally than in England. After World War II (1939-45), kneesocks became increasingly seasonal. HBC has not noted any reference to French boys wearing tights.


Footwear is a topic that HBC has not yet serious addressed, especially 19th century footwear. We have begun to acquire some information about the 20th century. French boys have worn a wid range of dfferent footwear styes. Hightop shoes were common in the klate 19th century. Younger children might wear strap shoes. Sandals have been popular during the 20th century, although we are unsure as to when they first appeared. Low cut oxford shoes replaced high top shoes in the ealy 20th century. We note, however that even into the 1960s that some children wore hightop boot-like shoes. We begin to note many boyswearing snaekers in the 1950s, but they had a more flimsy look than American Keds and were often hightop. Trendier sneakers appared in the 1970s.

French long short pants
Figure 3.--French boys in the 1990s wore very long short pants, often with cuffs. The younger boys still wear sandals during the summer, mostly the closed-toe style. They are generally worn by younger boys upto about 10 years.


We do not know a great deal about gloves yet. We note that children, especilly boys, for special occassion might wear short white gloves. We believe this was quite common for formal occasions like First Communion in the early 20th century. Younger boys still wore them in the 1950s. The available fashion magazines show that this was much more common for boys than girls. HBC finds this interesting as these white gloves in the 1950s were more common fo little girls than boys. We have also notice French Boy Scouts wear white gloves for formal occasions.


Swimsuits were a ralatively new development in the late 19th century. Until the 19th century, only the rich took vacations. As vacations became an increasingly established convention for middleclass and workingclass French people going to the beach became a popular choice. Beach resorts could be easily reached by France's expanding railroad network. The outcome of this was the development of the bathing costume. The first bathing costumes were tremendously cumbersome affairs. Gradually after the turn of the 20th century and more casual clothing became popular, bathing costumes or suits became less enveloping and cumbersome. Several HBC readers remember their bathing suits.


A French reader tells HBC that after 1936, French boys rarely wore the boxer-style underpants. Boxers were not fashionable and the boys thought only rustic peasants in rural areas wore them. Also briefs were most practical to wear with short pants. After 1980, the fashion changed again and boxer-style underpants became popular once again and now over 80 percent teenagers wear them.

Maillot de Corps

A French reader tells us, "'Ein Leibchen' is a Austrian word and in the 1950s many boys were wearing a Leibchen which were similar to those being born in worn in France. It is a sort of untershirt with a large open collar without sleeves and quite long, made in white coton, very offten ribbed. After 1930, most French boys were wearing this sort of underwear It was named " un maillot de corps ". Now we say 'un maillot de corps Marcel'. In Germany one says, 'Ein Unterhemd and not a ein Leibchen'."

Unidentified Garments

As with many countries, we find images showing garments that we do not fully understand or are difficult to identify and classify. We will archive these difficult images here in the hope that readers will provide some insights into the imaf=ges which often have no or little informaion associated with them.


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Created: March 31, 2001
Last updated: 2:55 PM 11/26/2022