French Boys Clothes: Individual Details

Figure 1.--This is Alain in 1953 when he was 9 years old. He wears a red, white, and blue button-on sailor suit with a beret. This was just before he lreft for 3 years in Vienna.

HBC has acquired information on several French boys over a wide range of years. Some are accounts contributed to HBC by readeres. Others are biographical accounts or images which have the mame of the child. These individual accounts provide some useful details on French boys clothing over time.

The 1800s

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was born in France in 1802. He grew up during the 1800s and 1810s. He mostly lived in Paris. His father was, however, a Napoleonic general and the family also lived in Naples and Madrid.

The 1810s

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was born in France in 1802. He grew up during the 1800s and 1810s. He mostly lived in Paris. His father was, however, a Napoleonic general and the family also lived in Naples and Madrid.

The 1830s

Victor Hugo's children

Victor Hugo's children were born in the 1820s. The boys mostly grew up in the 1830s. There wee five children, three boys and two girls. One boy died in infancy.

The 1860s

E'tiene Carjat: 1869

This French boy, E'tiene Carjat, was photographed in 1869. He wears a stripped dress with extensive embroidery, including a flower device offset at the waistband. We know nothing about the boy, except that he looks to be about 4-5 years old. He wears patterned stockings with his dress.

The 1870s

French family: 1870s

Many of the personal accounts available to HBC are individual accounts. HBC has been able to obtain a few accounts providing information about how children in a particular family were dressed over time. This of course provides information on clothing trends and conventions over time. This HBC contributor has provide some very interesting information on boyhood clothes that he and his father and grand father wore. One interesting point is the military style uniforms worn by boys in the lycee in the 19th century. Another interesting observation is the variety of hair styles worn.

Marie Casimir Leon Quiot: 1872

This is an exquisite French miniature from the 19th Century painted on Ivory depicting a young boy of about 5 years standing in front of a cloudy background. An art dealer describes his outfit as, "He is an elegant looking boy with his wonderful white costume and wearing a white blouse. The collar of the blouse is rounded with lace as was common at that time." He has charming curling blond hair. It was set in its original black wooden frame. At the back this antique miniature has an old ink notation/ A translation reads, "Marie Casimir Leon Quiot, born in Ajaccio the 14 April 1849 and died in Paris (law student) the 28 January 1872. Burried in Antibes (bachelor). He was the eldest brother of my father." This would mean that the minature was painted about 1854.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

Marcel's parents were solid French bourgeois. His father, Adrien Proust, was a respected doctor. His mother, Jeanne Weil, was from a prosperous, educated Jewish family from Alsace. Marcel was born in Paris during 1871 and the rise of the Pais Commune. He was a sickly child, suffering from asthma from his early childhood. We have only limited information on Marcel's boyhood clothes. Proust (and I think his bother) as a boy wore dresses and other skirted garments. He appears to have worn smocks in school. Gradually his different essays merged into one single project to write a more comprehensive work. The book turned into a novel that he would continue to write for the rest of his life. He mamed his book À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past). This autobiographical novel was written mostly in the stream-of-consciousness style. The work includeds a dizzying collection of childhood memmories, literary ans sociological discusions from cultured salons, observations of the wealthy life style, social gossip, and much more. Proust is not the easiest author to read. Literary critics at the time disagreed about the merits of his novel. Some saw him as a brilliant writer. Others complained that it was impossible to read the wok. Most modern scholars see À la recherche du temps perdu as a major achievement in French letters and a major example of French expression. Literary historiand see Proust as a pioneer of the modern novel. Proust made modern distinctioins between man and work.

Dubois, Louis: Late-1870s

This boy's name is Louis Dubois. Written at the bottom of the CDV is "Louis Dubois fils d'Oscar". (Louis Dubois son of Oscar Dubois.) A French reader tells us that Dubois is one of the most classical French family names. He looks to be about 5 years old. We do know he was from Macon. We are not sure where that is in France. The portrait was probably taken in the late 1870s. We know that because a 1877 prize was noted on the back. Thus the portrait was surely tken in the late 70s or very early-80s. It is a little difficult to make out Louis' outfit, but it looks like a tunic with a white collar. He seems to be wearing long white stockings and pantalettes with his tunic.

The 1880s

De Lesseps family: 1880s-90s

The Vicomte de Lesseps was one of the most famous Frenchman of the mid-19th Century because of his role in building the Suez Canal. He was not an engineer, but a great promoter. Even the failure of his Panama project and resulting financial crisis in his old age did not totally eclipse his great success at Suez. I am not sure how he was dressed as a boy, but the clothes wore by his prodigious family provide a glimpse of French boyhood fashions in the late 19th Century.

The 1890s

The Renoir family: 1890s-1900s

The French impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir is one of the most prominent artists of our era. He is perhaps the best loved of all the impressionists, in part due to his vibrant colors and subjects such as flowers and young children. Renoir was one of the early impresionists, although he later brorke with them an adopted a more formalized style. Renoir has a unique place among the artists surveyed by HBC. His family was the center of his life. He enjoyed and was intreagued by his children. He painted them numerous times. He used them so often that they got a bit tired of that, especially when a little older and someytimes had to be bribed. Imagine to have to be bribed to be painted by Renoir. Sometimes in their normal clothes which are of particular interest to HBC. Other times he outfitted them in costumes. Sometimes because he had no little girls he even outfitted them in dresses. As one of the great impressionists, he has left us some wonderful, if idealized views of French childhood at the turn of the century.

French family: 1890s-1900s (Paul)

An interesting book provides some fascinating details on French boyhood during the 1910s. It offers insights on several different topics, clothes, hair styles, and school life. It is the memories of Paul Vailland-Couturier who was born in 1893. The book was translated from the French by Ida Treat, an American paleontologist and journalist. I've included some text about his clothes at 4 years of age and about his first experiences in school. Included also are some sketches of Paul at about 7. Compare the information in the text with the photographs available for Emile Zola's son Jacques, a contemporary of Paul. The sailor suit with knickers worn by Paul are similar to the ones worn by Jacques who also wore curls and latter bangs.

Yje Zola family: 1890s-1900s

Emile Zola is one of the most aclaimed writers in French loterature. He was the leading French author in the late 19th century. He was the leading light of French naturalism and a cutting novelist and polemical writer. Had he died in 1895 he would today be remembered as an important French author. Today he is primarily remembered as a leading advocate of human rights for a letter written at considerable personal risk and published in 1898 accusing the French military of unjustly convicting a them obscure French army officer of treason. Zola had two children. The girl, Dennis, was born in 1889 and her younger brother, Jacques, was born 2 years later in 1891. Zola was an avid amateur photographer and there are many wonderful photographs of the children.

The 1900s

Jean Daubeville: 1900s

French painter Felix Vallotton was a contemporary of Pierre Renoir. A painting he did in 1906 was included in a book on Renoir's Portraits and compared with Renoir paintings of children. The painting shows a little boy, Jean Dauberville, standing beside some kind of rocking toy. The painting demonstrates that well after the turn of the century, French mothers were still outfitting little boys in dresses.

French brother: Robert and Henri

This boy was named Robert and his younger brother was Henri. Robert born 1900. He looks to be about 5-6 years old here. Robert became a businessman and had had several children. Henri was born 1902.

The 1910s

The 1920s

The 1930s

Unidentitified Boy (1930?- )

We note an unidentified French 3oy during the 1930s. Unfortunately we do not know his name or anything about his family. Perhaps our French readers will notice something about the family from the available snapshots. We think he was born in 1940. We first see him, sitting outside what we think is his home. This would place him in the Paris suburbs or a provincial town. It would also mean that he came from an affluent middle-class family. The snapshot shows him in long ghair wearing what looks like a bib-front dress. He looks a little unkempt, suggesting a working-class family. The other photographs, however, I think show that he came from a middle-class family. We see him a year later after a hair cut or at least a trim (1933). It is a baby picture without a top so it doesn;t provide any clothing details.

Jean and Claude: The 1930s

I can tell HBC about family friends, Jean and Claude. Claude was born January 1927 and Jean February 1929. The boys came from a privileged familly. Both were lovingly cared for and had a wondefull boyhood, but never were dressed along the lines of the petit garçon modèle -- this French vogue cam a bit later - after the big succes the novel Comtesse de Ségu amoung the little girls. Sometimes thd clothesworn by French boys in the inter-war period is confused by the large number of available commercial postcards. The children portrayed in these postcards mostly depicted children in their their dress-up Sunday garments. Of of course these are ideal poses. Some town children in towns were actually dressed like this, especially the children from wealthy families, withbrhe exceptopn of the exessive use of ribbons and lace. Of course this is not how the children of working-class or farm children dressed.

Tomi Ungerer--Alsatian boy: 1930s-40s

Tomi Ungerer has provided us a fascinating view of his World War II. His Tomi: A Childhood Under the NAZIs was published in 1998) and describes life in NAZI occupied Alsace from the viewpoint of the author, born in 1931. The book provides a great deal of information about Alsace, quite a lot about daily life under the NAZIs, but unfortunately for HBC's perspective, only limited information about about clothing. The illustrations are particularly good; many of these are the work of the author, a talentedartist.

The 1940s

Alain: His mother was a fashion designer--1940s-50s

I would be pleased to describe for your HBC readers, how French boys were dressesd from the early 20th century to our modern day. I had a brother about my age. Our parents operated a factory making children's and womens' clothes until 1970. They liked to make and dress us in adorable garments. I have kept a a stock of the clothes they produced as well as extensive documentation about those clothes. I was born in 1943 and grew up in Paris. Thus I can recall the kinds of clothes that they produced and in which my brother and I were dressed beginning in the late 1940s. As children, my brother and I served many times as models for catalogues and their store.

Jacques: 1940s-50s

Here is my personal account of the clothing that I wore as a boy. I was born in 1944 at the end of World war II. I remember quite destinctly some of the garments I wore as a boy. My experiences thus extend from the late 1940s to the 50s. One of the worst garments I wore was wool knit bathing trunks. Then there was the seasonal ritual of changing long trousers for short pants. I also wore rompers through age 5 years. My aunt bought mu brother and I especially nice suits. His had long pants, byt mine had short pants. I finally got a long pants suit for my First Communion, but I still mostly wore short pants.

Michèle: French-Austrian boy--the 1940s-50s

A French reader tells us about a friend in Austria that had French-Austrian parents.

The 1950s

French boy: Boyhood clothes and the lycee--the 1950s

I was born in 1950 and grew up in a Paris suburb. We boys at the time all used to wear short trousers (culottes courtes).

A French boyhood: The 1950s

The 1950s in France, as in the rest of Europe, were a time of optimism and shortages. The affect of World War II was still evident. I was the yougest of a large and noisy brood of five boys. We lived in a huge apartment in the best area of Paris, the 7th, both my parents worked, and we owned two cars, a definite rarity in those days. We summered in a house we owned in Brittany and in my granparents’ large estate in Normandy. Although we were evidently well off, not to say very privilidged,there was very little cash around, and our entire family and most of my parents’ friends and relatives were equally disinclined to flash money.

French boy and smocks: 1950s-60s

French boys have not commonly worn formal school uniforms like their across the Channel English cousins. Through much of the first half of the 20th century, elementary school boys in France wore school smocks over their clothes. As this was a very common practice, it gave the appearance of a school uniform. Not all French schoolboys wore smocks. Manty did and some had uniform requirements. The children had to wear the same color and style of smock. This was most common at private schools, many of which were Catholic schools.

Serge: 1958-60

A French reader has submitted a photograph of his brother and hmelf taken sometime about 1958-60. It shows the boys weating summer clothes. He tells us that their outfits represent the typical clothes written by middle-class boys at the time. The boys wear matching short pants, polo shirts, and zipper jackets.

The 1960s

Traditional family and three brothers (1960s-70s)

I am French and I was born in 1961. I grew up a kind of intermediate time in France when boys began to wear long trousers, but some boys still continued wearing short trousers up to age 14-15 years. I was born into a a rather traditional family. Families like mine often insisted that their boys wear short trousers all year round through age 12 years, even though they were going out of style, especially for winter wear. I thus did not get my first long trousers for winter until I was almost 13 years old. I still had to wear short pants from April until October until I was 15 years old. There were four of us boys in the family. I was the youngest of the four. IAs a result, I often wore the outgrown short pants of my three older brothers during all the years. I was growing up.

French boyhood: 1960s

I was in Elementary school until eleven. The elementary school did not requite a uniform as such, but we had to wear smocks. We boys thought it was a good thing because it didn't matter it ink blots got on it or we got it dirty. We wore the smocks in elementary school, in the classroom, and at playtime. We never wore berets. We has a special white cassock for First Communion

American boy in France: 1960s

An American boy remembers a trip to Europe. When I wore a coat (usually well above the knees), they made me look like what a 5-year old in America wore. But I fitted right in. I never wore knee socks, just white and black ankle socks and always with leather shoes. Tennis shoes were not commonly worn in France at the time. I had a pair of sandals but only wore them on holiday.

American boy at French school: 1960s

The strongest memories that I have about the clothes I wore as a boy were my short pants. My parents insisted on shorts, even when my friends didn't wear them. As a 12-year old boy finishing elementary school, I never thought I'd dress up in short pants and knee socks. That was before my dad got a chance to teach at the Sorbone in Paris. We were soon off to Europe. After a summer of touring Europe, we settked down in Paris and it was time for me to begin school. Had it not been for Dad's opportunity to study at the Sorbone I would never again have worn shorts for anything other than casual wear, But instead, I, as a tall, 12-year old American 7th grader, would find myself put back into short pants that I, as most Americans had come to think of as little boy clothes.

French boy: The 1960s

A French reader whose mother grew up along the Swiss border tells us that he wore Lederhosen as a boy in the 1960s and provides some details about Lederhosen in France. His older brother didn't like them, but he did.

The 1970s


We have a brief account about 13-year old Didier who was an exchange student in England during 1974. He dressed differently than the English boys and they teased him about it, especially about his sandals. He stayed with thefamily of an English reader ho has provided detailed information on his experiences.

The 1980s

David and short pants: The 1980s

David has provided us this account about the clothes he wore as a boy. He woreshort pants to school in the 1980s. At the time, shorts in France had become mostly casual clothes worn during the summer. The account is in French. HBC has made this preliminary translation, but it needs some more work.

The 1990s


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Created: October 30, 1998
Last updated: 12:44 AM 5/19/2009