*** United States boys garments: the 1860s

United States Boys' Garments: The 1860s

1860s garments
Figure 1.--This Boston CDV portrait is unfated, but we believe was taken in the 1860s. It shows a range of garments worn in the 1860s. The older boy wears a military styled jacket with a small white collar. His stock has been fone as a kind of bow tie. The middle boy wares a tunic-like garment with a lace collar--larger than most at the time. Notice the sleeve styling. The younger child wears a dress and could be a boy or girl. Unfortunately all we know about this CDV was that the photographer was Whipple. He began early as a Daguerreotypist in Boston but in the 1860s turned to the more popular CDV format.

A greater variety of garments were worn by boys during the 1860s. Dresses were widely worn by little boys. A few boys in the 1860s were still seen in tunics, but mostly tunic inspired jackets, not the longer tunics common in the early 19th century. The new sailor suit and kilt styles from England slowly increased in popularity. The Civil Wars popularized military styles, especially Zouave outfits. Suits in the baggy Zouaves were in fact a French import. Long pants dominated in the 1840s, but knickers and kneepants began to appear in America by the mid-1860s. American boys' fashions as adult fashions were still strongly influenced by European fashion trends.

Caps and Hats

Boys wore a wide variety of caps and hats in the 1860s. Hats were more common than caps and more varied. The hats worn by boys in the 1860s were much more varied than later in century when the sailor hat was almost universally worn by boys. We see some boys wearing caps. Caps with military styling were very popular. Mexican War-era caps with tassles were popular in the 1840s and 50s, while Civil War-era caps were worn in the 1860s. Sailor caps and hats were not widely worn, but did appear in the 1860s with inceasing frequency. Little boys in dresses wore fancy hats of widely varying styles, just like those worn by girls. Sailor hats were worn by older boys, but not as commonly as in the 1880s. Some Scottish styles were popular, but mosly for boy outfitted in kilts.

Skirted Garments

Yonger American boys in the 1860s continued wearing skirted garments. Dresses just like their sisters were the most common, but the kilt style imported from Britain became a popular choice for boys. American boys wore kilted suits rather than Highland kilt costume. We also notice boys wearing blouses and skirts rather than actual dresses. Unlike the kilt suits, these skirted outfits seem similar similar to what girls might wear, although this needs to be confirmed. Boys also wore tunics, although often the tunivs were relatively short, looking more like jackets. Skirted garments were still commonly worn with pantalettes, both by boys and girls. Breeching practices varied from country to country. Here sovcil class was an important factor.

cutaway jackerts 1869s
Figure 2.--Some suit jackets were very plain while others were heavily styilized. This boy wears a jacket with Zouave styling. Note the small ruffled collar and bow. Long pants were still comminly worn, even by younger boys.


Boys tended to wear rather non-discript, plain suits with short jackets and long pants. Younger boys wore cut-away jackets. There were also button-on outfits. A good example is C. Stewart in 1865. The jackets appeared rather shapeless and were not generally well-tailored. They were often worn with pants that did not match, inclusing checkered pants. Jackets often had fancy embroidery, but usually in muted dark colors. Many of the jackets, especially the plainer ones, have a distinctly modern look. This is a major departure from the styles prevalent in the first half of the century. Many of the more adult looking suits had braid embelishments ot short collarless jackets, distinguishing them from the longer coats with jackets that men at the time wore. While fancy jackets could be in a variety of styes and colors, suits were now made for boys in muted fabrics and colors like their fathers. American styles for these suits tended to follow fashion set in England.

Uniform Styles

Boys suits styled as uniforms or with clear military styling were very popular in the 1960s. There were many different styles, in part becaise they were generally not pass produced. Many of these outfits were highly fanciful and imaginative. Boys did not commonly wear replicas of actual Civil War uniforms. The classic sailor suits also worn by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's children in the 1840s spread to the continent and America. The style can be seen in America during the 1860s, but it was not the almost prevasive symbol of boyhood reached by the 1880s. Sailor suits were not the only clothes based on militay-style uniforms worn by boys in the mid-19th century. Many suits for American boys were modled on Civil War uniforms. The Zuoave uniform was a particularly popular style for boys. Some boys actually did wear uniforms and were involved in the War. Many of these outfits had bloomer knickerts or long calf-length kneepants. Some boys did more than play at being soldiers. Thousands of American boys served in the Civil War. The older boys were actual soldiers. The younger boys served as drummer boys.

Shirts, Blouses, and Collars

American boys in the 1860s continued to wear the generally small, plain collars that appreared during the 1850s. Fancy styled collars were generally rare. The ruffled collars so popular in the early decades of the century had passed from style. As had the comfortable looking open collars. Properly dresses boys in the 1860s always buttoned their collars. Some mothers had began using lace as collars for their sons, but if so they would usually be quite small, modest collars. The lace collars employed in the 1860s, however, were smaller and much less oustentaeous than those that appeared during the 1880s.White collars looking like Peter Pan collars, were common worn, but they were relatively small in comparison to the huge collars worn in the late 19th Century. One also sees collars clearly influencd by the English Eton collars.

Decorative Items

Shirts and blouses were not worn with large bows, although some boys wore small bow-tie like neck wear or simple narrow ribbon bows. Boys wore ties as collars were akmost always buttoned. They often slender ribbons or bow-ties like their fathers. The large bows also popular in the 1880s were rarely seen. Older boys might wear stocks like their fathers. Conventions were not well estnlished. We notice one boy wearingtgree bows with his sailor blouse cratger thn a single scarfe.

popular fashions 1864
Figure 3.--These American brothers photographed about 1864 wear popular styles for boys. Note the generally plain, unflaboyant styles. There are no lace collars or large bows--a far cry from the elaborate styles which appeared in the 1880s. Also note that kneepants and knickers were not as common for older boys as was to be the case later in the century.


Most boys in the 1860s wore long pants. The skeleton suit had gone out of style, but the long pants had persisted. Very young bpys might wear tunics weith pantalettes, but most soon turned to long pants. Kneepants and knickers began to appear in the 1860s, and wereadopted by the wealthier families most infliuenced by European fashion trends. Long pants, hover, comtinued to be commonly worn, even by younger boys once they were breeched. This had begun to change in Europe. French boys by the 1860s were commonly wearing knicker-like pants and this style by the late 1960s had begun to increasingly influence American boys' fashions.

The process of buying a boy his first pair of pants to replace dresses or kilts is not well researched in the historical record. I am not quite sure how this progressed. Was a complete new wardrobe purchased for the boy? Was just a dressy pair of pants purchased? Or perhaps pants for play and rough wear? Did he continue to wear his dresses until they wore out or given to a younger sister or brother? I know of no references to this and would be most grateful for any historical references that visitors might be aware of.

stripe detsiling
Figure 4.--This undated photograph illustrates a suit that a boy could have worn in the late 1860s or early 1870s. Several trends are apparent. Note the larger collar and the the shortening of the pants, in this case to mid-calf. Also notice the longer, but still relatively short hair, worn in curls.

Once breeched, boys--even young ones--might wear long pants. The almost universal style of knee pants for boys common at the turn of the century was just beginning to develop. Some younger boys did wear knee pants--but cut at many different lengths. Many boys, even some quite young boys, wore long pamts. Knee pants were worn by mostly young boys, but cut at many different lengths. The common cut at just below the knee popular by the 1870s had not yet become standardized. Little boys in the 1860s wore knee pants cut at many different lengths, from just below the knee to just above the ankles. Most boys wore long pants--although some dressy style for boys ended at ankle level. I am not precisely sure when knickers first appeared. I have seen several 1860s images of boys wearing knickers. Thus while knickers made not have first appeared in the 1860s, they do appear to have been much more prevalent in the 1860s. They were worn with varying garments, including tunics, fancy suits, as well as more boyish looking suits in muted fabrics. The knickers were gathered at the knee by elastic. They were worn blouced both above and under the knee. nterestingly the fashion of making minor changes in a boys dress as he got older was not as universal in the 1860s as it had become by the 1880s. Some families did adhere to this practice. Other families might dress all their boys identically, at least those within a certain age range. This was somewhat more practical in the 1860s because after breeching, it was acceptable to dress boys in rather plain looking suits. While some alternatives existed, not nearly as many as in the 1880s and 1890s where boys might be dressed in a variety of fancy outfits such as Little Lo rd Fauntleroy suits.




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Created: December 5, 1999
Last updated: 7:49 AM 9/29/2013