United States Boys' Clothes: The 1910s

Figure 1.--This boy's name was Kendall. He lived in Williamsville, Vermont. His mother used this photo postcard to send Christmas greetings, probably about 1910. Notice the above the knee knickers.

The early 20th Century was an interesting period in the development of boys' clothing. In many ways it was a period of many varied styles. Late 19th century styles continued after the turn of the century. Many of the new more casual styles of the 20th Century had begun to make real inroads in American boys' fashions. Styles such as tunics and rompers are characteristic of the period, other formerly popular 19th Century fashions had wined. The boys' kiltsuit was now little worn. The Fauntleroy suit was still worn at the beginning of the decade, but had passed from fashion by the end of the decade. The emerging 20th Century styles like knickers and short pants were well established in the 1920s. Long ringlet curls were increasingly less common at the beginning of the decade and rarely seen at the end of the decade. Note: Many of the images used in this and other HBC pages are undated. Thus HBC has been forced to estimate the date. Thus the HBC readers should exercise some caution because the dating may be slighly in error. This is especially true of the various time-line pages. Readers who can offer any refinements of the dating would be most appreciated.

Momentous Change

The most abrupt change in boys' fashions probably occurred in the 1910s. A more profound change in styles occured at that time than in any other decade. The reason was almost surely World War I (1914-18). The War of course transformed Europe shaking the foundations of the old order. The change in fashions was just one part of the momentous changes under way. The changes were, however, pervasive. Some of the changes appeared in the late-1910s, but did not become widespread until the 1920s. We see a shift toward informality that dramatically sepatates the pre- and post-War eras. America was only at War for a year and a half while Europe was at war for 4 years. Thus American fshion was affected both by domestic and foregign changes.


We note a variety of trends involving the various garments worn by American boys during the 1910s. The fashion of outfitting boys in dresses continued to be quite common at the turn of the century, but by the 1910s it was becoming less common. Little boys more commonly wore the newer fashions like rompers, tunic suits, and short pants. The custom of little boys wearing dresses did not disappear entirely. The style of the dresses increassingly were plainer frocks and not the more fancy girlish styles with elaborate lace and ruffle trim. Rompers were widely worn by boys after the turn of the century. They may have appeared before 1900, but they were not widely worn in the 1890s. I am not sure preciselt when rompers first appeared. I'm also not sure how they varied in the 1900s and 1910s. (Any insights HBC visitors might have would be most appreciated. They were a style for generally younger boys. Many of the boys outfitted in rompers might have worn dresses before the turn of the century. They were an informal style in the early 20th Century, but some dressier styles appeared in the 1920s and later period. One of the most characteristic styles of the early 20th Century in America was the tunic suit. This style was most popular in the 1900s, but still widely worn at the beginning of the 1910s. By the end of the decade, however, it had passed from the fashion scene. Many mothers who might have dressed their boys in dresses, instead appear to have chosen the related tunic style. To many boys, tunics were preferable to dresses as they good wear knicker-like bloomers that showed they were no longer wearing girlish dresses. A variety of outfits appeared for younger boys not yet deemed old enough for more mature looking suits. These outfits usually were made with short pants, usually cut rather long at knee-length. Shorter short pants did not begin to appear until the 1920s. These suits were often worn with white socks, but long stockings were still worn. Some still had the belted-styling of the tunic suit. Both colored and stripped material were common. The outfits varied greatly. American boys mostly wore knee pants at the turn of the century. As the decade progressed knickers became increasingly popular, but during the 1910s kneepants were still very common. younger boys still wore kneepants and by the end of the decade some boys were wearing the new short pants that had become popular in England. Younger boys also wore a kind of above the knee bloomer pants that were worn under tunic suits. Older boys as the decade progressed increasingly were wearing knickers, but there are many images showing older boys wearing knee pants during the decade. Knickers were not new. They had been worn in England for decades. The were also worn in America during the 19th Century, but were much less common than kneepants. The short pants that were increasingly worn in Europe at this time never proved as popular in America. Younger boys still wore wide-brimmed hats. The extremely wide-brimmed straw hats worn by very little boys in the 1900s were now less common. Some sailor hats had the brims turned down. Boys also wore sailor caps with rhe still popular sailor suit. Older boys might wear straw boaters. The most common style had by the 1910s, however, become the flat cap. Younger boys might wear strap shoes for dressy occasions. High top shoes continued to be commonly worn. They were mostly lace up shoes because button shoes were increasingly less worn. The low-cut oxford shoe began to increase in importance. We see knee socks, but they were not yet very common, children continued wering three-quter socks and long stockings.

Figure 2.--This photograph was probably taken about 1910. White stockings had become very popular for dressy little boys' outfits. Long hair by the 1910s, however, had become increasingly less common.

Hair Styles

Boys in the 1910s wore short hair. The only exceoption was very young pre-school boys which might have short curls. They were more likely to come from families in affluent circumstances. The long ringlets found in the late-19th and early-20th cntury are no longer seen in any numbers. We see a range of short hair styles. Bangs were popular for younger boys. Some boys might have sj=hirt criopped hairr, but not shaved heads as we see in Europe at the time. Most boys had hair long enough to comb. We still see a few boys with center parts. This was a popular style in the 1900s, but side parts were standard. Girls commonly had long hair. Ringlets variously styled were common. Ringlets took quite a bit of work, so often we see girls with long uncurled hair. We see some girls with moderate bobs by the end of the decade, but this was a style more associated with the 1920s. The style most associated with girls in the 1910s were enormous hair bows, both white and colored bows. They were variously arranged on the head. Huge bows were all the rage. Both little girls and teenagers wore them.

Social Class

Social class was a major factor in 19th century fashion. Clothing and fashion constitute more of dusposible income than is the case toay. Clothes were expensive and formal dress much more important than is the case today. This continued to be the case in the 1900s, although we notice some chnges beginning to take shape. By the 1910s this was beoming increasinfly pronounced, especially for younger boys. There wre still sunstantial scial class differences. This basically was an economic matter. The fashions were set by the well-to-do and the middle-class followed as best they cold. The working class also followed the fashions trends ser by the upper class, but with less means to do so for them selves or their children. We see boys from families in comfortable circumstances having seasona; clothing. They might weae sailor caps and hats, tunic suits with bloomer knickers, and knee pants, white socks or stockings and strap shoes. White was very popular. Working class boys had much smaller wardrobes. They were less likely to wear juvenile-styled clothes. More practical styles prevailed. Many working-class boys basically had a suit for best wear and and outfit for everyday wear. A factor here is that boys from well off families spent more time superbised than boys from less well off families. Thus they tended to be less aware as to how some other boys, especially boys from less well off families, might view their clothing.


The early 1910s marked a major shift in boys' clothing styles. The flat cap became the standard headwear for boys. Boys no longer wore dresses. Kilt suits had disappeared. The only skirted f\garment we see to any extent are tunics which had become an important style in the 1900s. The old formal styles had declined in importance during the 1900s. Major styles like Fauntleroy suits had largely disappeared. Suits were still common. Norfolk styling was popular. While suits were still commonm, the new more casual styles became increasingly important as the 1910s progressed. Kniclers became standard for boys. Short pants were not as common as in Europe. Even the Boy Scouts in America did not wear shorts as was the case in Europe, except at camp. Neither knickers or shorts had the casul connotation that shorts have today. It was morea matter of age apporopriate clothing.


American school children in the 1910s dressed differently depending on where they went to school. We still see a lot of rural one-room schools. Rural children commonly wore dungares to school and went barefoot. This was especially true of the South which was the poorest part of the country. Boys in the North were more likely to dress up, at least for the school photograph. We see youngr boys in the early 1910s still wearing blouses with wide collars. Kneepants were common and when the boys were not barefoot commonly worn with dark long stockings. Many boys not wearing overalls wore suspenders. Boys in the cities dressed differently most wore shoes to school and overalls were not common. Many boys wore suits to school. Knee pants were common, but we also see boys wearing knickers. Some boys wore ties, but mostly in city schools. We see some boys wearing sailor suits, but not very many. We do notice girls wearing sailor dresses. Some boys wear coveralls, but they were not very common. They were especially rare in rural schools. Many boys wear flat caps, but we also see beanies. We note Catholic boys dressed up in suits for First Communion.

Adult Fashions

HBC's focus is on children's fashions, especially boys, but it is interesting to also look at overall fashions that adults wore during the same period thast we are assessing boyswear. Through the early-20th century formality was the catch word for popular fashion including children's wear. This of course meant urban wear. This had becone to change after the turn-of the 20th century, but formal dress was stil still standard in the early-20th century. World war I erupted at mid-decade, at least in Europe, but America followed some 2 years later. Women wore absurdly decorated hats. We see both dresses and blouses with skirts. Hems covered the ankles. Bowler hats were popular for men. They wore suits and ties even at home. The utilitarian drive of the war introduced an element of informality unknown before the War.

Regional Differences

America was a much more rural society in the late 19th and early 20th century tha it is now. Many Americans live on the farm or in small rural towns. When they dressed up they followed the same dressy styles as boys in the cuties wore--although the latest styles probably took a little longer to reach rural America in the days before television. Fashion magazines and mail order catalogs made sure that rural America was never to far removed from the latest fashions. Most of the time rural boys would be likely to wear work clothes like overalls. They would often wear such clothes to school--at least elementary school. They were not called jeans at the time, and of course the idea of designer jeans could not even be conceived in the early 20th century, but Levi Straus dungaree overalls were widely worn by men and boys.

Figure 5.--This boy wears a double-breasted knicker suit with a straw boater. Note that he wears a small ribbon tie rather than the neck ties that appeared in the 1910s. This photograph was probably taken about 1915.

Historical Events

Americans began thec1910s with great optimism about the new century. The sinking of the Titanic (April 15, 1912) brought a realization concerning the limits of technology. The Progressive Era began about 1895. Major progressive reforms were enacted during the Roosevelt Administration in the 1900s. Taft continued actions against monoploles. A split in the Republican Party resulted in the elelection of Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1912). The Wilson Administration enacted further progressive reforms. The Progressive Movement essentially ended with America's entry into World War I. Progressive was made on major issues like child and women labor. A Federal Reserve was created. Labor unions while growing were still unable to effective negotiate with major corporations. Progress was made in state legislatures while Congress proved unwilling go dress many issues involving work plsace issues. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire tragically illustrated often unsafe working conditions. A Commission found that the status of children in America was still apauling with inadequate nutrition and housing. As bad as conditions were, they were preferable to those in Europe and untill the outbreak of World War I (1914), immigrants continued to flood into the counyty. American had become greatest undustrial power in the world. A major factor here had been the mass production of automobiles. Ford introduced the first moving assembly line (1914) and in 1915, the one millionth Model T (costing $345) rolled off the assembly line. Industrial expansion had created huge numbers of jobs and great propsperity. Rising incomes had profound social consequences and the continued expansion of the middle class. Whole new industries appeared to capitalize on expanding purchasing power, including motion pictures and phonographs. Expanding trade and internation events like the Olympics were also seen as harbingers of a new age. im Thorpe, an American Indian, electtrified American by winninning gold medals at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. The increasing integration and prosperity in Europe to many meant that a major war was no longer possible. America was shocked with the outbreak of World War I and the terrible killing. German resumtion of unrestricted subnmrine warfare brought America into the War and sealed German's defeat. This prevented Germany from dominating Europe, but after the War American involvement becme widely viewed as a mistake. At the end of the decade amendments were passed providing for women's suferage (1919) and initiating an unprecedented national campaign--prohibition. Oppression of black Americans continued in the South an many fled north to major indudstrial cities. The end of the decade also brought the National Park Service. The Girl Scouts of America were formed to provide oportunities compsarable to the Boy Scouts. The Russian Revolution (1917) led to a Red Scatre sand demands for limits om immigration. America's inolvement in Europe ended when the Senate rejected President Wilson's Treaty and the League of Nations leading to two decades of isolationism.

Personal Accounts and Articles

We are compiling some information about individuals in the 1910s. In some cases we have some information about their lives. In other cases we have just the name or an especially interesting photograph. Also included are aricles about the fashions of the era.

The 1900s: An Ohio boyhood

1911: Raymond Bykes: America--messenger boy

About 1915: Unidentified teenager

1916: Harold Walker: America--agricultural laborer

The 1920s: First long pants suit


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Created: June 6, 1999
Last updated: 1:39 AM 4/4/2019