** United States boys clothes: suits components headwear

United States Boys' Clothes: Suit Components--Matching Headwear

Figure 1.--This CDV portrait is unidentified. All we know is that the boy is American. We believe the portrait was taken in the early 1870s. (The fact that there is no studio logos is an indicator that it is an 1860s or early 70s portrait.) I am not sure how to classify this suit, but note the many elements of military styling. Also note the matching tam that the boy is holding. It has a colored pom. I'm not sure about the color, but would guess that it was red. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.Image courtesy of the PH collection.

Some suits came with matching headwear. Most did not, but matching headwear was seen as stylish and mothers might purchase headwear seem as matching. We haven't seen matching hats, but they could be mstched in color if not in fabric. And of course sailot hats could be worn with sailor suits. we have seen matcing caps in various styles. Caps could be matched with both the same material and color as the suit. We notice some 19th century suits for younger boys with matching caps of various styles. Tams seem to have been popular. We also see Glengaries, but there were many other styles. Normally boys did not wear their caps for formal portraits. Thus our information is limited. Some boys did wear their caps and in many other cases the caps and other headwear were placed in the portrait. We suspect that this was especially common if it was a matching suit cap. Notice the boy here holding a matching tam (figure 1). We also see matching caps in the 20th century. A matching peaked cap worn with an Eton or other styled suit was popular during the mid-20th century. A suit with a matching cap seems especially popular with affluent families.

Headwear Trends

Boys wore a wide variety of headwear with suits. This included berets, capts, hats, and tams. Headwear was more popular in the 19th and early-20th century than is the case today. Thus matching headwear seems most common in the 19th and early-20th century and the types of headwear worn in these years. We notice boys wearing both caps and hats with suits as well as other types of headwear like berets and tams, often included in the caps category. These popularity of these different types varied over time. Hats were common in the 19th century for both boys and men. By the late-19th century caps were becoming more common than hats. Caps were more popular for boys in the early-20th century and until suits and headwear began declining in popularity after the 1950s. Most of th headwear worn was purchased separtely from the suit and thus was nrmally made from a different material and did not match the color and / or pattern of the suit. Some headwear, hoever, was a pat of the suit, don in the same material and color of the suit. This was not very common because suit manufacturers often did not have the capability of manufacturing headwearm especially hats. Caps were easier to do and more commonly don in suiting material.

Style Alternatives

Concerning headwear, there were three basic alternatives for what a boy wore with his suit. Tghere were matching, coordinated, and non-matching headwear. These alternatives varied over time as well as with a boy's age and style of suit. The basic suit is a jacket or other top and matching pants. Three-piece suits, usually meaning added vests were very popular in the 19th century. Less common were suits with matching headwear. Headwear was very common in the 19th century and early-20th century. Usually the headwear worn was bought separately from a boy's suit and did not match it. But matching headwear did exist, usually for younger boys. Matching hats were unusual, but we do notice several styles of matching caps. These most common were sailor caps, but we notice flat caps and peaked caps as well as other styles.

Photographic Evidence

Normally boys did not wear headwear for formal portraits in the 19th century. That is not to sy that the did not ear headear to the studio. Thus our information is limited. But some boys did wear headwer and in many other cases the headwear was placed in the portrait. This varies. It mightbbe on tables or other props. Sometimes it was laid on the griwn. We suspect that this was especially common if it was a matching suit item. Notice the boy here holding a matching tam that matches his suit. (figure 1). This changed with the turn-of-the-20th century, especially after World War I. It becomes muchless common for the headwear to appear even in formal portraits.


We see a range of heaswear (both caps and hats) worn with suits over time. For the most part we notice a wide range of different types and styles. We have little information on the 18th century, but the tri-corner hat was a standard, at least for relatively prosperous families. We know much more about the 19th and 20th centuries, primarily because of the development of photograpjy. With the invention of photography (1839), we can begin to follow headwear trends in detail. The convention of wearing headwear was very pronounced in the 19th century. It would have been noticed if a gentleman appeared in public without appropriate headwear. Headwear was an essential part of proper dress. Headwear was seen as an important part of any formal outfit. There was quite a range of headwear worn with suits in the 19th century. This was still common in the early-20th century, although we no longer see hats like we did in the 19th century. Boys mostly wore caps with suits in the early-20th century. Two styles became particularly important in America--the peaked cap abd the flat cap. For some reason we see a number of boys wearing fedora hats in the 1950s. but became much less common in the second half of the century. After the turn of the century we see fewer boys wearing both headwear and suit. We do see matching peaked cap worn with an Eton or other styled suit during the mid-20th century.


The same age convention associated with caps and hats also affected the headwear worn with suits. Many boys only had one hat or cap to wear for both fomal and casual occassions. They probably had special headwaer for winter. Boys from affluent families would have both casual formal headwear. The age conventions for the different type of headwear varied over time. Thus any assessment has to include chronological assessments for each age. Not only did styles change and the age of the boys wearing them, but aftter the mid-20th century, the popularity of all headwear declined especially formal headwear. A few younger boys wore Scottish styles as well as the related tam like the boy here is wearing (figure 1). We also see sailor styles. The sailor suit and sailor headwear became very popular in America for school age boys, but we do not see older boys wearing sailor headwear and outfits as we do in Europe. We see boys wearing rounded-crown hats and peaked caps of different design in the 19th century. We begin to see younger boys wearing very large hats in the late-19yth century. At the turn of the century we see all kinds of different caps without clear age conventions which became more clear cut in 1910s when flat caps became standard wear for boys, including teenagers. At the same time the peaked cap became seen as more of a cap for younger boys, although there were also class conventions. While formal headwear declined after the mod-20th century, we still so see casual styles. Baseball caps became very popular in the late-20th century and boys of all ages wore them.

Social Class

A suit with a matching cap seems especially popular with affluent families. This was presumably at least partially the result of the increased cost. And afflunt families were presumably the most likely to persist with formality.


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Created: 9:33 PM 1/30/2006
Last updated: 12:04 AM 1/17/2022