*** United States boys clothes: coats and jackets








United States Boys' Clothes: Suits

boys suit pants
Figure 1.--These three American boys were photographed together, probably in the 1870s. Note the destinctive suit and hair style for the younger brother. The younger boys wears a ruffled collar with an extensively embroidered knee pants suit. His older brothers wear more modern-looking suits, but with high-cut lapels. Notice that they are long pants suits.

We have compiled extensive information on the suits worn by American boys. Here the invention of photography has provided a wealth of information. Boys if the famiky could afford them wore suits in the 18th century, but not specifically styled children's styles. They wore after breeching, scaled-down versions of their fathers' suits. The first suits specifically made for boys in America as in Europe were skeleton suits. This is the only style of boy's suit for which information is limited, primarily because it appeared before photography. We notice suits with short jackets and often contrasting pants in the 1840s. Many boys wore blouses or tunic like tops rathers than suits in the 40s. We believe this was an economic matter. It was not until the American industrial economy began to boom that suits became standard (1860s). At this time younger boys began wearing fancy suits, often heavily embroidered cut-away jackets with bloomer knickers or knee pants. Collar-buttoning jackets were popular at mid-century and we continue seeing them throughout the rest of the century. Modern looking sack suits with lapels began to be worn in the 1860s. Younger boys in fashionable families might wear knee pants suits, but long trousers were more common for older boys until the 1890s when older boys began wearing them as well. Younger boys by the 1870s commonly wore kilt suits by the 1870s and Fauntleroy suits by the 1880s. Sailor suits were another popular choice. Older boys wore more modern suis. Many destinctive styles appeared such as Norfolk suits. There were also single and double-breasted suits. After the turn-of-the 20th century, knickers began replacing knee pants, especially after the 1910s. After World War I, short pants suits appeared, but knicker suits were much more common. This wasa major divergence from Europe. Afrer World War II long pants suits became increasingly common even for younger boys. Boys also wore sports jackets and blazers. The increasingly popular more casual life style meant boys were wearing suits less and less commonly, especially after the 1960s. Vests became an alternative for younger boys.

Chronology

The first suits specifically made for boys in America as in Europe were skeleton suits. Early skeleton suits were made with knee breeches, but the skeleton suit was mostly worn with long pants. In fact for many years boys in skeleton suits wore long pants while their fathers wore knee breeches. We notice suits with short jackets and often contrasting pants in the 1840s. At this time younger boys began wearing fancy suits, often heavily embroidered cut-away jackets with bloomer knickers or knee pants. Modern looking sack suits began to be worn in the 1860s. Younger boys in fashionable families might wear kneepants suits, rspecially in cities. Less affluent boys and boys in rural areas wore long trousers more commonly, especially older boys until the 1890s. At this time even older teenagers begin wearing long trousers as well. Younger boys by the 1870s commonly wore kiltsuits by the 1870s and Fauntleroy suits by the 1880s. Sailor suits were another popular choice. Older boys wore more modern suis. Many destinctive styles appeared such as Norfolk suits. There were also single and double breasted suits. After the turn of the 20th century, knickers began replacing knepants, especially after the 1910s. After World War I, short pants suits appeared, but knicker suits were much more common. Afrer World War II long pants suits became increasingly common. Boys also wore sports jackets and blazers. The increasingly popular more casual life style meant boys were wearing suits less and less commonly.

Components

The primary components of dress suits are jackets (sometimes called coats) and pants (sometimes called trousers). The term suit is often used to indicate matching garments, such as a shorts set, but we use it to mean a dress outfit of matching jacket and pants. There have been several different styles of jackets over time. There have also been different types of pants. Some of the different types of jackets and pants involved stlistic changes others were associated with age conventions. While the primary suit components are the jacket and pants, there are other components. Some suits came with matching caps. This was normally a peaked cap, and this was popular during the mid-20th century. A more popular component was the vest. Many suits were three-piece suits meaning that a vest was included. This has become much less common since World War II.

Ages

Suit styles have in part varied by age. We have collected information on the suits worn and different chronological ages. There have been many different styles and types of suits for boys of different ages. This included both jacket and pants styles. These styles have changed over time as well as the age groups that wore them. The basic pattern is that boys as they grew older wanted to wear styles similar to the styles worn by adult men. Over time the conventions have varied. At times men and boys wore essentially the same styles. At other time there were substantial differences between the suits worn by men and boys. The pattern here was not only chronological, but varied among counties as well as social class. Countries trends are complicated. Social class conventions are more straight forward. Working-class boys often left school early and when they did they commonly began dressing like their fathers. Middle-class boys were more likely to stay in school longer and to wear juvenile styles. There were a variety of age conventions associated with suits. Parents used a range of age gradeing devices. They included styles, neckwear, collars, and pants.

Material

We do not yet have much information on the different fabrics used for suits. There were fabrics of different weights for both summer and winter. As suits were much more commonly worn in the 19th and early 20th century than in the mid- and late 20th century. As a result, suits of different weights were more important. Of course, lower-income families could not afford more than one suit. Some heavier fabrics included cheviot, corduroy, duck, flannel, serge, tweed, and many others. Flannel was a veet widely worn fabric in the 20th century. Velvet was also w heavy fabric, by mostly usd for fancy suits like Fauntleroy suits for younger boys. We note some sailor suits also dome in velvet. We are less sure about the lighter-weight fabrics. One would be searsucker, but that was a 20th century fabric. It is difficult and often impossible. There is, however, information on fabrics in the catalog section, especially the U.S. section which is the mostr developed.

Seasonality

We see some suits done as seasonal summer suits. These suits were commonly done in lighter-weight material and white or light colors. A social class element was involved here. Working-class children in the 19th century probably could often not have afforded special summer suits. Middle-class boys may well have been able to afford a summer suit, at least families in comfortable circumstances. Chrronology is a factor here. American families prospered after the Civil war, greatly expanding the middle class. In additin, improveents in mnufacturing and the introduction of ready-made clothes meant that the relative cost of clothing declined, allowing families to have larger wardrobes. Even so, boys will summer suits in the 1920s and 30s can be assumed to come from families in cmgortable circmstances. Curiously, the type of pants worn with the suits do not seem to have been seasonal matter. One may have thougt that short pants would have been associated with summer wear, but the choice of pants seem more associated with age and family conventions.

Patterns

We note boys wearing suits with a wide variety of patterns. Patterns have varied in popularity over time. During somne periods, boys have primarily worn suits with flat weaves abnd no patterns. At other times patterns have been very popular. And the patterns have varied, both in style and bildness. We note some boys wearing very bold patterns. Other patterns were much less prevalent. Many of these patterns are not detectable in portrait photography and require a close up to show the actual patterns. The two bassic patterns were stripes and checks, at least the patterns that can be noted in portrait photography. Muted plaids were commonly used in kilt suits. There were many other patterns such as herringbone weave, but these can not be detected in the available portaits. Here a good source of information is mail order catlogs which often have detailed informtion on color and weave in the ad copy. It was common in the late 19th century for a major catalog to offer dozens of options to parents. Options that could not be depicted in the accompanied illustrations.

Colors

We see boys wearing suits in the late 19th century that were mostly done in patterns. We note a range of colors. Brown was very common, but we also note blue and grey and even green patterns of varying hues. It is not possible to assess these colors in the black and white photographs of the day. A good ideas on colors, however, is available in store catalogs. The photographs if clear enough can show whether the boys are weaing suits with colors or solid colors. Here social class was a factor. The classic, dark solid colored suits were a conservative style referred by the upper class. Boys from more modest families would be more likely to wear the suits with patterns. The patterns were often, but not always muted. After the turn of the century we see manu boys begin wearing dark-colored suits done in navy blue and black. These two colors became classic American suit colors. These seems much less common in Britain.








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Created: 1:49 AM 7/15/2004
Last updated: 9:15 AM 10/31/2014