*** vintage boys' clothing garments

Vintage Clothing: Garments

vintage boys clothing
Figure 1.--This American blue kilt suit was probably worn in the 1880s. This suit did not have a vest. Many did. This looks like a light-weight material for summer wear.

As so much useful information can be gleaned from vintage clothing, we have included many vintage garments along with period photographs on our HBC pages. These are both valuable historical artifacts with a great deal of useful information. Often details about clothing such as material, color, pockets, contriction, ect. can not be readily observed in available historical photographs. Thus detailed images of vintage clothing can add greatly to our understanding of the wide range of garments accessed on HBC. We are slowly building a useful archive of a wide range of different garments. We began adding vintage clothing images to HBC before we created this vintage clothing page. Thus it will be some time before we have all the vintage clothing pages and images linked to this page.


Headwear used to be more important than is the case today. Vhildren commonly wore hats and caps in the 19th and early-20th centuries. We have archived a few vintage headwear items. Boys in the 19th century commonly wore rounded crown hats. Most boys wore plain unadorned hats. Younger boys not yet breeched might wear a decorated hat. An example is a natural straw boys rounded crown hat. It has ruched ivory ribbon and feather trim. It was worn by Charles P. Vogel (1894-1959) at the turn of the 20th century. Sailor-styled headwear was an especially important for children's fashions during the late-19th century and early-20th century. We have archived a saucer-type sailor cap. It is a French sailor cap with a Normandie tally. An important boy's cap style, especially in America was the flat cap in the early 20th century. We note a classic American flat cap from the 1920s.

Skirted Garments

We are not entirely sure how younger boys were dressed during the medieval period, but we believe that were largely dressed like their sisters. Here information is limited. More infiormation is available on the early modern period, mostly because of paintaings. This of course means the children of aristcrats. Very few vintage garments survive from this period. The skirted garments we have found mostly come come from the 19th century. This is because it is closer to our own age and the fact that the Industrial Revolution generated great wealth and many more peoople were leading prosperous lives and dressing well. Thus the sheer bulk of clothing mean that more was likely to survive to our modern age. We note dresses, kilts, tunics, and smocks. Dressess are difficult to work with because unless the provinance is known, there is now way of conecting them with boys. Boys continued to wear skilrted garmebnts thrioughout the 19th century, but by the end of the century, especially the 1890s, this had declined. We see fewer boy wearing skirted garmebnts, especilly dresses. And the boysearung skirted garments were increasingly younger. The only two major skirted garmens that continued to be widely worn into the 20th century were tunics and smocks. Tunics were worn during the early-20th century (!900-20). Smocks continued to be worn much longer, mostly for school, and even today have not entirely disappeared.


Both girls and little boys wore dresses in the 19th century. Here we have archived a range of vintage dresses. The problem with dresses is that unless the name of the child that wore that is known, it is difficult to tell if it was for a boy or girl. This is a problem we continually face when assessing unidentified 19th century photographs. A Vintage clothing dealer tells us that a red Victorian child's dress (girl or boy) was found with other clothing that dates back to 1870- 1880. We also note a white dress worn by American boy James Cromwell in 1879. We also notice a sailor dress which a dealer is convinced was a 1890s boy dress, but we are not positive about this.


Kilts are today a type of ethnic clothing. This was also the case before the 19th century. In the early-19th century a young British princess vecanme queen--Victoria. She was not well educatedm but was an avid reader and devloped aove of Scotland. She an Orince aklbet decided to dreess the princes of varying ages in kilts. Thuis turned the kilt from an ethnic garment intio an imoortabt boys' garment. There were a variety of kilt outfits which developed, including Highland kilts, kilt suits, and kilt-skirt outfits. These outfits were widely worn in Britain, Canada, and America, but less so in other countries. The kilt suit in the late-19th century was a major suit style for younger boys. These kilt suits were very commonly worn in Britain and America, but surprisingly most common in America. The jacket was was usually styled like a regular suit jacket, but there were jacket styles just for kilt suits. They were often worn with vests, except when being done as Fauntleroy kilt suits, like the example here (figure 1). The boy for the kilt suit wore a kilted skirt rather than trousers. The kilt skirt was commonly longer than the traditional Scottish kilt that the fashion was loosely based on. The material was usually both solid colors as well as muted plaids. A good example is an American blue kilt suit probably worn in the 1880s (figure 1). We also notice kilt-skirts with vary degrees of kilt styling. Some were essentially plaid skirts. We notice a bright red plaid kilt skirt worn by an American boy about 1895. We have a French kilt suit or perhaps a kilt suit styled dress from the 1890s.


Tunic outfits were commonly worn by American and European boys during the 19th and early 20th century. We refer to them as tunic suits, but in America they wee also called bloomer suits. Most surviving tunics suits are from the late 19th and early-20th centuries when tunic suits were common, especially for pre-school boys and boys just beginning school. There were many different styles. The most popular were sailor, Buster Brown, and Russian blouse. Many of the tunic suits were rather plain, play garments, but there were also dress suits, often with fancy trim.


Smocks were introduced by the French as achool garment (1870s). Several other countries in Europe also adopted the school smock. The smock was not enturely a school gasrment, but this was by far the major usage. We have noted the variety of school smocks worn in France during the 1950s.

Younger Boys Suits

Little Lord Fauntleroy Suits

We have information on both Fauntleroy blouses and suits. These actual garments provide information on material, color, construction, embroidery, manucturer, and a host of other details. Some readers have kindly provided us information about the garments in their collections. Some information is also available from internet and other auctions.

Sailor Suits

The saiolor suit was among the most popular outfits for boys. We have acquired images of several vintage sailor suts to HBC, but we are not precisely sure where all of them are archived at this time. We have noted a linnen sailor tunic worn at the turn of the 20th century by an American boy. We have found one middy blouse. We also have information on German sailor suits. We have very little chronological information on these suits, but have had to estimate how old they are. Many sailor suits were play or casual garments. They were, however, flexible styles in that they were also acceptable for dressier occassions. Other sailot suits were made expressedly for more formal occassions. We note, for example, velvet sailor suits.

Oliver Twist suits

Oliver Twist suiys were done as both play suits and dressy suits. A good example of an Oliver Twist boy's play suit, a type of button-on suit. This one uis a Tom Sawyer button-on play suit which probably dates to the 1920s. This is a two piece blue and white boy's play suit. Cloth label reads Tom Sawyer Age 4 "Washwear" Elder Manufacturing Company. This was a popular brand of stylish boys' clothing at the time. It has a sewn on cloth label on both the top and bottom half that gives Lot no. of 0333 -1/2 and Age 4 again. There is a round carboard string tag with metal rim attached to one button that was made by the Dennison Co. An exasmple of a dessy Oliver Twist suit was a Kiddy Togs double-breasted short pants suit. A dealer describes it as "This has to be the most elegant boy’s suit that I have ever had. It is a two piece set of shirt/jacket and shorts. The fabric is a woven cotton sateen in white. (I researched both polished cotton and sateen and the former would be an odd choice for an all white suit as the process which provides the sheen can disappear with washing!) The sateen is incredibly soft and is a substantial weight. The jacket is doublebreasted and has wonderful vintage buttons -- a large size for the waist and smaller matching ones as decoration on the leg. There is a functional breast pocket on left chest which is self piped. Sleeves are straight and somewhere between a short and 3/4 sleeve. The cuff is topped by a short self frill, which is also used on the wide shawl collar.

Eton suits

Eton suits were popular in the 19th century, especially in England. The collars persisted into the 20th century. A juvenile version of the suits appeared in America (1920s). They were basic two button jackets without lapels. Eton suits were always done without vests. They usually were made with short pants, although some had long pants. There tended to be a social-class factor associated with these suits. This is why we often see Eton suits being used in advertisements for high end products like Cadillac cars. Originally the sizing for these suits were up to about 10 year olds. After World War II, the age conventions gradually decline, primarily to pre-chool boys, but up to about 6-7 year olds. For quite a while these were standard suits for younger boys, but today tend to be used primarily for formal events like weddings. This is in part because suits have been declined in usage as children's wear has become increasingly less formal. We see white suits being worn, espcially for First Communion events. Grey was a very popilar color for boys. Black or navy blue was often chiosen for formsl events. While called DEton suits, these suits were worn ith blouses tht had both Eton-shaped and Peter Pan collars. We see these suits in various countries, but they were primarily worn in America.


We notice sets appearing in the 1920s. These began to become more popular in the increasingly casual climaste along with the decline of the suit as standard boys' wear. Sets were matching or coordinated shirts and pants. This was primarily an American phenomenon, but we also see them in Canada, England, abnd other countries. These sets were related to play suits, but were not limited to play wear. It was becoming increasingly common for younger boys to wear more casual outfits when dressing up. The most commin were shorts sets, but there were also long pants sets. They might be worn to school in America. A good example is a green shorts set which the British called a Buster suit and was dated to the early 1940s.

Play Suits

We notice a wide range of play suits for younger boys. These seem to have been very popular during the inter-Wars period of the 1920s and 30s. Most were done with short pants. They seemed to have gradually replaced tunic suits. Gradually they evolved into shorts sets which became popular in the 1930s. A good example of a boy's play suit is a Tom Sawyer button-on play suit which probably dates to the 1920s. We notice a grey, one-piece play suit which we assume is American, although there is no information associated with it. We would date it to the 1910s-20s.

Shirt Tops


Blouses wee commonly worn by both boys and girls in the late 19th and early 20th century. We have begun to collect some samples. A reader has noted a Civil War era boy's white puffed-sleeve blouse. We also have found a turn of the 20th century child's stripped blouse. A dealer believes it may have been a boy's blouse, we suspect it was more likely for a girl.


Shirts are the major type of tops boys have worn with pants. Blouses were very common in the 19th cntury, but since the early 20th century, boys have mostly worn shirts. Boys have worn shirtwaists without collars, but in the 20th century shirts with collars have been the standard for boys. The primary variation in shirts has been the collars. We note a striped shirt from the 1890s with a large collar. Some have been quite large, although after World War I shirt collars have been of modest size. We also notice short-sleeve shirts or the first time after World War I.


Rompers were a very important garment for younger children beginning in the 1910s. The time line and conventions varied from country to country. Romperts in America were worn by both boys and girls in America, but were for many years an exclusively boy's garment in France. We have used rompers to mean the puffed pants outfits, but catalogs and advertisements used the term much more widely. The first rompers we noted in America were a play garment, but in France dressy romper outfits also appeared. We have noted quite a range of styles for the romper suits.


Several vintage suits have been archived on HBC. We do not have many items from the 18th century. One exception is what looks like an 18th century suit jacket. We have much mote from the 19th century, mostly the late 19th century. We have found what looks like We have found more juvenile suits than youth suits. One exmple is a red velvet suit for a little boy. We note several kneespants suits. Some were styled like modern sack suits while others had a more dated look. We also notice some three-piece suits, now not very common for boys. The three-piece suit meant a suit with a vest. We have also archived some vests separately. We note one wool vest, but am not sure about the date.


We have archived several different types of pants. We note a pair of white cotton piqu� shorts worn by an American boy, we think in Wisconsin, during the 1920s. We are not entirely sure about the type of shorts. A HBC French reader sent us an image of short pants he wore as a boy in 1951 showing the importance of creases at the time. We note American preppy short pants in the 2000s. Knickers were standard boys wear in America during the 1910s-30s. We note some wool knickers worn by an American boy, probably in the 1920s.

Cold Weather Garments

A wide range of garments existed for cold weather wear. We have managed to archive only a limited number of cold weather items. We think that they were not some of the more popular itens to save as childhood menories. We note a Sears Uvanttear sailor-styled overcoat worn with a tunic suit. We note a pair of leather leggings with buckles and buttons from Canada. A pair of canvas leggings, also with a formidable row of buttons comes from France. They are undated, bu probably date to the 1920s. We also have a Sears leather jacket from 1961.

School Uniforms

We have not noted many offerings for school uniforms on E-bay where collectors contributing to HBC find many vintage clothing items. This is probably becase most items listed on E-bay are American and American students until recently have not normally worn uniforms. We have noted a number of British school items are school garments from related British Empire countries where British school styles were also worn. . We have archived a Soviet boy's school uniform from the 1980s. We have also archived a Soviet girl's school uniform. It came from the Ukraine, but the same uniform was worn throughout the Soviet Union. It is not dated, but probably was worn in the 1980s.

Military Uniforms

Military uniforms have been a major influence for both mens' and boys' clothes abnd have even influenced women's fashions. Of course the best example here is sailor headwear and suits, but there are many other examples. One particularly interesting uniform style is the 19th century French Zouave uniform.


Sportswear is a type of casual clothing. It is a phenomenon of the 20th century, especially after World War II. Before that the primary sportswear was swimsuits. After the War, sportswear of all kinds became popular, especially by the 1970s. We do not yet have many sports wear items. We do have a red and beige woolen swimsuit from the 1920s. It looks like a suit for a boy about 10 years old. It is useful because it provides some color information.

Ethnic Outfits

We have one ethnic outfit. It is a Scottish Higland outfit, apparently made for an American boy, but made in London. It was amilitarily-styled velvet outfit, but curiously it has kneepants rather than a kilt.


Children love to dress up in costumes. We see fancy dress costumes in the 19th century. These were often expensice costumes for children from well to do families. Around the turn-of-the 20th century we begin to see mass produced modestly priced costumes for children. A range of these costumes were offered in the big mailorder catalogs, Sears and Wards. A reader writes, "My husband has a little boy's uniform inspired by the Spanish American War that his Grandfather wore when very young--by the size of the uniform he was probably between 2 and 4 years of age. My husband's Mother said that it was designed after the uniform worn by an American Sergeant in the Spanish American war. It is brown in color with 4 pieces--a cap, very fancy shirt (looks like a girl's blouse in ivory), britches, and a very nice brown coat with insignia on it. The coat and shirt are in fine shape. There are also stockings with the outfit (don't know if they came with it or not). The britches have a very worn seat; and the cap shows some wear, but I think it could be repaired." [Goshe]


Vintage undewear is often the rarest type of vintage clothes, especilly before the 20th century. This is probably they were more soiled than other garments and had lottle sentimental value. We note both underwear and support garments. We have only limited underwear items in our vintage clothing archive. Underwear were garments that were especially likely to be discarded. Underwear could be quite complicated in the late 19h and early 20th century. Images of actual vintage underwear adds to the informaton we have collected in the catalog section. We note what looks like an underwaist dating from the early 20th century. One readers has sent us an image of a nainsook suit which was worn by American children in the 1930s. We note short-leg long johns which look to date to the 1930s.


The petticoat is a girl's undergarment worn under a skirt or dress. The term pettiskirt is also used, but not as commonly. I'm not sure of the derivation of the term. Iwould guess the petti means small and thus a small coat. The term first appeared in the English language in the late-14th century. The basic meaning is an underakirt, but is often used to mean one that is cull full using a decorative fabric and trimmed with lace and or ruffles. While essentially a girl's garment. They were worn by yopunger boys not yet nreeched. An examole is a decorative half petticoat slip, probably dating to the late 19th century.

Stocking Supporters

We have found more support garments than underwear. There were several different types of support garments. These garments became very common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were used to both hold up long stockings and pants. They were also advertised as having value for posture. They garments were especially common in America. We note what looks like an underwaist dating from the early 20th century. One readers has sent us an image of a nainsook suit which was worn by American children in the 1930s. We also note a German World War I paper-fabric Leibchen which was a kind of stocking supporter. We note a cloth Leibchen a few decades later in the 1940s or early 50s. Many of these stocking support garments are American. Long stoclings were widely worn in both America and Europe, but the Europeans were more likely to use make shift arrangements rather than store-bought stocking supporter garments.


We have only a few vintage hosiery items. Hosiery tended not to survive as well as many other types of clothing. Like other grments, the popularity of hosiery types have varied over time and from country to coutry. Here climate was a factor. One vintage hosiery item on HBC is an American pair of Buster Brown long stockings, probably from the 1930s. Busten Brown was a major shoe company and for a while an important hosiery company. We also have archived a Canadian pair of brown long stockings from the 1940s. Long stockings were especially common in Germany. We also have archived German long stockings which had a button attachment, probably from the 1940s. We also notice ribbed, brown long stockings sold in Germany during 1952. After the early 1950s, long stocings began to decline rapidly in popularity in Germany. They had already gome out of fashion in America.


Often in old photographs we can not make out the details of footwear the children are wearing. Thus vitage footwear helps us see the details of the footwear. This is especially important in assessing 19th century footwear as the photographs are all black and white and we do not have the detailed catalogs that we have in the 20th century. We have quite a few examples of vintage footwear archived on HBC. Many have been added before we made the vintage clothing page. Thus the links still need to be made. We note English school sandals. We also have an old high pair of American high-top two-tone shoes for a very young child. Another pair of American high-top shoes show how colors was used. This of course does not show in the vintage black and white photography. We believe these could have been worn by both boys and girls.


Goshe, Judy. E-mail message, May 18, 2010.


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Created: September 7, 2002
Last updated: 12:51 PM 7/23/2023