School Clothes: Individual U.S. Schools--Grafton School in 1898-99

Figure 1.--The 1st grade boys wear a variety of outfits, including Fauntleroy-style large ruffled collars. Several boys wear sailor suits. All the boys wear kneepants and long stockings.

Boys in the 1890s dressed up to go to school. As many boys wear jackets it appears to be a portrait takebn in the fall or spring. The younger boys might even wear large ruffled collars. All the boys wore kneepants, most with long dark stockings. Some boys wore sailor suits. The girls of course wear dresses, several with white pinafores.

The Class

This was a 1st grade class. The children would be about 6 years old. I'm not sure just precisely what age boys began school, this varied somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most boys would have been about 6 years old. They were the youngest children at the school.

Helpful Information

Readers may find other HBC sections pf interest in evaluating the fashions that the boys were wearing in 1998-99.

1890s chronology page

The 1890s or Gay 90s were a fascinating decade. The world still centered on glitering Europe. The Europe of the late 19th century seemed so fixed, so permanent. Style was still set by the European monarchies-- but they were rapidly approaching the catoclism of the 20th century, the Great War that few would survive. But for the 1890s Europe gleamed and America looked to Europe for style and elegance. Despite the political stability of the late 1890s, change was in fact everwhere--especially in America. Horse and buggies were being replaced by automobiles, gas lamps with electrical light bulbs. America was rapidly moving toward its rendezvous with destiny and the century which was to become, in so many ways, the American century. America was changing from subsistence agriculture, log cabins, and rail splitting to industrial manufacturing, rail roads, and international trade. The industrial giant that was to save western democracy and the free world had begun to emerge.

Late 19th century U.S. chronology page

Little American boys from 3 to 6 years, in the late 19th Centuery still wore skirted garments. Little boys wore dresses, although now dresses especially designed for boys appeared. Older boys wore kilts, sailor suits, Norfolk suits and other English fashions. Smocks were used for both boys and girls to protect expensive clothes, although they were not as popular as in Europe. Easy to care for fabrics were generations away. One new fashion appearing in America in the the 1880s was the Fauntleroy suit. It was the sailor suit, however, that proved to be most enduring of these fashions. It was popular with both mothers and boys, unlike some of the alternatives like Fauntleroy suits and kilts. Even girls in the 1880s began wearing sailor suits, middy blouses with skirts.

U.S. 1890s catalogs

Mail order catalogs in the 1890s provide a valuable record of the sshions worn as the age of the boys wearing them as well as other details such as finishing and materials. Mail order catalogs offered a variety of clothes for boys in the 1890s, including dresses, kilt suits, Fauntleroy suits and blouses, sailor suits, and kneepats and long pants suits as well as a wide range of accessories.

Figure 2.--Two boys here have Fauntleroy ruffled collars and two boys wear sailor suits. One boy wears an interesting flowery blouse. Notice the girls in pinafores. All the boys wear kneepants and long stockings.

Boys' Garments

The children at the school wear quite a variety of outfits.


It is likely that many of the children came to school in caps or hats. They of course do not wear them for the class prtrait.


Many of the boys wear suit like jackets. Sonme of the boys wear jacket like garments which buttones at the collar rather than shirts and blouses.

Sailor suits

Several boys wear sailor suits of varied designs and colors. The sailor suits were clearly quite popular. There were many different colors, although with the black and white photography it is not clear just what colors. The detailong on the middy blouses and the dickey decoration is quite destinct.

Kilt suits

Notice that none of the boys are wearing kilt suits which had been an important fashion for younger boys. Despite being widely worn for dresswear, it does not seem to be a garment that boys wore to school.

Shirts and blouses

It is difficult to see ptrcisely what kinds of shirts the boys were wearing. It is clear that that several boys wear Fauntleroy-syle blouses with large ruffled collars. I'm not sure how this reflected the social status of the children's families. Presumably these were boys with fashion-conscious mothers. NBoys at the time didn't have a lot to say about what they wore. Interestingly, some children wear quite flowery blouses. One common feature for these blouses that younger children wore were the side collars.

Figure 3.--Clearly all the boys in 1898-99 wore kneepants and long stockings. Notice the three boys wearing different colored sailor suits. One boy has a wide white, but unruffled, collar and floppy bow. Another boy seems to be wearing a plaid blouse with a larbe collar.


Several boys wear floppy bows. They are not the large bows thta manny boys wore for several occasions, but there are many boys with floppy bows. Many of the boys with large collars do not wear bows.


All of the boys wear kneepants. Not one boy in this class wears long trousers.


All the boy wear dark long stockings. The color appears to be the same, probably black. There are no boys wearing short pants and kneesocks.


Most of the boys wear boot like shoes. All of the boys have high-top shoes. I don't see any Oxford-style low-cut shoes.

Girls' Outfits

All the girls wear dresses. Several wear white pinafores with their dresses. I'm not sure what the conventions were as to which girls wore pinafores. Whether these were the more affluent or least affluent children.


The children at the school clearly dresses up for school. HBC is not sure, however, if they were especially done up for the photograph or if this is how they normally came to school.

Figure 4.--Note the size of the fuffled collar two of the boys wear. One of these boys has a floppy bow, the other does not. Three boys wear quite different sailor suits. Onle boy has a ribbon bow.


One interesting question is what the boys' thought of these outfits. One suspects thatr the boys with ruffled collars might have objected somewhat. Presumably the sailor suits were much more popular with the boys. HBC hopes to eventually acquire some accounts offrom memories with men remembering their boyhood.

Hair Styles

Notice that all of these boys have short hair cuts. Some Little Lord Fauntleroy suits were worn with long ringlet curls. Clearly atr the Grafton school, even the boys with Fauntleroy ruffled collars wore short hair styles. This is a good indicator that boys with ringlet curls above the ages of 5 or 6 years were boys that were not sent to public schools.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 3, 2001
Last updated: June 3, 2001