*** boys collar bows neck bows

Bows on Boys' Collars

bows and ruffled collars
Figure 1.--This boy wears an elegant Fauntleroy blouse with a large collar made of eyelet lace. He also has a white bow to complement his elegant outfit. Notice how small the bow was and the unique knot.

Bows are mostly thought of as girls' adornments, they were an important part of a boy's dressy outfits in the late-19th and early 20th Centuries. We note boys during the late 19th and early 20th century wearing large collars both with and without different styles of bows. It seems to us tht it was most common to wear bows, but we see quite a number of boys with out bows as well. They passed out of fashion after World War I. While they lasted, however, they certainly added a bit of flair to boys clothes. In some cases the large bows and lace collars almost seemed to engulf the bows of the period. We note boys during the late 19th and early 20th century wearing large collars both with and without different styles of bows.


We note boys during the late 19th and early 20th century wearing large collars both with and without different styles of bows. It seems to us tht it was most common to wear bows, but we see quite a number of boys with out bows as well. There were differences among countries as to the popularity of bows, but we do not yet have any detailed information as to fashion conventions as to wearing or not wearing them. A good example of a bow wearing a fancy blouse without a bow is a Canadian boy in 1897. We are not sure at this time what was involved in a mother's choice to use a bow or not. We have not yet been able to identify any social-class, regional, national, or other factors which may have affected this choice. As far as we can tell it just depended on the idividual fashion sence of the mother involved. Perhaps some of our readers will be able to offer some insights here. We are hoping that the subject may be addressed in period fashion magazines.


The use of bows as fancy neckwear varied greatly over time. We do not notice them being worn in the first half of the 19th century. We see stocks at mid-century. Gradually we begin to see bows tied in carious knots. At first the T-bow ribbon knots were the most common. Gradually floppy bows become more popular and the sizes begin to increase. Floppy bows became huge. The largest bows were worn by the smallest boys. They became all the rage in the late 19th century and early 20th century but rapidly went out of style after World War I. This appears to have been a generalized pattern in Europe and North America. There may have differences among countries. The popularity and sizes of the bows, for example, seems to have especially strong in America.


Boys in the 19th Century commonly wore bows with dressy outfits from the time they were breeched until they began to wear more boyish-styled suits. They were generally worn by younger boys, but not exclusevely. They were worn by boys anywhere from about 3 to 11-12 years of age. Youngr boys commonly wore them with juvenile style outfits like kilt suits, Fauntleroy suits, and Buster Brown tunics. Some boys of even 13 and 14 might wear them if they had an especially adoring mother. These older boys generally wore bows with a mature-looking sack suit. When they were a little older they might wear this same suit with more mature neckwear.

bow sizes
Figure 2--Not all boys wore large bows. Notice the small bow worn by this New York City boy. The rather small bow, relatively small collar, and plain suit is in sharp contrast to the elaborate sausage curls. Click on the image for a full view of the boy's suit.

Hair Styles

Floppy bows are often associated with ringlet curls. Actually bows were worn by boys with many differeng types of hair styles from short hair to long ringlet curls. An American boy named Bert Dodge wore bangs with a short cut. We have not yet found a substantial association between bows and specific hair styles. While bows were worn by almost all boys, the fancier hair styles, while widely worn, were only worn by a fraction of boys. Large bows, on the other hand, were very commonly worn by just about all boys.

Collar Types

Many boys' outfits had collars which could be worn with or without bows. The bow not being an integral element of the outfit. Often it was up to the mother's disgression as to add a bow or not. Other styles required large floppy bows. As the century progressed open collars disappeared and collars were increasingly worn with bows--in some cases very large floppy bows. The Fauntleroy suit was commonly worn with a large collar, often with a suitably large floppy bow added. Some smaller bows were also worn, but many mothers chose the larger size. Hre we will discuss some of the different collar styles commnly worn with bows.

middy blouse bows
Figure 3.--These three boys all wear white summer middy blouses with small bows. Note the broad-brmmed sailor hat worn by the one boy.

Outfit Types

Boys might wear bows with a wide range of outfits. Floppy bows are probably most associated with Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits. They were, however, worn with many other outfits. This included a variety of suits as well as just a fancy blouse without a suit jacket. Often boys wore bows with a new suit, but after a few years stopped wearing the bows. We see families with the same are similar suits, but the younger voys wearung floppy bows. Floppy bows were often added to plain sack suits. Tunic suits were commonly worn with bows when dressing up. Sailor suits were normally worn with knotted scarves, but some mothers added bows to them as well.

Bow Knots

Most of the bow knots were a fairly standard one. The two wings of the bow were generally about the same size as the tail. This was particularly true of the larger bows. There were some exception to this standard. Some bows were rather like string ties, although these were little seen by the 1880s. Other bows were relatively rare with little or no noticeable tail. These different knots probably had names at the time. Unfortunately I do not have details on these names. Interestingly the neatly tied perky bows seem to have been particularly popular in America. They were much less seen in England, France, and other European countries. Some boys wore their bow ribbons more like a tie without an elaborate knot. This was more common in France than in America.


When we think of dress neckwear, we normally think of one stock, crevt, tie or bow of various shape and sizes. And this ws normally the case. We do see a curious development after mid-century beginning in the 1870s. We note boys with multiple bows. We note quite numbr of boys with two bows d even some wih three bows. This appears to be the same ctorial overload that woukld lead to the Fauntkleroy suits. In some cases bows were even added to the pants and shoes. The most common outfit with muktiple bws seems to be the sailor suit. THis is because many mothers insisted on a collar bow in addition to the standard bow or scarge commonly orn at the popint of the V-collar. And some mothers added athird bow. One example is New York boy Newton Field Waters about 1873. He had a kind of bowtie at the neck collr and two ribon bows on his sailor blouse. We note this mostly in America, but we see some examples in Germany as well.

Fauntleroy bows
Figure 4.--These American boys wear floppy bows, we think in the 1890s. Note how the yonger boy wears the larger bow..


Collar bows varied greatly in size. We see some that are tiny, rather like a bow tie. Other were gigsntic, long with the lsrger collsrs thast usuaslly went with them seeming to ingulf the younger boys that wore them. This varies along with the fashions of the day, mother's fasion sence, the age of the boy and other factors. Bows were worn throughout the 19th century, but it was only with the Fauntleroy Craze did they become a important fashion asccessory for the average boy. Boys who wore them in the early-19th centurty weere from well-to-do, fashionable families. During the Fauntleroy Craze era (1885-1905), they were commonly worn by middle-class boys and even some working-class boys in the skilled trades as American workers were the best paid in the world. It is the during this era that we see boys most commonly wearing these really large bows. The bow was an optional Fauntleroy item, but many boys wore them. It all depended ion mothers common sence. And these large bows was most common in America. we believe because the industrial expansion of the United States duruing the late-19th century gave so many American mothers real buying power. As the Funtleroy Craze faded so did the size iof the bow before disappearing.

Fauntleroy bows
Figure 5.--This boy wears a large blacksatin bow with his short Fauntleroy jacket, but a very plain white collar. Note the characterictic three buttons on the boy's knee pants.


We believe that virtually all the bows were tied ribbon made from either silk or satin. I also do not yet, however, have details on this. We do not yet, however, havev much information on material.

Colors and Patterns

A great variety of colors and patterns were used for boys' collar bows. Unfortunately the black and white photography of the day makes it difficult to fully assess the bows. One aspect I am not sure of is what the boys thought of the different options, whether they had preferences as to colors and patterns. The bows were solid colors. It is clear that both black and white material was used for the bows. Less clear is what colors were used. Some mothers presumably chose colors coordinated with the color of the boys's suit. Fauntleroy suits, besides black, came in blue, brown, greem, and burgandy. The bows might have been in lighter, matching, or darker shades. Assessing the photography, lighter shades does not appear to have been a common alternative. Less clear is whether some mothers choose bright colors like a red to add a little color to a black or dark coloted suit. I know that the waist sash was used this way, but I'm not sure the bow was. As far as I can tell, some colors were not commonly worn, especially yellow and oranges. Virtually every major type of pattern was used on boys' collar bows. Plaids were particularly popular. Also used were polka dots, checks, and stripes.


These collars bow as mentioned above were worn by a wide range of boys, from about 3 to 11 or 12 and in some cases 13 or even 14 year olds. It is likely that almost all boys wearing bows had to have them tied by their mother or sevants. The younger boys could obviously not tie their own boys. The older boys would be old enough to tie their own bows, but it is likely that even the older boys might have their bows tied for them. The mothers involved would likely have had very high standards for tneir sons' appearance. Otherwise they would not have insisted on the bows in the first place. As they were for dressier occasions they did not have the opportunity to practice every day. It seems ulikely if the boys themselves could have tied the many artfully tied bows seen with the available photographic images.

Country Trends

We are just beginning to assess collar bow country trends. Most of our work on boys' collar bows has involved American boys because most of our images are American and we have such a large american archive. As far as we can tell, the fashion was especilly popular in America. Large numbers of images show boys wearing large floppy bows in the late 19th century. This may be because our American archive is so substantial, but our Europen archives are growing and it does seem that floppy bows, esoecially large floppy bows were especially popular in America. This makes sence because it was strongly associated with the Fauntleroy style. And the Fauntleroy craze was espeilly ronounced in America. Large collar bows, however, were wiorn with many other suits as well as blouses. We have, however, noted boys in many other countries wearing floppy bows. A good example is a Canadian boy in 1898. Canadian trends seem to have been similar to American trends. They were also worn in Europe, although the popularity varied substantially from country to country. We believe that they were particularly popular in France. We have much less information on other countries.

Modern Era

Bows for boys passed out of fashion after the 1920s. They continued, however, to be worn in some special situations:

School uniforms

Bows are still worn as part of school uniforms in some countries. Italian school boys traditionally wore black or dark blue school smocks with large white collars and bows, although this is not very common today. One country, Uruguay, still requires elementary school children to wear white school smocks with blue bows. The bows are not popular with the children, however, who can be seen removing them as soon as school is over.

choir bows
Figure 5.--King's College, Cambridge, has a noted tradition of choral religious music. King Henry VI founded King's College in 1441 and looked forward to the daily singing of services in the Chapel. The construction of King's College Chapel, one of the most important church buildings in England, took over 100 years, but was finally completed in 1547.


Boy choirs perform in a variety of costumes. Many now perform in modern suits and blazers. This is particularly common in the United States. The English choirs still commonly perform in choir robes. Only a few choirs wear bows for their performances. Bows are, however, sometimes worns by choirs on special occasions for performances, such as Christmas services. For Christmas in particulasr, choristers very commonly wear bows, usually bright red bows. Red of coirse is a Christmas color. Which is presumasbly why it became so common in church choirs without any deeper religious significance, unlike liturgical garments.

Neck Ties and Bow-ties

Neck ties

Bows for boys evolved out of the stock worn by European men since the 18th century which was the precurrsors of modern neck tie. The origins appear to have originated with Croatian warriors. Ties similar to modern bow-ties were widely worn by men and boys in the 1850s and 60s. After which the larger bows began to be worn by boys.

Ties are less commonly worn now with today's more cassual life style and decling use of dress clothes. Many schools which formerly required ties, like schools in New Zealand and even England, are now switching to more casual styles without ties.

Bow ties

The modern bow-tie appeared in the 1920s. They were not commonly worn with school uniforms or formal suits. Beginning in the 1940s, presumably as clip on ties became available, they became very popular for younger boys wearing Eton suits and sport jackets with short pants.


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Created: March 17, 1999
Last updated: 11:26 PM 10/9/2022