*** Rompers: United States

American Rompers

American rompers
Figure 1.--This American boy, Michael S. Wills, was photographed in April 1897. He appears to be wearing a dressy velvet romper like outfit. Note the dark knee socks and strap shoes. This has a dressy look to it, although we are not sure just where he would have worn his romper suit.

Rompers first appeared in America during the late-1890s as dresses became less common for younger children, especially boys. Rompers were mostly worn by boys who previously still worn dresses. I do not know the origins of rompers, but assume they were an imported European fashion. Boys wearing rompers commonly wore them with short socks. Long stockings were still common, and rompers were one of the first garments, except dresses, to be worn with short socks in America. There was some similarity with the bloomer knickers worn by boys with tunic suits. Romper suits were, however, one-pice suits. Some of the early rompers appeared to have been dressier than was commonly the case by the 1900s. Dressy rompers may be made of velvet and have embroidered trim and smocking. Rompers in America, however, were mostly play clothes. They were worn by both girls and boys. I do not know if there was any difference between boys and girls rompers or if they were more commonly worn by one gender. Rompers in America were most common in the 1910s and 20s. They were commonly worn with strap shoes. We note both boys and girls wearing them, but we are unsure about the gender conventions. They were worn by pre-school children. We are unsure to what extent this was a an American fashion or a fashion imported from Europe. Rompers evolved into a girl style, worn at summer camps and as gym suits. It also became a casul summer style for girls. Rompers also became an infant style.


HBC believes that rompers first appeared in America during the late 1890s as dresses became less common for younger children. HBC has not noted rompers before the late 1890s. Rompers in America were most common in the 1910s and 20s. The Montgromery Ward catalog, for example, had a wide selection of rompers in their 1920s catalogs. Rompers tened to be quite roomy garments, often worn at knee leength. HBC has noted rompers worn by boys on the Continent as late as the early 1950s, but not by American boys. Rompers have never totally disappeared. They are still available in 2000, but only for infant boys.


Rompers seem primarily a play garment. This seem to have varied somewhat over time. We note early rompers in the late-19th cdentury that have somewhat of a dressy look to them. Of course conventions of the time were more formal. We are unsure as to just where children would have worn dressy romper suits and for what kind of occasions. Rompers are much more common after the turn-of-the 20th century. And the vast majority of those images are clearly play garments for wear at home. This is reflected in the photographic record. Almost all of the images we ghave found of play rompers are family snapshots and not studio portraits. We note European boys wearing dressy rompers, but this was very rare in America. Almost all of the romper suit images we have archived come from the 20th century. Rompers at the turn-of-the 20th century were mostly worn by boys who previously would have probably still been wearing dresses. They became particularly popular in the 1910s and after World War I (1914-18). They were part of the of a trend toward more casual clothing for younger children and, as a result, were primarly used as play clothes in America.


We do not know the origins of rompers, but assume they were an imported European fashion. We suspect that they may haved originted in frnc, at leastthey becme very popular there. We are not positice about this, however, as we note that this as rompers appera to be more prevalent in America during the 1910s and 20s than in Europe.


The distingising design feature are the gathered elasticized leg openings. Otherwise American rompers could be quite varied. In France, romper tops were often styled like smocks. This was less common in America. Romper styles were much more varied in America. We noted some rompers styled like tunic suits with imitation belts. Many romper suits had short sleeves and Peter Pan collars, although the collar was often not white. We have noted some rompers without any collar at all. On many play romper suits the collar was the same material as the suit. The cut of the rompers might be short, but nany American rompers were cut fuller with the romper legs coming down to knee height. Romper desisn tended to be very utilitarian as they were primarily a play suit.


HBC has little information about the colors rompers were made in at this time. They were presumably mae in a variety of colors. Some photographs show rompers made in black. These seem to be the more formal rompers. Play rompers were probably made in a wide variety of colors. One leading merchandizer in the early 1920s showed rompers available in mostly blue and pink.


Rompers were made in a wide variety of materials. Rompers were primarily a play garment so har wearing, easily washed material like chambray, galatea, and ginham were commonly use. ressier rompers might be made of sateen or velvet. We note some rompers in higher qulaity material.



One of the fabrics use for rompers was ginham, usually blue and pink. Rompers were primarily a play garment anf gingham was consiered to be a serviveable fabric suitable for rough wear like play. Some rompers were made for more formal wear and for these other fabrics were usually chosen. Gingham was made in different colors, but the most common was blue and pink. Commonly boys would wear the blue gingham, but this was not always the case. Probably ginham was a more popular choice for girls than boys rompers


Accompanying Clothing

Rompers were nmot worn with a lot of other clothing. They were popular in psrt because they were a convenient one-piece outfit for children. Children rarely wore headwear with them fior some reason. They did normall wear footwear. Only a few children went varefoot. We think class factoirs were at play here. Boys wearing rompers commonly wore them with short socks. Long stockings were still common at the time rompers were possible. Rompers were rompers were one of the first garments, except dresses, to be commonly worn with short socks in America, noth ankle socks and three-quarter socks. HBC has noted boys wsearing rompers with kneesocks or long stockings. An example is an unidentified American boy in 1912. But this was not very common. Rompers were commonly worn with strap shoes, a popular shoie style for younger boys at the time. HBC has not noted them with canvas shoes, but strap shoes were vey common--the kind of colored strap shoe worn as a play shoe. Red strap shoes seem common with rompers, but this is difficult to assess in the black-and-white photography.


We note that some romper suits during the early 20th century had belts. The belts look very much like the belts that were very common on tunic suits that were also popular during the early 20th century. We are not sure just how common these belts were. Hopefully we can expand our archive of romper suits to better assess how common the belts were. We have note romer suits in the early 20th century both with or without them. As far as we can tell, their use on tunic suyits was entirely ornamental. This may be different on romoer suits. A HBC reader suggests that Butterick romper patterns, probably from the 1910s or 20s, show that the belt was used to assist with working the drop seat. He writes, "This may explain why so many had them."

American rompers 1920s
Figure 2.--This American boy looks to have been photographed in the 1920s or early 1930s. He wears a standard romper suit. Note the Peter Pan collar and red strap shoes.


I am not sure what the original rompers were made as. HBC has noted, however, both dressy and play rompers. The older romper suits seem to have been done as dressy outfits. Most of the boys rompers phptographs we have we have found are clearly play suits. Almpst all of the snapshots taken in the 1900s and 1910s are play suits. They become less common for boys in the 1920s. Perhaps it was basically a life style change. I am not sure what drove this trend from dressy to casual garments. It seems to be part of a wider trend away from fancy, dussy clothes for little boys toward more practical plain outfits. We see fancy romper suits for boys into the 1950s, but have never noticed this in America. Some of the early rompers appeared to have been dressier than was commonly the case by the 1900s. Dressy rompers may be made of velvet and have embroidered trim and smocking. Rompers in America were mostly play clothes. While dressy rompers have beebn noted, the vast majority of American boys wearing rompers wore them for play.


HBC has only limited informatiion at this time on the ages that boys wore rompers. HBC believes that there were primarily a garment for yonger boys--primarily pre-school boys. HBC does not have complete information on the ages at which rompers were worn. Rompers in the 1920s were, however, made through size 6. This means that some boys may have worn them after coming home from school.


HBC believes that in America, rompers were initially intended for boys, but came to be worn by both boys and girls. We still need to identify what the initial intentions were. We do believe, however, that it is clear that girls were wearing them in the 1910s. They appear to be the first non-skirted garments that girls commonly wore. (Amelia Bloomer had proposed bloomers in the mid-19th century, but they were for young women and never commonly worn by either girls or women.) Girls wearing rompers were especially true for the early rompers worn for play. I'm less sure about the dressier styled rompers. Probably a girl would be nore likely to wear a dress for formal occasions. HBC has, however, very little information on rompers, so this assessment is highly speculative at this stage. We hope to obtain more information from period catalogs. Much later romper suits appeared exclusively for girls. I'm not sure when this began, but I remember seeing these suits in the 1950s. It presumably occurred after romper-like bloomer suits became a standard type of girls' gym uniform. Eventually of course rompers became a style for infants, both boys and girls.

Personal Experiences

HBC has few contributions from readers describing wearing rompers as boys. This was in part because rompers were worn by younger boys and adults may not in fact remember wearing them as boys. One reader does recall wearing them in the 1930s and 1940s. "I recall wearing rompers long ago in the 1930s and 1940s as a child. (I also wore sun suits which were similar). While I didn't like to wear either of them, I must have worn rompers and sun suits until I was 5 or 6 years old, and possibly even later. My grandmother was an avid knitter, and knitted many of my rompers from thick wool yarn so they would also be suitable for cool weather. She also knitted matching sweaters and long stockings to go with them, and I usually wore heavy knitted woolen underwear of her manufacture when I wore the knitted woolen rompers, so I was well-protected."


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Created: November 7, 1999
Last updated: 5:46 AM 2/13/2013