Boys Knitted Wear: Country Trends

Figure 1.--This English boy wears a knee-length knitted suit. He was photographed in Conventry. The image isundated, bur we estimate that it was taken about 1910. Notice that the outfit is all one color. We have no information, however, as to what color it was. Image courtesy of the MD collection.

We note knitted garments being worn in many different countries. While we are just beginning to collect country information, some trends are emerging. Knit clothing seem the most popular in northern countries like England, Germnay, the Nerherlands, Scotland, and the Scandinavian countries. We have also noted knit wear being worn in more southerly countries such as Itkay and France. In all of these countyries, knitted garmenrs seem more popular after the turn of the 20th century. We have little information on the knitting industries in specific countries. We believe that until after World War I (1914-18) that most knitted garments such as sweaters were hand knitted by mothers and grandmothers. We are not yet sure on the development of ready to wear knitted garments.



Knitted garments for boys were popular in Canada. The climate is an important factor here. The most popular garments were surely stocking caps and the sweaters. Mittens must have also been commonly worn. We notice Canadian patterns for knitted snow or winter suits in the 1930s. The cold winter weather surely made these garments a very popular outfit for younger Canadian boys.


We notice a lot of English boys wearing knitted outfits. The images we have noted date from the early 20th century. We have little information uet on the 19th century. Some of the garments look like rather rough work. Many are solid colors until after World War II. The most common garment as in most countries were sweaters. Socks were also common. The outfits made for boys were mostly short pants outfits. After World War II we note some long pants snow suits. England is at a verty northerly lattitude, but because of the Gulf Stream has a rather mild clinmate. Thus the warm weather needs are not as stringent as in Germany and the Scandinavian countries. We do not at this time, however, have details on the knitting industry in England. We note some very well made knits by the 1910s which look to us like they were not made by hand. Some had surprisingly modern styling.


We notice many French bous wearing knit garments in the 20th century. They were especially popular in the winter, but not exclusively worn then. In fact we note a lot of stylish garments that were not warm weather wear. Knit garments seem to have been especially popular in the inter-war era and the post-war era. French knit garments seem much more fashionable than those we have noted in other countries. We note knir patterns in several Frebch sewing magazines as well as speciallized knitting magazines. Younger boys might have, for example, a wool knit romper suit for winter wear. Knit garments were also worn during the summer as casual garments. There were even knit bathing suits, but boys did not like them. One French reader, Jacques, tells us about his wool knit bathing suit. We have, however, lttle information on the French knitwear industry.


We are not sure when knit suits first appeared in Germany. We note beginn notiing them in the 1910s, but they could have appeared earlier. Knit suits consisted of matching tops and pants and ususlly short pants, even though they were cold weather wear. The shorts were at first often long, bit got shorter during the inter-War era. We are not sure if knit outfits were as common for girls. They seem done dor younger children. We see both pre-school and younht primary boys wearing them. Knit outfits seem very popular in the inter-War era. We note a German boy in a portrait with his sister in 1929. He wears a knit suit with matching top and pants. The knit is done in a ribbed style. We continue to see knit outfits after World war II, often stylish outfits. We notice many colorful knit patterns offered by Burda since the 1960s. Knit sits began to decline in popularity during the 1970s.

(The) Netherlands

One very popular type of garment in the Netherlands were knit outfits. Knit sweathers were of course popular throughout Europe. I am not sure when knit sweaters first appeared, probably in the late 19th century. Another popular European style was knit sweaters and matching short pants. In the Netherlands, however, these knit outfits were worn with both short and long pants. They are usually easy to identify in old photographs because they were more form fitting than regular pants. These knits outfits were usually made in sizes up to about 10 years of age. Only limited chronological information is available. HBC has not noted these knit sets before World War II (1939-45). They were particularly popular in the 1950s and 60s.


Knitwear is popular in Norway as it is in all the Scandinavian countries. We notice many images of Norwegian boys wearing as wide variety of knitwear. Traditiinally mothers and grandmothers knitted warm clothes at home for their children. Of course it is Norway's climate, which can be quite cold, that makes warm knit garments especially welcome. Germents include stockig caps, sweaters, snowsuits, stockings, and other garments especially popular. Many image show Norwegian children wearing brightly colored sweaters and stocking caps. Younger children were dressed in snowsuits. I'm not sure if these snow suits are as popular as they once were. Stockings were also commonly knitted, although today most hosiery is read made store bought items, both socks and tights.


The Shetlands are remote, and often cold and windswept islands located off the coast of Scotland. The inhabitants have made their living over the centuries through fishing, crofting and knitting, both for themselves and to exchange or sell. It was the Norse settlers in the 9th Century who brought the native sheep to the Shetlands. The sheep were a hardy breed which could survive on the Shetland's sparse vegetation and seaweed. The wool was woven into a cloth called Wadmal. But the texture of Shetland wool - soft, light and warm was more suited to knitting than weaving. As a result, so knitting became the main craft of the Islands and a significant part of the economy. During the 17th and 18th centuries, a trade in stockings, another garment suitable for knitting, developed. The trade was established with the Hanseatic merchants and Dutch fishermen. The Bishop Holar of Iceland received part of his rents in knitted stockings, so these became the mainstay of the Shetland hosiery trade. Women who ran the croft and home, knitted whenever time allowed. It was not an uncommon sight to see a woman knitting as she carried peats in a 'kishie or basket from the peat bank to her croft house. Fine, delicate Shetland lace was popular with the Victorians. Even Queen Victoria herself wore lace stockings made in Shetland. Lace shawls became world-famous for their quality and were much sought after by ladies of society. I am not sure about lace collars. The Islands' other form of traditional knitting developed during the 19th century. By 1850 the knitters on Fair Isle were famous for their brightly colored, patterned knitwear, reputedly influenced by Spaniards shipwrecked on Fair Isle in 1588. Originally Fair Isle knitting used the natural colours of the Shetland sheep, whilst local plants and lichens were used to create soft but intense shades of yellow, orange and green. Indigo dye produced blue and madder added red to the mix. Fair Isle knitting has only two colours in any one row and the stranded knitting provides great warmth. Traditionally the patterns are bands of octagons and crosses, called OXO patterns, with bands of small or peerie patterns in between. This tradition and skill has been handed down from generation to generation and still today the garments produced are of the highest quality. This quality is now guaranteed by the 'Shetland Lady' trademark which you will find on all real Shetland knitwear.

United States

We note American boys wearing knit outfits in the late 19th century. The photographic record suggests, however, that knits do not seem to have neen especially popular. Here we have only limited information. It may be that the photographic record is misleading. Knits like sweaters were more casual garment that may not have been considered appropriate for formal portraits. Many boys, however, did have knitted sweaters. Available images of American boys wearing knits become much more common by the 20th century. I am unsure though to what extent these were knitted by mothers and grand mothers or bought in stores. We notice the same garments as worn in other countries. Knits were primrily associated with cold weather wear in America, much like Canada. There were significant regional differences, primarily because of climaric factors. Some of the fashionable French knit garments were not commonly worn in America.


We do not normally separate English and Welsh material. A HBC reader has, however, provided us an image of a Welsh boy in a knit outfit.


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Created: January 28, 2003
Last updated: 3:01 AM 3/7/2010