*** boys' suits: pants and trousers types

Boys' Suits: Pants and Trouser Types

knee pants suits
Figure 1.--Boys after the mid-19th century began to more commonly wear knee pants suits. This tin-type image shows an American boy in a knee pants suit, probably in the 1860s.

Boys over time have worn different pants styles. During the 18th century kneebreeches were widely worn. Long trousers appeared as boys wear in the early 19th century. Previously they has been viewed as rough work clothes, not worn by gentlemen or the sons of gentlemen. Kneepants behan to appear in the mid-19th century as did knickers which gradually replaced long pants as boys wear. Long pants began to increase in popularity in the 1930s, firstin America and then after World War II in Europe. Short pants became more popular in the 1970s, but as casual not formal attire. The major types of pants worn by boys with suits and jackets are:

Knee Breeches

American men and boys in the 18th Century wore knee breeches. They evolved from the bloomer like pants men wore in the 16th Century. Boys for most of the Century began wearing knee breeches after breeching. At the time, little boys and girls both wore dresses with little or no difference. The process of buying a boy his first pair of breeches was thus called breeching. This term continued to be used in the 19th century, even after breeches were no longer being worn. The 18th Century breeches for men and boys were identical. At the beginning of the century the clothes worn by men and boys, after breeching, were identical. There were no specialized children's clothes. Boys simply wore scaled down sizes of their fathers' breeches. The breeches extended below the knee and were closed by a row of buttons. The knee pants worn by boys in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries often had decorative buttons harkening back to the buttons of 18th Century breeches.

Knee Pants

Boys in the late 17th and early 19th century began wearing the first specialized children clothes. Sailor suits were worn by some boys with the same bell-bottomed pantaloons that real sailors wore, but it was not the widely popular fashion that it was to become after Queen Victoria adopted it for the royal princes. One of the principal fashions for boys of the late 18th and early 19th century was the skeleton suit, worn with long pantaloons or trousers at a time with adult men when they dressed up wore knee breeches. A new style of knee-length pants appeared for boys after mid-century. This new style along with associated more modern styles of knickers and short pants were to dominate boys' fashions for the next hundred years. They were at first worn by younger boys, but in some periods and countries were worn by older boys, even boys of high school age.

knickers suit
Figure 2.--This American boy was probably photographed in the early 1920s. Note that he wears his double-breasted knicker suit with long stockings rather than knee socks.


Knickers may have evolved from the knee breeches worn in the 18th century. They were not al first specialized children's wear. They seemed at first to have been more worn as a kind of sporting or outdoor wear. They were often associated with Norfolk jackets. Apparently when men's fashions evolved from knee breeches to trousers in the early 19th Century, the British country gentleman disciovered that it was a bit tedious sloshing around the muck after a grouse or two. They found that it was a lot easier and less expensive to clean a pair of socks than muddy trouser legs. Thus knickers became the establish costume of the country gentleman. This style continues to this day as a kind of anachronistic country gentleman's outfit.

Bloomer Knickers

We see large number of boys wearing suits with bloomer knickers during the 19th century. By bloomer knickers we mean pants that losed below the knee with draw-string closures. This was not so common in America where staight-leg knee pants predominated, but we see many exampls in Europe during the second half of the 19th century and the early-20th century. A good example is boys in an unidentified English family about 1870.

Short Pants

Suits for boys resembling the modern suit began to appear in the mid-19th Century. Previously boys had worn skeleton and sailor suits and tunics with long pants after graduating from baby dresses and kilts. Their fathers in the early era of the 19th Century wore knee breeches. By mid-Century that had changed. Men wore long pants and children knee length pants. At mid-Century the suits worn by boys were generally plain, although some more elaborate styles were available to romantic mothers. It was not until the 1880s that elaborate Fautleroy suits appeared with lace collars and fancy blouses.

Long Pants

Boys since the introduction of sailor suits and skeleton suits in the 18th Century have worn long trouser suits. Long trouser suits of various forms were common in the early and mid-19th Century. Boys at the beginning of the 19th century might wear a lace collared tunic over long trousers before graduating to a proper suit. After mid-Century knee pants became more common. American catalogs in the 1880s tended to show knee pants suits through 12 years of age and long pants suit begining at 10 years of age. By the end of the Century boys it was increasingly common for teenagers to be dressed in knee pants suits. Many boys might spend many of their teen years in knee pants. This varid greatly from family to family, but for teenage boys in knee pants, receiving their first long pants suit became a major rite of passage. This situation was commom in America, England, and Europe up to the First World War. After the war, fashion standards became much more diverse.


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Created: December 21, 1999
Last updated: 9:40 PM 7/26/2017