Boys' Skirts

Figure 1.--Some boys wore skirts and blouses. I'm not sure if skirts as opposed to dresses were more common for boys. Note the pantalettes. I believe this child was photographed about 1860. There is no way to be sure the child is a boy, but the short hair and top that he is holding suggests he is a boy.

Little American boys until well after the turn of the 20th Century wore dresses and other skirted garments like kilt suits. Other skirted garments include smocks and pinafores. American boys rarely wore actual Highland regalia with bright plaids. One skirted garment I know less about are actual skirts. We have noted skirts being worn both with and without jackets. Like kiltsuits, the jackets matched the skirts. We have noted these skirt suits at least by the 1850s nd they appear to have been precursors to kilt suits. Unlike kilts suits they were not pleated and did not have closed jackets.


The skirt is not a garment normally associated with boys and I have very little information on the style. It may well have been a summer warm weather fashion. It is not nearly as common as some of the other skirted garments worn by boys. HBC at this time has only limited infornmation on styles, colors, patterns, and other basic information on the skirts worn by boys. The number of images of boys wearing skirts in contrast to kiltsuits or dresses are rather rare


HBC speculates that skirts worn without jackets may have been primarily a summer warm weather fashion. The boys wearing skirts seem to all wear them with longsleeved shirts, but this is becausde shorts sdleeved shirts had not yet been developed in the late 19th century.


I have begun noticed boys wearing skirts about the 1840s-50s. It is unclear to me, however, if this is due to the appearance of this style in the mid-19th Century or if it simply observable because the development of photography provide of with many more images and it thus more apparent. This style appears to have gone out of fashion in the 1890s anf by the turn of the century you no longer see boys wearing skirts with shirts.

Country Trends

Our knowledge of skirts worn by boys in different counties is incomplete at this time. We have a good bit of information on America. Much of our information on skirts is based on America because so many of our resources are American. We note quite a number of American boys wearing skirts. What we are not sure about is if skirts were actually purchased as separate garments for American boys or if we are just see the skirts worn as part of kilt suits. Notably we see boys American wearing skirts with no indication of kilt styling. Our more limited European archive means that we do not het have details about the skirts worn in Europe. We suspect that skirts were as popular in Britain as in America and perhaps France. We are less sure about other European countries, but we do know that boys did wear skirts during the 19th century in several other countries. Just how popular they were is not clear. Nor are we sure yet about regional patterns.

Figure 2.--This colorized Daguerreotype was probably taken in the 1850s. The boy wears a suite outfit of matching jacket, skirt, and long pants. His collar has an Eton-collar look.


I am not sure about the origins of this style. The skirt style has different possible origins. Some of the outfits have the look of tunic outfits, only broken down into two different garments with a front jacket opening. They may also be a reflection of the new kilt style for boys introduced in England. This may explain while this style did not appear until after Queen Victoria began dressing the princes in kilts. Notably only the princes were dressed in kilts and not the princesses. It was decades before girls began wearing kilts.


I have noticed skirts worn in different ways. Some were worn with only a blouse. They were also often worn with matching jackets. Not only were the jacket and skirt made of the same material, but stylistic elements like stripes might be repeated on the jacket and skirt. Some of the jackets had short sleeves. Most were designed to be worn open.

Double Skirting

Some skirts were sewn with what looks like several layers sewn on top of each other in a kind of layered effect. I'm not sure what this was caled.


We see qyite a range of skirts during the 19th century. We see both pleated an unpleated skirts. Many of the skirts HBC has noted were not pleated. And there were skirts with varied pleating. A few have very wide pleats, but this does not appear to have been common. Few of these skirts appear to be heavily pleated like kilts. We note Clayton Reitz about 1890 wearing a skirt with wide pleats.


HBC at this time has no informnation on the colors of these skirts involved. I'm not sure if bright colrs were used.


Many of the skirts were solid colors, although a coliored band at the hem was a common stylistic device. A smaller number of skirts were striped. HBC has noted both very light colored stripes. Some skirts, however had bold stripes. Often the stripes were colors on white. I'm not sure what the common colors wee for these stripes.

Accessory Garments

The skirt and matching jackets were normally worn with white blouses. The blouses tended to have small collars and were worn with very small or no bows. Boys wore skirts with a variety of other garments from pantalettes to matching long trousers. They were almost always worn with long stockings. White stockings seems to have been particularly common.

Figure 3.--This boy in an 1858 photograph wears a jacket and matching skirt. It is similar to a kilt skirt, but the jacket was not designed to be worn closed like a proper suit. Notice the color band at the hem of the skirt which is repeated on the jacket and the short sleeves on the jacket.

Gender Connotations

I am not sure at this time about the gender connotations of skirts. I do not know at this time whether skirts as opposed to dresses were widely worn by girls and women and whether there were social class or national differences. Nor do I know if there were differences between how young boys and girls were dressed in skirts. It may well be that it was more common for boys to wear skirts than girls who may have more commonly wore dresses.

Skirt Outfits

Younger boys wore several outfits skirts and kilt-skirts. We note suits worn both with skirts and skirts with kilt features. We also notice boys wearing skirts with variously styled blouses. We do not notice boys wearing kilt-skirts with blouses, but we do notice plain skirts.

Skirts and blouses

We also notice boys wearing skirts with variously styled blouses. We do not notice boys wearing kilt-skirts with blouses, but we do notice plain skirts. A good example is Clayton Reitz about 1890.

Skirt Suits

We have noted skirts being worn both with and without jackets. Like kiltsuits, the jackets matched the skirts. We have noted these skirt suits at least by the 1850s. They have been worn even earlier. These skirt suits appear to have been precursors to kilt suits. Unlike kilts suits they were not pleated and did not have closed jackets. We also notice skirt suits in the 1860s, but by the 1870s when kiltsuits we no longer see skirt suits. We have onlyba few images of skirt suits, but they show boys wearing white socks rather than the long dark stockings normally worn with kiltsuits. Our images are of American boys. We do not know if these skirt suits were orn in other countries. We do not believe that girls wore these suits, but can not yet confirm thius.

Kilt Suits

The kilt suit is probably the mostly commonly worn outfit employing an actual kilt. While often referred to as a kilt, the kilt suit basically involved pairing a suit jacket with a matching skirt. The Scottish kilt was never extensively worn by American boys, despite the sizeable number of Scottish Americans. A related garment, however, the kilt suit, was very commonly worn by two generations of American boys. I believe that the style was also widely worn in England and to a lesser extent in France. Its popularity in Germany and other continental countries, however, appears more limited, although admittedly I have little information on these countries.

Difficult Images

The problem in working with old photographs is that so many of them are unidentified and have no provinance. Thus we can often not be sure as to who is who. One such image is an unidentified Buffalo child, probably in the 1880s. We suspect that the child may be a girl, but we are not at all sure.


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Created: June 12, 1999
Spell checked: July 30, 1999
Last updated: 2:13 AM 3/7/2008