** boys' skirted garments country trends

Boys' Skirted Garments: Country Trends

Figure 1.--Here we see brothers from Elmira, New York, we believe in the 1890s. The younger boy wears a dress and the older boy a kilt suit. They are coordinated by both being done in white. Put your cursor on the image to see a closeup.

Many of the trends associated with skirted garments were similar throughout Europe and North America. Much of our information is American because we have the greatest access to American sources and photographs. We have, however, begun to develop information on several other countries as well. We do note some variation among countries. While the same basic garments were worn throughout Europe and North America. The convention of dressing boys in skirted dresses varies in prevalence in different countries. The different skirted garments varied in popularity among countries as well as sytling variations. There were also differences in the tine line. We are just beginning to assess these country variations. We now have pages assessing national trends in several countries.

America, North

The North American continent is dominnated by the United States as is population and photographic record. Canada also occupies a large area, but a much smaller population, largely for climatic reasons. There are substantial similarities between the two countries, largely because of their common British heritage and European immigration. The two countries are not identical, but there are real similarities. This includes a range of matters includiung political and ecomnomics, but also other cultural matters like clothing and fashion. Mexico is also located in North America, but we hahave addressed Mexico in the Latin American section because of the string cultural affinities.


American boys like boys in other countries have worn a variety of skirted garments. The conventions involved was essentially brought to America by European immigrants. Thus fashion trends in Britain, Ireland, and Germany were especially important. There were substantial differences among families as to the conventions. Social class was an important influence. The styles and conventions involved have varied over time. It was very common for younger boys to werars dresses and other skirted garmens. The skirted garments have inclided dresses, skirts, kilts, and tunics as well as smocks and pinafores. For many years the styles worn by boys and girls were essentially identical, but in the late 19th century you begin to see boy-styled dresses. Boys still wore these garments in the late 19th century, but they rapidly went out of fashion after the turn of the 20th century and were no longer commonly seen after World War I. Dresses disappered first. Tunics were worn a lottlke longer. It is not entirely clear why a convention that persisted for so many years disappeared so quickly. The garment that persisted the longest was the tunic. Kilts are occassionally worn, but primarily at ethnic events like Scottish Highland gatterings, Irish feishes, and Greek celebrations.


We notice Canadian boys wearing a variety of Skirted garments. This was a common convention in both Europe and the United States. dting back centuries. It was prevlnt in Canada in the 19th century and even into the early-20th century. Mny children wore skirted garments until they were breched, most as pre-school boys. The age of breeching varied from family to family. Here social class differences were important, affecting somewhat the age of breeching. Much of it was up to the fashion proclivities of the mother. Skirted garments include dresses, skirts, kilts, pinafores, smocks, and tunics. Canadian boys like boys in America and Europe wore dresses when they were young during the 19th and early 20th century. We have few specific details on this convention in Canada, but beliece it was little different than the practice in America and Britain. As far as we know the chronology, styles, and ages as well as social class conventions were comparable. We do not know if there were any differences among the French community. There is a substantial Scottish influence in Canada. The Maritime Provinces, especially Nova Scotia have the most obvious Scottish influence, but even French Montreal has significnt Scottish influence. One report indivates that at least some boys in Nova Scotia wore kilts during the 19th century. This appears to have been the case for sone boys whose fathers were soldiers in St. Johns. HBC does not know, however, how common this was, either for soldiers' families or for the population in general. We note stores at the turn of the 20th century were offering essentially the same styles as Ametican stores, including kilt suits, fancy blouses, and Fauntleroy suits. We note Canadian boys wearing tunic suits in the early 20th century. They seem rather similar to the suits worn in America, commonly with belts. The tunic seemed less popular in Britain at the time. We notice Canadian boys wearing tunic suits done in the sailor style. HBC has wondered just how influential French fashions were in Canada, especially amomg French Canadians. As far as HBC can determine, French Canadian boys never wore smocks at home or at school as was common for French boys.


Asian unlike Europe had two dominant cultures separated by the Himilayas, China and India. China was partivularly imprtant and there was no imconueravle gepographic barrier separating it from the rest of Asia. India was, however, poinned it to the Sub-continent. Both had their origins in river valley civilizatiions, the Yellow and the Indus Rivers.




Japanese boys did not commonly wear Western style skirted garments. It was common in the West for younger boys to werar skirted garments like their sisters through the 19th century. This convention never developed in Japan. By the time Japanese children began wearing Western dress to any extebnt , abaically after World War I 1920s), Western boys were no longrr wearing skirted garments. Of course Japanese children did wear traditional garmrnts that were essentially skirted. They did not, however, have the gender assocaation that Western skirted garments had. We see Japanese boys and girls wearing the same robe-like kinomnos. But here we are talking about Western skirted garments. We do see two skirted garments in Japan. We note younger children wearing what looks like a Western skirted garment--the pinafore. We are not entirely sure that this was a Western garment. And as far as we can tell it was only for younger children. And the pinafores we have seen are very plain. We also see a few children weearing smocks, but they do not see very common. We see some being used as schoolwear.


Europe is the smallest inhbited country, essentilly the western apendage of Asia. For such a small area, Europe is divided into many different countries and ethnnicities with no one single dominant country. There are important wider cultural areas. Perhaps the most imprtant cultural influence was classical influence of Greece and Rome. Thereare significant differences between the area within and beyond the Riman Empire. In modern times the se differences have been moderated by globelizatiin and fashiin in poarticular are largely a trans-European mtter, but in the 19th and eraly-20th century there were sttill substantial differences. This was a matter of traditional differnces and economioc matters. Fashion is stringly influences by economic matters, espcially affluence or the lack of it.


Austrian boys as in other countries wore arange of skirted garments over time. We have collected some information. We see mostly dresses and tunics in the images we have collected so far. We have found some 19th century images. Tunics seem popular in early-20th century commercial postcards. We have not found any examples of Highland kilts or kilt suits among our Austrian images. Although we do see some dresses that look a bit like kilt suits. Nor do we see smocks. We do see pinafores, but only for girls. We do see boys wearing pinafores. Our 19th century Austrian archive is very limited and thus our ability to assess skirted garments is very limited. The 19th century was the last decade in which this convention was common. After the turn-of-the-20th century when photographic images are more abundant and we see that this convention was rapidly declining. We do still see Austrian boys wearing tunics in the early-20th century. This declined by the time of World War I and we see very few examples after the War in the 1920s. And we can say this convention had largely disappeared because we have a large enough archive to make a valid assessment. As far as we can tell, Austrian and Germam conventions are very similar.


Belgian boys like other European boys have worn a wide range of skirted garments. We see the same kinds of skirted garments that we have noted in other countries. The convention of boys wearing dresses was a fashion that declined rapidly after the turn-of-the 20th century. Thus it was a convention primarily prevalent in the 19th centry and before. Our archive of 19th century Belgian images, however, is very limited. Thus we are just beginning to develop information on skirted garments in Belgium. The principal skirted garment was the dress. Younger Belgian boys, as in the rest of Europe, wore dresses well into the 20th century. HBC has noted two different types of dress outfits. One our full dresses indestinguishable from the dresses their sisters wore. In fact they may have worn hand-me-downs from an older sister or other relative. The styles generally followed those worn by women, but in reduced styles. We also see some boys wearing kilt-skitty garmenrs. We are unsure how common this was. Tunics were also worn. Tunics were a very popular style during the 19th century. We have little information as to when they appeared in Belgium, but believe it was early in the century. We are also not sure where they first appeared, but probably in England and France. We do know that by mid-century they were being widely worn, although we do not know to what extent working-class boys were wearing them. We also notice boys wearing smocks, but this seems to have been primarily a scgool garment. Girls wore pinafores. We are not sure, however, about boys.


We do not have much information on Bulgarian skirted garments yet. Bulgaria achieved its independence at a time that it was still fairly common to dress younger boys in dresses and other skirted garments. It took some time for Western garments to become well-established in Bulgaria along with Western fashion conventions. It began with the sli ad wealthy and gradually sread to the middle- and finally working-classes. All of this of course began in the cities. And by the time Western fashions were well-estblished, the convention of dressing younger boys in skirted garments was declining. Thus we are unsure to what extent it was prevalent in Bulgaria. Our small archive provides only limited information. We do see some boys in wealthy families wearing fashonable skirted garments in the late-19th century. We are not yet sure about middle-class families. We hope to deal with this topic more adequately as HBC's archive grows.

Figure 2.--This CDV portrait show Michael Cahne Seymour. He had his portrait taken at the Hills & Saunders studio in Eton during 1871. He wears a simple white frock with ringlet curls.


English boys have worn a variety of shkirted garments. These garments have included dresses, kilts, pinafores, skirts, smocks, and tunics. These garments are generally associated with girls, but the situation in England is more complicated. They were, however, widely worn by boys, especially younger boys. Younger English boys for several centuries wore dresses. They were essentially the same garments as their sisters worn, although we do begin to see stylistic differences in the later half of the 19th century. We also see boys wearing smocks, although not as commonly as in France accross the Channel. Despite the association with girls, two skirted garments are strictly male garments. Tunics were for boy, but kilts were worn by males of all ages. Kilts were of course Scottish, but we see English boys dressed up in kilt outfits for special occassions. This ocuured mostly in the 19th and very early 20th century. A kilt knockoff was the kilt suit which appeared in the second half of the 19th century. This was essentially a skirted suit, but often called a kilt suit. It was worn by younger boys before breeching.


We have seen some skirted garments. It was coommon throughout Europe for yonger boys to wear skirted garments in the 19th century. We assume Funnish conventions were similar to Sweden and Russias, although we are not at all sure which was the more important influence. Our small Finnish archive prevents any detailed assessment at this time. Dresses were very common, but there were other skirted garmments that were worn. We do not yet know much about the skirted garments worn in Finland, both the types of garments and the prevalence. We note tunics being worn in the early-20th century. This was a common trend in both Europe and America. Here we have an example in 1916.


French boys like boys all over Europe wore a variety of skirted garments. The styles and conventions varies among countries, but the basic harments were the same. The most common was the dresses that younger boys wore throug the 19th century. This becamne less common in the lare-19th and early 20-th century. The custom virtually disappeared afer World War I. Tunics appeared in the early-19th century were popular throughout the century and the very early 20h century. during the 19th and early-20th century. Unlike dresses, tunics were a skirted garment only worn by French boys. We see a few boys weaing kiklts, but not as commoly as in Britain. Kilts were most common among the wealthy class that liked to adopt foreign styles. Kilt suits were also not very common, as best we can tell--our 19th century French archive is still relatively limited.One skirted garment strongly associated with France is the smock, especiall the school smock. We think younger boys wore pinafores, mostly in the 19th century.

Figure 3.--This unidentified German boy was photographed by L. Otto Webber in Meiningen about 1900. Je wears a wide-brimmed sailor hat with a sailor-styled dress.


We note German boys like boys in other European countries wore a variety of skirted garments. We do not notice a great deal of difference between Germany and the rest of Europe in the early 19th century, although there may have been variations among the different states that made up Germany at the time. We do notice some differences in the late 19th century. We seem to note fewer German boys wearing dresses than in other European countries. Kilts do not seem to have been commonly worn. We do note German boys wearing tunics at the turn of the 20th century. Our information is still limited. We have begun to collect information on the different kinds of skirted garments. We have also begun to adress breeching and other aspects of boys wearing wearing skirted garments. The reasons appear similar to other countries.


Younger European boys wre a variety skirted garments. We have, however, not archived many photographs of Hungarian boys wearing skirted garments. We suspect that rather like Germans boys this was less common than for may other countries. Our Hungarian rchive is, howevr very small ans as a result, we can not yet make any valid assessmnts. We notices Hungarian biys wearing smocks and tunics. We have not yet found images of boys wearing dresses.



We see Dutch boys wear a variety of skirted garments. Younger Dutch boys like other European boys for several centuries commonly wore dresses for several years before they were breeched and began to wear trousers like their fathers. HBC at this time has little information about this parctice in the Netherlands. Available imagesm however, provide some information on the styles of dresses worn over time. As in the rest of Europe, this practice began to decline after the turn of the 20th century. HBC has little information about Dutch boys wearing smocks. We do not believe that they were as common as in some neighboring Belgium. Some images from the turn of the century do show Dutch boys wearing pinafore-like smocks. A Dutch source reports that boys did wear smocks, but not as a part of the school clothing like in France/Spain/Italy. Smocks are called "boerenkiel" (kiel=smock for boeren=peasants) and were common in rural areas until about the mid-1930s. Smocks declined in popularity in the 1940s and especially the 1950s. By the late 1950s they were only being worn by younger boys.



We have very limited information on 19th centry Portugal. We are not sure at this time to what extent Portuguese boys wore skirted garments. Our 19th century archive is very limited. Portugal was apoor country which may have been a factor. We think an unietified cabinet card of four boys may be Portuguese, but we are not at all sure. It almost certainy was from southern Europe. Wehave more information on the20th century. We notice boys at the turn of the 20th century wearing tunic suits. Smocks were worn as a school garment, but seem less common for everyday wear.


We have very little information on skirted garments in Romania yet. European styles and conventions appeared relatively late in Romania. European styles rapidly appeared in Romanian cities. Because of our limited archives, we are not yet sure about skirted garments and conventions. We do note smocks, but we are not yet sure about prevalence and usage. There appear to have been school smocks, but we are nt yet sure about how commonly they were worn at school. We do not yet have information on other skirted garments.




We are just beginning to assess skirted garments in Wales and out archive is still very limited. We do not notice references to skirted garments in the literature as we see in the rest of the Celtic Fringe, especilly Ireland and Scotland. Perhaps our British readers will know more. Wales was conquered by the English and closer to England than the other Celtic regions. Thus it was more thoroughly Anglicized than the other areas. Amd except for the folk outfits welsh women wore, only if an image is identified, such as stufio logos, can we tell if an imge is Wels. We notice not destinctive Welsh skirted garments, other than folk outfits. And we do not see boys wearing those oufits. We see Welsh boys wearing a range of skirted garments. The styles nd material eem identical to the very trends in England rather than some kind of Celtic Fringe tradition. We have no information to suggest that kilts may have been somewhat more common in the 19th and early-20th century than in Englnd. We do not yet have enough information to make any valid assessment. his is just our prelininary assessment with still limited photographic evidence.



Australian boys like English and other European boys in the 19th century commonly wore dresses until breeched at about 5 years of age. This varied smewhat from family to family and socio-economic factors had an impact on the age of breeching. HBC is not sure if this was more or less common in Australia than England, but the same style of dresses were worn. We still have, however, only limited information on the dresses worn by Australian boys. Pinafores were worn in Australia, much like the pattern in England. HBC has few details, but clothing catalogs at the turn of the 19th century mentioned both childrens and girls pinafores. This suggests, of course, that younger boys and girls both wore pinafores and because they were identical they were sold as children's pinafores. The available advetisment from Lasseters unfortunately lists prices, but not ages and sizes. Smocks do not appear to have been commonly worn in Australia. We have little information about the 19th century. We note an Australian whose family emifrated to Australia I think in the 1940s from Italy ran into trouble when his mother sent him to school in a checked smock with a bug blue bow. British immigration to Australia began to reach significant levels in the mid-19th century. Thus the tunics worn in England during the early 20th century had little imapct on Australia as there was not yey any substantial English population. This was different by the turn of the 20th century. We note some boys wearing tunic suits at this time. The style follows English styles. We do not know how common these suits were in Australia.

Unknown Countries

Most of the images we have found we have been able identify or at least make an assessment with a fair degree of reliability. Porteaits taken in the19th century when it was most common for boys to wear skirted garments were studio portraits which often identified the studio and location. This was the case for both CDVs and cabinet cards. Both rpidly disappeared in the early-20th century, but so did the convention for boys to wear skirted garments. We are archiving here the images that we are unable to identify or make an assessment with a reasobable expectation of accuracy. Of course we incourage readers to add their insights if they have any iidea about the country nvolved.


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Created: 2:45 AM 10/22/2008
Last updated: 11:36 PM 3/18/2021