Boys' Tunics: National Styles

Figure 1.--The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-92) poet Laureate of England) and his wife Emily Sarah Sellwod with their sons Lionel and Hallam. Their two boys wear tunic suits with below the knee knickers. Notice the front buttons and lace collars. The photograph was taken in 1862. 'Pen' Browning wore a similar tunic costume.

HBC does not yet kmow where the fashion of tunics for boys originated, probably England or France. We also do not have full details on tunic styles in different countries. They appear to have been widely worn by American and European boys in the early 19th Century. The tunic suits that appeared at the 20th Century appear to have been very popular in America, France and Italy. I am less clear about the popularity in other countries. Tunics along with skeleton suits were some of the most popular boys outfits in the early 19th Century. I have no infornmation at this time on the relative popularity and stylistic differences in various countries. Tunics declined in popularity at mid-century, but they never entirely disappeared. I have no infornmation at this time on the relative popularity and stylistic differences in various countries. Tunic suits appeared at the turn of the century. They may have been worn in Europe during the late 1890s, but were most popular from about 1900 to about 1915. The style was little seen after the Firsrt World War (1914-18) in the 1920s. It appears to have been a particularly popular style in America and France, but was worn throughout Europe.

America, Latin

America, North

We see boys wearing tunic suits in two of the major North American countries (America and Canada). We do not see them being commonly worn in Mexico, but our Mexican archive is very limited. Although Mexico is in Noryth america, we cover the country in our Latin American section because of the cultural similarities. Tunics suits seem to have been particularly popular in America. Much of the information in the tunic section is about tunics in America. I am not sure how common they were in the early-20th century, but they are much more common at the mid-19th centuty, and even more sp at the turn-of-the20th century. They were very widely worn in America at this time. Three styles were generally worn, but there were other styles as well. The sailor style was the most popular, but the Russian blouse and Buster Brown styles were also popular. These tunic were mostly worn with above-the-knee knickers and short pants. A related style, the Russian blouse suit was occasionally worn with long pants--mostly in the long pants variant. Some information is available on individual boys. Note an Ohio boy during the 1900s. We also note a New York boy in 1904. 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 inthe sailor style. One example is a sailor tunic done with polka dot material. But this was unusual. Most were done with more of a nautical look. One image shows Canadian children dressed up, but playing in a park in 1912. The boy wears a white tunic suit. Another unidentified Canadian boy wears a white tunic at about the same time. It is done in the sailor style, but with lace rather than stripped detailing.



We primarily discuss tunics in connection to European and Ametrican fashions. The simplicity of the tunic, however, means that it was used by both ancient civilization as well as many more modern countries. Tunics were wotk by Turkmen boys as well as boys in other Central Asian countries.


Tunics were widely worn by European boys during the 19th century. We think this was most common with boys from affluent families. We do not see them in the 18th century, although with out photography this is more difficult to tell. We see them being worn throughout Europe at the time. Country trends are difficult to assess at the time because we have such small archives for many countrie. We note quite a few English and French images. We do see them throughout the 19th century. And there was a notable burst of popularity and styles for some reason at the turn-of-the 19th century. Because of the similarity with Russian peasant dress, they became known as Russian blouses at the time. At this time we seem many examples in America and France. We notice the German princeswearing tunics, but the style seems les popular for their subjects.


Tunics were a popular garment for boys in both Europe and America. We believe Austrian boys wore tunics in the 19th century, but can not yet confirm it because our Austrian 19th century archive is still limited. We believe that Austrian boys commonly wore tunics in the early- and mid-19th century, but have few details at this time. We note the Redtenbacher boys in a portrit by Gabriel Decker duing the the mid-19th century. The two older boys wear tunics, one is a plain brown tunic, the other a Scotish plaid. The waists utilize cords rather than the more military-looking belts. A second Decker portrait of an unidentified father and son pained at about the same time shows another tunic, this gime a blue checked tunic. We do see boys wearing tunic suits in the early-20th century (figure 1). Younger Austrian boys commonly wore tunic suits in the early-20th century. HBC believes that the primary fashion influence for this style was France. It was also a popular style in America. Austrian boys, like French boys commonly wore tunics with with short socks, unlike American boys who more commonly wore long stockings when not wearing long pants. We know that that Crown Prince Otto wore a white tunic with short pants during World War I. Presumably this affected the popularity throughout the Empire, but I can not yet confirm this. Of course the monarchy fell at the end of the War.


Tunics were a very popular style during the 19th century. We have little information as to when they appeared, 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 do have setails on one 1852 tunic outfit shown in a Belgian fashion magazine. Boys styles could be quite elaborate in the mid-19th century, including both dresses and tunics. Tunics could be very plain or worn as part of quite elaborate garments. They were worn with both pantalettes and trousers. Tunics were still popular by the turn of the 20th century, but the outfits were plairer and geberally worn with knicker-length or shofrt pants. The belt was a common stylistic element with tunics. There were also different buttoning arrangements. HBC does note that the Belgian princes (Leopold and Charles) did not wear tunic suits, but rather Fauntleroy suits and fancy short pants suits.


Tunics were widely worn by Euroopean boys in the 19th century. We have very little information about Danish tunics. We believe that the tunic was a fairly common garment for Danish boys in the 19th century, but because of our limited archive cannot yet demostrate that. We have seen tunics in Scandinavia in the early-19th century and believe this was the case in Denmark. The onle example we have found cones from the 1880s, a pleated tunic suit with knee pants. Hopefully we will be able to say more as our Danish archive expands. Without the studio information, we could not have identified the outfit as Danish. It looks very similar to other tunics we have found in northern Europe and America.


We believe that tunics were widely worn by English bous. I do not know to what extent tunics were worn in the 18th century. I have seen relatively few images of English boys wearing tunics in the early 19th century, but believe that they were widely worn. Tunics were a common style in the early 19th Century and were still being worn at mid-century. While we have few portraits of boys in tunic suits in the early 19th century, we do have several photographic images of English boys wearing tunics at mid-centurty. We note the Tennyson boys wearing tunics in the 1860s, but are unsure how common that was. I have seen relatively few images of English boys in turn of the 20th century tunic suits. The tunics suits worn by American and French boys in the early 20th Century seem much less common in England. English boys seem to have worn short pants suits without the long tunics worn in France and America and were much more plain than the French suits. Both the sailor style amd Russian blouse style were worn.

Figure 2.--This French boy wears a fancy velvet sailor suit with lace-trimmed sailor styling. His tunic suit has kneepants rather than knicker pants that were more common in America.


Tunic suits were very popular in France. Most were the sailor suit style, but unlike the generally plain American styles, French mothers like much fancier styles trimmed in lace and ruffles. They were worn with both knickers and short pants. The knickers werte usually worn above the knees. The short pants style appears to have been very popular and were often worn with thre-quarter length socks.


HBC believes that the fancy, lace trimmed French styles seen here were less popular in Germany. HBC has little information on Germany, but believe the Russian blouse style was commonly worn. We note the German princes (Kaiser Wilhelm's grandchildren) commonly identical wearing white tunic, commonly called Russian blouse suits. They were unusually pactical for the period. They were worn with short pants, usually without stockings. It seems to have been a summer outfit.


We notice a Hungarian boy from a prosperous family wearing a tunic suit with bloomer knickers, we beklieve in the early 1870s.


We note two Icelandic boys wearing sailor-styled tunic suits in the early 20th century. We have very little information on Iceland at this time. We do not know how common thids was.


The tunic was a popular garment as far as we can tell throughout Europe in the 19th and early-20th century. The popularity and styles varied from country to country. We do not have much information yet on 19th century Italy, but suspect this is because of our limited Italian archive and not because the tunic was not particularly popular in Italy. We are just beginning to work on this topic and have only found a few images so we can not yet draw any conclusions about Italian trends. We note Italian boys wearing tunics into the 1920s. The last example we have found is a rather short tunic, similar to styles we see in Germany at the turn of the century. This was aittle later than wesee in America where yunics disappeared after the 1910s.


Dutch boys must have worn tunics in the 19th century. We believe that they were common throughout Europe. Unfortunztely we have very little information on the Netherlands during the 19th century. Another problem is tht there are many similarities between a smovk znd tunic and the two garments are difficult to destinguish. This seems especially the case in the Netherlands as we see garments with rather destinctive styling and it is not all together clear of they are smocks or tunics. We do believe Dutch boys wore tunics, especially at the turn-of-the 20th century. Tunics were widely worn in all the countries surrounding the Netherlands at the turn of the century (Germany, France and England). So they must have been worn in the Netherlands as well.


We do not yet have much information on Poland. Until after World War I, most of Poland was part of the RussiaN Empire with smaller areas part of the German and Austrian Empire. Thus fashionable clothing styles corresonded to styles in those empires. After the War, clothing styles seem to have been quite similar to Germany. One example is the The Chciuk family in 1921.


We have limited information about tunics in Russia. We know that they were widely worn, but are not sure about the styles or conventions involved. We are not entirely sure what the inspiration for the tunic outfits that we begin to see in Europe during the early-19th century. We believe that is was probably Russian peasant dress.It appears to have been a peasant style that was adopted as a style even in the cities. We are not sure, however just how common tunics were. For city people it seems to have been aind of nostalgic, folk costume. We have no information on the early 19th century. We do begin to see examplees after the introduction of photography at mid-century. A factor in Russia is that peasant dress had some similarity to tunics. And the Russian blouse style influenced tunics in Europe at the turn if the 20th century. Tunics became a popular style at this time in Europe and America. We are not entirely sure why, but we do note consideral emigration from Russia at this time. We see Russian boys wearing tunics similar in style to those worn in Europe. We are not sure yet just how popular they were. As far as we know these tunics were only worn by boys, but this is a perelininary assessment at this time.


We have no information at this time about Scottish tunivs in the 19th century. Younger Scottish boys at the turn of the century wore tunics as was common in England and America. The style of tunic is somewhat different than was common in America. HBC know less about tunic styles in England. We do not know how common tunics were in Scotland. The portrait seen here was undated, but was pribably taken in the early 1900s, perhaps about 1905. It was taken in Ayr. We note some differences with the tunic suits that American boys were commonly wearing at the time. We especially note the Peter Pan collar and the below the knee pants which could be bloomer knickers, but we are not sure.


We have little information on Spanish tunics at this time. There is no indication that Spain has diverged from the general European patter concerning tunics. The few images we have seen look rather like French tunics. We do have one 1916 image. Some images are difficult to interpret.


We do not have a lot of information on Switzerland yet. We note the younger boy in the Swiss Kessler-Trümpi family wearing a tunic outfit in 1840. We suspect that Swiss tunics were essentially the same as Germn tunics. The French minority may have been more influenced by France. We note Swiss children like many European children wearing a variety of tunic suits in the ealy 20th century.


We believe that tunic styles and chronological trends in Ulster were the same as in England. A good exampole is an unidentified Belfast boy, we think in the 1860s. He wears a tunic suit with a small white collar and bow.


As far as we can tell, the tunics worn by Welsh boys were essentially the same as those worn by English boys. We know of no real difference. A good example is a Cardiff boy with a pin-on lace collar added to his tunic.



HBC has only begun to assess tunics in Australia. 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.


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Created: January 30, 1999
Last updated: 8:09 PM 1/5/2019