Boys' Tunics: Accompanying Garments

Figure 1.--Sir Thomas Lawrence painted Mrs. Henry Bartig and children in 1817. Her son appears to be wearing a black velvet skeleton suit. I'm not sure what he is wearing over it, perhaps a white tunic or perhaps a front buttoning pinafore.

Tunics were one of the more enduring 19th century styles for boys. As the 19th Century progressed, another garment was added to the small boy's wardrobe--a smock-like tunic. The tunic suit was a form of jacket, close-fitting to the waist, with a gathered or pleated skirt below the waist. It was often the first boyish garment purchased for a boy after he was breehed and allowed to stop wearing dresses. Some tunics look like simple dresses. At first gance it is sometimes difficult to distinguish tunics from dresses. The tunic is very plain, often the same cloth--in many cases of a dark or muted color. Tunics are generally styled very simply. Some did have dress liked puffed sleeves. The major distinguishing feature is that tunics in the late 19th Century were worn with knicker-type pants just as they has been worn with pantallets earlier in the decade. Girls who wore dresses would never wear them with knickers.


There was no cap or hat made especially for different styles of tunic suits, but there were styles commonly worn with them. This has varied over time. Tunics were worn over an extended period. We note them throughout the 19th century and during the early-20th century. Thus a wide range of headwear both caps and hats were worn with tunics. With the appearance of photography we have a much better idea of the headwear worn with tunics. We note boys wearing peaked military caps in the mid-19th century. A good example is an unidentified American boy. The most common headgear for boys wearing tunic suits were wide-brimmed sailor hats. While the styles of the hats were rather basic, they varied a good deal in the width of the brim. The combination of sailor hats and tunic suits appears to have been essentially a coincidence. The most popular headwear for small boys at the turn of the century when tunic suits became popular was the wide-brimmed and other styles of sailor hats and caps. Thus they became the most common style of headwar worn with tunics.


We are not entirely sure what kind of shirt-like garments were worn unfer tunics. We have little information about the early 19th century. We note tunics being worn with very small collars of different types during the mid-19th century. A good example is unidentified American boy, we believe in the 1840s. Tunics became popular again at the turn-of-the20th century. We have not yet worked out the types of shorts worn with these tunics.

Figure 2.--This Victorian drawing shows a New Years celebratin. The child at the back is a boy wearing a tunic. (A girl's skirt would not be that short. He appears to be wearing pantalettes with his tunic.


The most important accessory for tunics was the pants that were worn with them. Tunics in the mid-19th century often did not have matching pants, but by the turn-of-the-20th-cebtury were often sols as suits with matching pants. Tunics were worn with different pants, of varying styles. All legs whether of boy or girl in the early 19th Century were covered to the ankles by trousers, pantaloons (which were those fulled or shirred at the ankles), and pantallets. Tunics at the beginning of the 19th Century were worn with either fancy or plain pantalettes (younger boys) or long trousers (older boys). After mid-century it became less common for the boys to wear long pants with tunics and instead they began wearing them with knickers. Eventually after the turn of the century they were also worn with short pants. The short pants were more common in France than America.

Figure 3.--At the turn of the Century it became increasingly common for boys to wear tunics with knicker pants without shoes and stockings during the summer.


Early tunics were worn with long pants or pantalettes. As a result, long stockings were unecessary. Most were work with short stockings. As hem lines rose and pantaleetes became shorter and knickers appeared with tunics, long stockings appeared. Young children after mid-Century might wear tunics with short socks, but older children wore long stockings and by the 1870s even younger children generally wore long stockings. By the turn of the Century younger boys began wearing tunics with knbickers, but with out shoes and socks during the summer.

Hair Styles

As with dresses, mothers varied greatly as to the hair style of boys in tunics. Some mothers refused to have their boys' hair cut upon breeching. Thus some boys continued to wear long hair with breeches, even ringlet curls.


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Created January 30, 1999
Last updated: 10:59 AM 9/15/2013