* boys' suits chronology 19th century

Boys' Suits: Chronology--The 19th Century

Figure 1.-- Here we see three unidentified boys who we assume are brothers, although the boy at right seems less elegantly dressed than the other two boys. The portrait is undated, but we think was taken about 1890. The boys all wear different styled suits. The younger brother wears a double-breasted jacket, perhaps done in cordury.The boy at right wears a colorful single-breasted striped jacket wiythout lapels. His striped or checked pants do not match. Their older brother wears an elegant double-breasted pin-stripe suit. Notice how mother has used collars and bows to age grade the outfits. We do not know where the portrait was taken, but it seems to have been taken in the West, perhaps Idaho. The boys seem to be holding their caps, but it is difficult to make out the detail.

We notice a wide range of suits worn by boys during the 19th century. Young boys commonly wore dresses. Boys after breeching in the eatly 19th century might wear tunics or skeleton suits. The skeleton suit was the first specifically child's outfit and they were worn through the 1830s. The skeleton suit was extremely popular throughout Europe and commonly worn with long trousers at a tme when most men wore knee breeches. We notice a range of fancy suits being worn by younger boys in the mid-19th century. A common style had a cut-away jacket and were often worn with bloomer knickers. The British royal family introduced the sailor suit as boys wear in the 1840s, but it took a cople decades for it to become popular with the general public. Boys common wore sack suits by the 1860s, commonly with long pants, although long kneepants were worn by younger boys. We note kilt suits becoming popular in the 1870s. We also note fancy velvet suits in the 1870s which evolved into the Fauntleroy suit in the 1880s. These suits were commonly made with kneepants in Ameria and bloomer knickers in Europe. They were worn with large collars and floppy bows. Many boys in the late 19th century wore suit jackets that buttoned at the collar rather than having a "V"-front and lapels.

The 1800s

The first suits specifically by boys was the skeleton suit. The style appeared in the late 18th century and continued to be popular through the 1830s. The skeleton suit was a fashion staple for boys. It came in one and two piece styles with numerous buttons in necessary places. It was worn during the French Empire period and the British Regency era Skeleton suits were widely worn by boys throughout Western Europe and America. Well dressed boys wore skeleton suits in the last decade of the 18th Century and the early decades of the 19th Century, about 1790 into the 1830s. Precursors to the skeleton suits appeared even earlier during the 1770s. The skeleton suit was one of the first specialized styles worn by children as opposed to scaled down version of the styles worn by one's fathers. They were apparently called skeleton suits because the boys at the age the suits were worn were so slender. The suits thought this period had two primary features: high-waist, and front buttons. An open neck blouse trimmed with lace or other elegant trimming was another feature on many suits. It was one of the more enduring boyhood fashions and was worn by boys for more than half a century. We note younger teenagers wearing suits with skeletin suit featyres. A good example is an aristocratic Danish boy in 1802.

The 1810s

The 1820s

The 1830s

The 1840s

Price Albert and Queen Victoria dressed their oldest son in a sailor suit in a famous Winterhalter portrait. This inspired the fashion of dressing boys in sailor suits, but it would be a few years before the fashion became a middle-class standard. We note older boys wearing what looks like a frock suitsjacket. Both men and boys wore these jackets with vests, often made in contrasting colos or bright ptterns. A good example is an unidentified American boy in 1847. Men commonly wore frock coats. We seem some boys wearing them as well. A good example is an unidentified American boy, although we are unsure abut the precise date. Note that his vest does match his jacket, but his trouers do not.

The 1850s

More modern looking suits began to appear in the mid-19th century. We note jackets for younger boys appeared which were made to be woirn open and only buttoned at the coillar. This was the style used for classic Little Lord Faintleroy suits and persisted into the 1890s. Suits for younger boys were often heavily detailed, often with embroidery, much more so than adult suits. Younger boys commonly wore kneepants or bloomer knickers as well as kilt suits. Until the 1870s long pants were still common, especially for school age boys. We notice that boys in the 1850s commonly wore jackets with contrasting colored vests (waistcoats) and pants. A good example is an English boy in 1851. We also note an American boy in 1856. This became much less common in the 1860s as suits with matching jacket and pants predominated. One interesting features on jacket suit coats is the variable use of buttons. There were not yet any well estanlished conventions.

The 1860s

We note suits in the 1860s that look much more modern than early 19th century suits. The jackets or coats are longer. The suits more commonly are made of matching material and colors instead of the contrasting convention that was common in the 1860s. There were a variety of juvenile-styled suits made with short cut-away jackets and bloomer knickers. Many of these styles were similar to those worn in the 1850s. We notice older boys boys wearing long pants suits. Thesewere suits with more mature stylying, largely with jacket and pants in the samr style and color. Jackets were single breasted. Ecen quite young boys wire long pants suits. We notice some boys wearing pants with legs that were above the shoes. We are not sure to what extent this reflected a boy growing out of his pants or the waythe suit was styled. By the late 1860s, we begin to see more boys wearing knee pants, although they were usually cut well below the knee.

The 1870s

The heavily emroidered suits began to declin Eton suits became very popular in the late 19th century. We notice both modern looking suits with lapels as well as suit jackets that buttoned all the way up at the collar. Norfolk styling became quite popular at the turn of the 20th century. Both single and double vreasted jackets were worn, but gradually after World War I single breasted suits became increasingly popular. Blazers also became popular for boys, an influence from English schools. The portrait here is undated (figure 1). We would guess it was done in the 1870s. We know he is an American boy from the Midwest. One source says that it is a water color, but we thought it might be a charcoal drawing. The seller assures HBC, however, that it is a watercolor. I have seen other images like this. They are based on photographs. I'm not sure just how they were done. Nor am I sure how they were ordered. Presumably they were ordered through the photographic studio. The boy is sitting sideways in a armless chair that shows a tassle hanging from the back side. It has fringe around the bottom. He is sitting next to what looks like an Eastlake style table. The walls have fancy paper that is supposed to resemble panels. There is even wonderful carpet or a rug that has many circles. He has on all the fancy clothing that would be expected from a boy of his age and his families well to do standing. He has on a lacey collar with striped stockings, high shoes, the three standard buttons on the sides of his kneepants. We note some loud checks and plaids in the 1870s. A good example is an American boy, Dan Brown.

The 1880s

Younger boys commonly wore kilt suits in the 1880s. One of the major developments in the 1880s was the Fauntleroy craze ignited by the Mrs. Burnett's publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1885. Fancy suits like the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit existed before Mrs. Burnett's book, but became much more popular after the book was published. Here there were not only formal Fauntleroy suits, but Fauntleroy styling was added to many other types of suits. American clothing generally followed European styles, notable changes began to appear for the foirst time in the 1880s.

The 1890s

Younger boys still wore dresses, but this conventioin was noatably declinhg. Most boys wore suits. Suits continued to be standars wear for boys. Some boys might wear kilt suits. Kilt suits and Little Lord Fauntleroy suits continued to be popular for younger boys in the 1890s, especially in America. We believe that one reason that fewer young boys were wearing dresses is that the Fauntleroy Craze was so widespread. Many mothers wantef to dress their boys in Fauntleroy outfits. Sailor suits became a standard for somewhat older boys. The popularity and styles varied from country. There were age grading conventiin that varied from family to family. Increasingly older boys wore knee pants as part of heor suits. Knicker style pants were also popular, more in Europe than America. Knee pants and knickers suits were usuallyn worn with long stovkings. Eton suits were a popular style, but more likely to be worn with long pants. We notice some boys like the Syder brothers wearing the old small jackets, but increasingly in the 1890s boys were wearing full jackets that buttoned to the collar and modern-looking jackets with lapels. Older boys wore both single and double-breasted blazers in a variety of styles. A good example is an American boy about 1890. Boys might wear their regular suits with Fauntleroy suits with Fauntleroy touches (elaborate collars and large floppy bows), especially in America. Older boys would wear the same suits, but without the Fauntleroy touches. Some wore Eton collars, especially in England.

Country Trends

We have begun to develop national suit chronology page, such as 19th century American boys' suits.

Style Trends

We plan to develop style pages for the various suiy styles popular in the 19th century such as skeleton suits, Fauntleroy suits, cut-away jackets, ect.


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Created: 6:55 PM 11/4/2004
Last updated: 12:25 AM 12/1/2019