London Editorial

Londoner Calls for Reform

LONDON-A lady threw a bombshell into the boys' clothing trade the other day by a letter in The Daily Mail--the newspaper with the largest popular circulation in the kingdom. She also provoked much sarcastic comment from the victims of her proposals.

Over the signature "Marion" she sent out a clarion call for "drastic reform." "I remember," she engagingly wrote, "the time when boys were dressed in picturesque frocks up to ten, or even twelve, years of age. In these days one cannot find a boy of even three years in petticoats, and some boys of eighteen months are put into hideous jersey suits which make them look like skinned rabbits.

"Before the war [World War I (1914-18)], every respectably dressed boy was made to wear a broad Eton collar outside his coat. One long way without seeing a single Eton collar."

The lady's observation does not agree with mine. Eton collar is discarded earlier than it used to be; but have previously told you that the higher the social landing of a boy, the sooner he goes into long trousers and exhibits other "grown-up" indications. A boy of 13 or 14 now wears a soft fold-collar. "Marion" does not approve of these. It is

Figure 1.--These two British boys in the 1920s wear fashionable double breasted suits with Eton collars. The suits are probably not their school uniform, but they are wearing their school caps. At the time, wealthier boys in Britain were more likely to wear long pants before boys of more modest means who might not have a suit and would wear their school uniform when dressing up.
impossible to call them beautiful, but she goes further, "Boys wear a sort of hideous dishcloth round their necks. In the West End of London I noticed the following atrocities in less than two hours: 1. A boy, barely six years old, in an Eton suit with long trousers and "bowler" hat; collar about one and one-fourth inch wide. 2. Group ofsix "classy" schoolboys, from eight to eleven years, three with long trousers and all with "dishcloth" collars. 3. Three boys (age seven to ten), long trousers, lounge suits, and men's collars."

"Marion's" ideas on how to dress the boy did not, naturally, remain long unanswered. Next day "Schoolboy"," thus signing his letter, came back at her. He said exactly what might have been expected:

I read with surprise "Marion's" suggestion of petticoats for boys of ten. Imagine the cries of "Yah!" "mammy's darling "' that would greet the unfortunate kid forced to wear the garments that belong rightly to the gentler sex! As for broad Eton collars, thank goodness they have gone! The modern dress for boys is designed for comfort and the minimum of labor in washing. Is there any degree of comfort in carrying one's neck encased in a square yard of starched linen as hard as armor plate? I say dress boys according to their age-and sex.

Before long an older correspondent got into the game by writing:

I would suggest that all boys between the ages of, say, three and eighteen, be compelled to wear any old cast-off male garments that may be on the premises. If to these be added a pair of openwork boots and a pair of torn stockings the picture would be complete. This reform would have the advantage of rendering it impossible for boys to distinguish which were the "classy" boys and which were not, and it would force them to judge their fellows by the stuff that was in them and not by the clothes which were on their backs. And, since the boy is father to the man, perhaps" in a few generations it would have the effect of transforming us from a nation of snobs to one of Christian human beings.

That is an idea-a country of ragamuffins-it would be almost as bad as petticoated boys. Other people applauded the kilt, or Highland Scottish costume frequently adopted for small boys, and the fuss went merrily on.

The Highland Laddie Idea

Scotch outfit has a great deal to be said for it. If you want to dress little boys in something which is not merely a man's suit seen through the wrong end of a telescope, you are more likely to get a pleasing effect by copying some picturesque costume than by trying to invent the kind of thing which I see at children's parties. One unfortunate kid of perhaps eight years old came to play with my children in a silk shirt, with no collar doubtless worn over a woolen union suit. He had knickerbockers so short that there can hardly be said to have been any legs to them at all, merely a couple of perfectly round and very loose ends forming two circles at the crotch, through which the boy's bare legs descended, with plenty of room for the wind to blow up and chill the body. Low strap-shoes and white silk socks complete the outfit. The knickerbockers had four large and unsightly tabs, containing buttonholes to engage an equal number of enormous pearl buttons sewn to the shirt. Naturally this dragged horribly from the shoulders.

This is a typical "design" such as shivering youngsters; are made to get into. If it is really believed that letting the air play about a little boy's thighs is good for him. The Highland kilt outfit is ever so much better. It does at least keep the calves warm. The Kilt, being a kind of petticoat, offers a compromise to mothers who do not wish to "breech" their boys too early. Being a grown-up costume made more familiar than ever by Highland Regiments during the war, it is not resented by the growing boy. Of course you know what it is: a pleated skirt in any kind of tartan that you like to choose, with a sort of small fur apron in front, called the sporran, a jacket, which can be of velvet for evening wear, with large pentagonal tabs of a castellated sort of appearance and (by day) a tartan plaid over one shoulder and under the other. The sporran has a silver ornament on it usually set with a cairngorm-a Scotch stone of the rhinestone type, which comes in orange, yellow, red, or purple rather like an amethyst. A similar stone or some colored pieces of carnelian flash in the hilt of a small dirk, tucked into the top of one stocking. The latter are knitted in a tartan design, with turn-over tops. Small trunk drawers, like bathing trunks, are worn; and of course any kind of undershirt that does not come too low down.

These Highland outfits are made in a good many grades. Like the sailor suits mentioned in a previous letter, they show their grade by the accuracy with which they reproduce the authentic model. And. by the way, this "correct" sailor outfit is another pleasing alternative to the hideous and revolting "fancy dress" to which objection has so rightly been made.

Editorial in The Boy's Outfitter

Christopher Wagner

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Created: March 25, 1998
Last updated: August 15, 1999