American Eton Suits: Buying a New Suit

Figure 1.--This 1950 "Saturday Evening Post" cover shows a boy trying on his new Easter suit--an Eton suit worn with an Eton collar and peaked cap.

Many American boys can recall going to the department store to purchase a new Eton suit. Fathers might take a boy to the men's outfitter to buy his first adult-looking suit, but it is usually mother that took the younger boy for an Eton suit. Interestingly in the 1940s and 50s a boy might wear long pants jeans to play inm but dress up in a Eton or other short pants suit. This was often not an experience a boy particularly relished.


A color copy of the cover is not currently avaialble. The boy wears a navy blue or dark blue suits. He has navy blue socks and medium brown shoes.

Post Caption

This classic Saturday Evening Post cover had the following caption: "Outfitters to Young Gentlemen," proclaims the suit box, in a blundering effort to make the victim of its contents feel as swell as he looks. The young character does not wish to look like a gentleman. What, he wonders in horror, will the gang down the street think when he bursts upon their gaze and is recognized as the guy they had always thought as a normal, gun-toting cowboy? Will they clasp their hands as mother is doingm only with a less complimentary ecstasy? One ray of hope plays on the dark scene. In the next few weeks other misguided mothers will get the same new-suit fever, and on Easter Sunday many young cow pokesm in similar outrageous disguises, will be comforted by their companionship in misery. [Saturday Evening Post, February 25, 1959.]

HBC Analysis

Several iteresting aspects are notable in this drawing.
Expression: First the boy's expression and the expression reflected in the mirror are different. One is an expression of disdain. The other is concern over what the other boys will think.
Collar: The boy wears an Eton collar in this 1950s drawing. While now relatively rare, they still were occasionally seen.
Jeans: Note the jeans laying on the floor by mother. They are clearly his normal play clothes. Many American boys who wore short pants suits during this period did not have play shorts, but played in jeans. Of course many did have play shorts. Perhaps this boy did and wears jeans because it is winter. However, unlike European boys, he does not wear shorts all year round. Mother seems very happy to pry him out of them and into his new suit.
Short pants: This boy's short pants are knee-length. As the 1950s progressed, the Eton suits generally appeared with shorter-cut shorts.
Location: This boy is apparently trying his new suit on at home. Mother has gone shopping and brought his suit back in a box. I'm not sure how common this was instead of taking him to the store to be fitted.

Contributor Comments

The HBC contributor supplying the above image provided the following comments: The Post cover of the mom, the boy, and the suit raises some questions. It IS striking, the disparity between the mirror's reflection and the expression in the fellow's eyes. Was this a flaw in the artist's finished product, or does it reflect (sorry, pun unintended) the range of emotions the boy feels at this moment? Also, why did the artist select this subject? Maybe it was inspired by his own memory, or maybe his wife surprised their son with just such a suit. The Post typically served up a slice of Americana; so, as you describe, this is undoubtedly a scene many readers had experienced. It may not have been altogether atypical for mom to have picked out the boy's new suit and have brought them home for the trying on. Grandparents, sometimes, or godparents often selected and presented fancier clothes for dressy occasions, supplied with measurements from mom. You're right, though, unless mom was certain of the right measurements, you'd think this scene would have been played out in a more exclusive downtown department or specialty store. Maybe mom anticipated some resistance and thought the anticipated battle should take place at home. Her expression gives no hint of that, however. So, we're back to the artist's curious conception of a rite of passage that many of HBC's contributors remember personally. I enjoyed very much reading Kirk's account of growing up in Australia in the 1970's. The lessons on peer pressure and its sometimes poignant effects, as well as the fragility of our self-image and psyche, are abundant.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 8, 2000
Last updated: February 8, 2000