Jackets and Trousers

Figure 1.--This young boy, I think in the early 1880s, wears a pleated, striped wool skirt and solid-color jacket. Note the double row of buttons in the double breasted style. He has a small lace collar with bows. Short hair was prevalent in until the mid-1980s when the Fauntleroy craze began. The carte de viste image is from the Photographic Studio of E.G. Goldsmith, 374 Main St., Springfield, Mass.


After breeching

Boys began wearing the modern style of jackets and trousers in the early 19th Century. Quite young boys might wear a jacket, but at first with a skirt/kilt or as part of dress outfit (figure 1). There were endless variation of this theme, centering on the style of the jascket and length of the pants. Generally boys wore dresses when very young and then after they were breeched would wear a variety of costumes such as:

Often when he was about 12 or 13 he would receive a relativly adult looking jacket and trousers. One fashion columnist wrote in 1843:

In my opinion a boy when he leaves off wearing a tunic should only wear a single-breasted jacket. As he grows older, say at 12 years of age ... a smartly made and well-fitted double-breasted jacket makes a nice kind of transition between the juvenile single-breasted jacket and the more manly frock (i.e. frockcoat). [J. Couts, Practical Guide, 1843.]

Jacket styles

Over time, boys have had several different jacket styles to choose from:

Figure 2.--Boys in the 1860s wore fancy suits with matching jackets and pants. The style of knee or calf-length pants began to be seen with increasing frequency..

Pants and Trousers

Boys have also worn pants and trousers of different length. [Note: the authors have generally chosen the American word pants. In British English the proper word would be trousers, pants in Britain refer to underwear.] Long trousers were common in the first decade of the 19th Century. Boys wore long pants with their skeleton suits. At mid-century knee-length pants had appeared for boys, but it was not uncommon to see even younger boys wearing long pants., but had generally been replaced by knee-length pants and long stockings by the 1860s boys under 12 years of age, but some older boys were also wearing them.

The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine reported in 1863 that the knickerbocker suit "reigns supreme". It contibued to do well into the first half of the 20th Cenuary. The development appears to be a little later in America, but eventually American boys were also in knee-lenght pants. The knee pants were full, closed at the knee with buckles or buttons, or simply cut off at the knee. The age of boys wearing knee pants gradually increased in the late 19th Century. By the turn of the Century even older teenagers, boys of 18 and 19 years of age were commonly wearing knee pants.

The pants worn by boys in the 20th Century have varied widely by decade and country. American boys commonly wore knickers in the 1920s and 30s, but in the 1940s increasingly wore long pants. English and European boys commonly wore short pants, but long pants became more common beginning in the 1960s. Since the 1970s American and European boys have begun wearing very similar styles of clothes, both for dress suits as well as play and casual wear.

Types of pants

Information is available on the different styles of pants worn with suits and jackets:

Pants chronology

Christopher Wagner


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[Early 19th century] [Mid-19th century] [The 1860s] [The 1870s] [The 1880s]
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Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
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Created: February 25, 1999
Last updated: August 21, 1999