Skeleton Suits: Accessories

Figure 1.--Some early suits with aspects of the skeleton suit were worn with knee breeches. Even so the open ruffled collar, like this one worn by Thomas John Clavering in 1777, is characteristic of skeleton suits. This looks to be a one-piece suit which younger boys wore. Note Thomas John's curls. Also note the bows in his slippers.

The skeleton suit was a 19th fashion staple for boys. We are unsure about caps, but notice peaked military style caps. Several fashion accessories were worn with skeleton suits besides the actual skeleton suit garments themselves. Some of the optional garments worn with skeleton suits were pantalettes and sahes. Blouses varied and included both open- and closed-collar styles. Mos boys wore white stockings. We mostly note low-cut shoes.


I have little information on head gear. Many of the available paintings do not picture caps. This may have been to allow the painter to depict the boy's hair. I think that when children or adults went outside, they commonly wore caps or hats. One source suggests military-style cap was often added to skeleton suits for effect. That is the style of cap I have usually seen with skeleton suits. Many of the available images of early 19th Century boys in skeleton suits show the boys without caps--even in outdoor scenes which were the most common. (Late 19th Century images were more commonly indoors.) This lack of caps is probably misleading. I believe it was very common for boys of the era to wear caps, just as adults more commonly wore headgear than is true today. Usually when caps are included in early 18th Century paintings, the boy is holding them rather than wearing them. This is probably true because most of the available paintings are portraits commissioned by the boys' parents. The parents were interested in a detailed rendention of the boy's face and a cap would have distracted from this. As a result, caps were commonly deleted from the portraits.


Boys did not wear belts in the early 19th Century, but colorful sashes for decorative effect were sometimes added for dress occasions. This was the only common use of the sash with boys' clothes until the Fauntleroy craze of the 1880s.

Figure 2.--This painting from the early 19th century shows a boy in a classic skeleton suit. Note the open ruffled collar, extremely high waist, front buttons, and ankle length pantaloons. Notice the classic row of buttons extending to his shoulders.


Men and boys in the 18th Century wore kneebreeches with white stockings. Early skeleon suits, or at least suits with skeleton suit features, were worn with knee breeches and white stockings. >The new pantaloons that became the accrpted style for skeleton suits covered all of the leg, but not the ankle. In the early 19th century as knee breeches passed from style, it was not considered appropriate for either boys or girls to show their legs. Some reports suggest that the pataloons for younger boys were trimmed with lace. This probably refers to pantalettes that younger boys, girls, and women. Little boys wore them with both dresses, tunics, and skeleton suits. As boys wore long pants skeleton suits or even pantalettes, long stockings were not necessary. Skeleton suits were normally worn with white stockings. Long stockings were not necessary, but we are not at all sure what length they were. The illustrations of skeleton suits already on HBC show the trousers coming at least to mid-calf and usually to the ankles. Most of the available paintings show boys wearing white stockings with these longish trousers, but how long the stockings would have been remains something of a mystery. My guess, looking at a number of the available period illustrations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, is that these white stockings were fairly long, extending at least to the knee and probably a bit beyond. I don't think knee socks had been invented yet although ankle-length socks may have existed for very small children. I believe boys wearing skeleton suits would have worn over-the-knee white stockings (i.e., stockings that would be capable of covering the knees) but that could perhaps have been gartered below the knee--gartered in the usual 18th-century way by strips of cloth or ribbons tied around the leg. Wearing the garters below the knee rather than just above it would, I think, have been slightly more comfortable and less restrictive. And since the knees were not exposed to view, it wouldn't have mattered whether the boy wore the garters above or below the knee. But since some boys wore knee breeches during the same period, with which they would have needed their stockings to be gartered above the knee, I would suppose that they would use a more or less standard-length stocking (almost always white) for both the skeleton suit with long trousers and for knee breeches. Some boys may have changed back and forth from skeleton suits to suits with knee breeches since the knee breeches were more formal. But this is just an inference. What actually was normally worn on boys' legs above the calf with skeleton suits is just a conjecture on my part.


Younger boys wearing dresses and tunics in the early 19th Century would wear them with pantalettes. Some pantalettes were fancy with lace and ruffled trim. Others werequite plain. Some boys continued to wear them when they graduated to skeleton suits. Lace and ruffles can sometimes be seen at the ankles or calf of boys wearing skeleton suits. This appears to have been a simple carry over from the pantalettes worn with the dresses and tunics popular in the early 19th Century. Early skeleton suits worn with knee breeches did not incorporate ruffled pantalettes. Once established some skeleton suits were actually made with the ruffles at the hem and were not worn with pantalettes.

Figure 3.--Notice the wide-brimmed hat with prominent tassles that this American boy in an undated painting has in his right hand.


Boys in the late 19th-century a fancy flat slipper might be worn on them, often decorated with bows. After the turn of the century flat-soled strap slippers or pumps, usually black were the most common, especially for little boys. The shoes are in sharp contrast to the heavy boots late 19th Century boys wears--even boys in fancy party clothes.

Additional information

  • Illustrated book (alpahbet)
  • Biographic information


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    Created: February 3, 1999
    Last updated: 6:33 PM 1/22/2006