*** boys' suit jackets : styles

Boys' Suit Jackets: Styles

The styles of suit jackets worn by boys are as varied as the imaginative minds of their mothers, with an eye for fashion, could make them. Some suits in the 19th century were very plain, even modern looking. Others were extrodinarily fancy, so fancy that now wonder how suits like the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit could have ever been considered suitable for a boy. Some syles at various historical periods were little different than those worn by fathers. Other like the long lasting sailor suit was only worn by boys--and of course sailors. Many basic suits such as the sailor work was endlessly reworked in an amazingly different number of styles, not only the different styles of modern navies, but in styles that differed greatly from the masucline uniform of the sailor which traditional suits were modeled on. Other suits were often berpowered by thecclothes worn with it, such as gigantic collars and floppy bows worn with a Fauntleroy suit. As mass produced ready made suits became increasingly common, the grerat diversity in style began to decline.


The popular blazer, now commonly worn by boys, first appeared in England during the 1830s. It eventually appeared at fashionable public (private secondary) schools. It became popular at British school as sports wear, especially for cricket. (Leave it to the English to dress up in a blazer for sports.) The origins of the blazer is enduringly preserved in the blazers of cricket clubs around the world. The blazer as so much of the male wardrobe has military origins and dates to the 1830s. It seems that Queen Victoria who played such a pivotal role in the history of boys' clothes was scheduled to visit the HMS Blazer in 1837. The captain who was preparing his ship for the young Queen's visit. He noticed how shabby his crew looked. Uniform standards at the time in the British Navy were quite lax. The captain decided to smarten up his rather shabily outfitted crew. He had short jackets made in navy blue serge with shiny brass Royal Navy buttons. The first blazers were double breasted, another military inspired fashon. The Queen was so impressed with the crew's appearance that it the captain decided to make it an permanent part of their outfits. The style was adopted by other captains. The blazers the captain ordered were probably inspired by the heavy thick reefer jackets that British seamen wore. Reefer jackets were so named because sailors wore them while hauling in the "reefs" (sails). They were almost always doubled breasted like the captains new jackets.

Blouse Suit

Business Suit

See "Sack suit".

Button-on Suits

Button on suits were one of the many styles of clothing that developed for boys beginning in the 1910s as fewer and fewer boys wore dresses when they were younger. The button-on suits might be matching or coordinated blouses and pants. The pants were held on by buttons at the waist of the blouse that fitted into button holes in the pants. Young boys are very active and with their slender waists, keeping up their pants could be quite a proble. It was these buttons that conveniently kept the pants up rather than suspenderarrangements or belts.

Buster Brown Suits

Buster Brown suits were popular for younger children in the early 20th Century. I'm not sure who introduced the style or precisely when. I'm not sure if it was a style picked up by the Buster Brown comic strip or an entirely new style created by the cartoonist. It does appear, however, to have been most popular after the turn of the century. Toddlers at that time often wore dresses or smocks. One of a boy's first suits was often a Buster Brown suit. Buster Brown suits were worn by boys from about 5 to 8 years of age, but some mothers dressed older boys in them for a few additional years.

Figure 1.--This American boy wears an collar-buttoning jacket. It seems to have some Norfolk styling. There is no lapel and he wears it with a small bow. Note the cap that he is holding and coat laid out at his left. He was photographed in Boston, probably during the 1870s.

Collar-Buttoning Jackets

We note a variety of collar buttoning suits. This is a style of suit that we see for younger, school-age boys. We note military-influenced styles in the mid-19th century. Boys wore dark jackets with a row of shiny, we assume brass, buttons. We note these jackets in the 1850s, but are not quite sure about the full chronology. Often a small white collar was worn with the jacket. A good example is Elisha Dickerman about 1850. After about the 1860s the buttons were no longer a major stylistic feature. We note these collar buttoning jackets, without the military styling being worn in the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. The jacket is not cut with a fron "V" to show a tie, although it was sometimes worn with a floppy bow. Thus there are no lapels. Rather the suit buttons at the collar and there is a shirt like collar. Almost always it was worn buttoned. We do not know what this jacket style was called other than a boy's suit. We note boys in Europe and America commonly wearing this suit syule. Perhaps some of our readers will know more.

Cut-away Jackets

We note a wide range of cut-away jackets in the mid-19th through the late 19th century. They become less common in the 1890s. The cut-away jacket was a style for a younger boy. We first notice them being worn with a variety of fancy suits for little boys during the mid-19th century. These suits were done in a variety of styles. One popular style was the Zouve suit. These cut-away jackets are perhaps best known as the jacket worn with the classic Fauntleroy suit. These jackets in the ,id-19th century were often decorated with embrodiery and other trim. We have also noticed younger boys, girls and women wearing these jackets with dresses. We note a few impages of children wearing these dresses with skirts and are often not sure about their gender.

Double-breasted Jackets

Double-breasted jackets appeared we think in the 1870s. Before that boys wore single-breasted jackets and other styles like cut-away jackets. We still need to work out the chronology in more detail. Quite young boys might wear double breasted jackets. We note younger boys with double-breasted kilt suits. We note some single breasted jackets styled like single-breasted jackets. A good example is an American boy about 1890. Souble-breasted suits were popular in the ealy 20th century. We see many American boys wearing them. Manybys had double-breasted suits for formal occassions. A good example is is John Czechatowski, A Polish-American boy in 928 doing his First Communion. We see double-breasted suits commonly in First Communion portraits like this. Double-breasted jackets were popular through the 1940s. After World War II, boys tended to wearmostly single breasted suits, although suits became less common for boyswear. There was a brief revival in the 1970s.

Fancy Suits

Boys at the mid-19th century wore a variety of fancuy suit styles. Today the suit styles worn by boys are fairly stanfard. Many fancy styles appeared at mid-century anf HBC has little idea as to what they were called. In many cases they may have been the inspiration of single seamstresses or mothers and were not worn in large quantities. The fanciest style was of course the famed Fautleroy suit, but many other fanncy cstykles were worn in the 1850s-80s. By the 1890s the styles of boys suits had become more standardized.

Fautleroy Suits

Francis Hodgson Burnett, an English-born American, helped popularize a style of dress for boys that proved exceedingly popular among romantically inclined, doting mothers. The author modelled her famous fictional creation, Cedric Erol, after her own son, Vivian, and thereby condemned a generation of "manly little chaps" in America and Britain to elaborate, picturesque outfits. The actual description of Cedie's suits were rather brief in her book, Little Lord Faunytleroy. Perhaps even more influential than her text in popularizing the style were the lavishly detailed drawnings by Reginald Birch, the artist who illustrated Mrs. Benett's story. Whether it was the book or the illustrations, combined they were responsible for an enduring vogue of boy's clothes in the romantic style of the Cavalier/Restoration or Van Dyck Period worn by the young American hero of the story.

Eton Suits

The Classic Eton suit was a style which dominated boys' suits for about a century in England and were also commonly worn in America, France, and other countries. The style originated in England's fabeled Eton college, although I am not positive just when the boys therecstarted wearing it. The prestige of the school resulted in the style being copied for boys' suits at other public schools as well as suits for boys that did not go to Eton college. Older English boys as well as boys in America commonly wore the style as their best dress suits for several generations. It was commonly worn until after World War I when it was replaced by suits with soft collars. Even during the 1930s, English boys might don an Eton suit for an especially formal event. It is interesting to note how long so seemingly uncomfortable a style persisted. Compfort was clearly not the most important factor driving boys'fashions.

Frock Suit

The somber frock suit was a popular style for men in the mid-19th century. Frock coats were a Victorian standard. It was commonly done in black. We are not sure how common frock suits were for boys. We have very few images of boys wearing frock suits. We do note one unidentified American boy about 1850. Note that his vest matches his jacket, but not his trousers. While we see few boys wearing frock coats, we do see teenagers wearing them. A good example is an American boy, Clarence E. Summer, we think in the 1840s.

Half Sleeves

We notice suit jackes with half sleeves in the mid-19th century. We note styles that both buttoned at the collar as well as cut-away styles. We do not have a good handel on the chrinology of the jackets yet, but they seem to ave been popular during 1830s-50s. Some of these jackets were done with light material and were more like shorts. Many were worn with blouses that had baloon sleeves. A good example of a half-sleeve collar buttoning jacket is an unidentified American boy, we think in the early 1850s. Many of these jackets were woen with stripped or other pants thast did not match the jacket.

double-breasted suit jacket
Figure 2.--This young boy, we 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.


The Scottish kilt was never extensively worn by American boys, despite the sizeable number of Scottish Americans. A related garment, however, the kilt suit, was very commonly worn by two generations of American boys. I believe that the style was also widely worn in England and to a lesser extent in France. Its popularity in Germany and other continental countries, however, appears more limited, although admittedly I have little information on these countries.

Lounge Suit

See "Sack suit". This was the British term for sack suit. The term developed because the sack suit or jacket was seen as less formal by the Victorians than a formal frock coat.

Marlowe Suits

The Marlowe Suit seems like a step up from the now-vanished Rugby Suit, which was itself a rung up the sartorial maturity ladder from the American little-boy's Eton Suit. The Eton outfit for younger boys had a collarless jacket and short pants, while the Rugby suit, seen in contemporary Sears and Wards catalogs, had a collared jacket with shorts. One would expect a Junior Longie Suit to be the next step, but, perhaps for the "Young Elite" the Marlowe was an intermediate phase. Whether there ever was a Marlowe School in the U.K. (akin to the real Eaton and Rugby Public [i.e. exclusive private] Schools) is not presently known. (Note: HBC knows of no Public school in England named Marlowe School.) The copy phrase, "...available once again...." suggests, however, a British import, reappearing after World War II.

Mao Jackets

The Mao jacket and suit was not designed by Mao. In fact, in China, no one calls it the Mao suit. They call it Zhong-Shan suit, named after its original designer Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (Sun Zhong-Shan in proper Madarin pronunciation), the founder of the Kuomingtang (the Nationalist Party) and of the Republic of China in 1912. From now on, the Mao suit here shall be referred to as the Zhong-Shan suit, giving the designer his credit. This was a style that was not significantly worn by boys in the West, but was of course widely worn by boys in China.

Morning Suit

A morning coat is an adult style. It is a man's coat worn in the morning. It is generally seen as a formal style today, sometimes worn in weddings. It is a single-breasted jacket with lapels and tails. The lapels on morning suits are commonly peaked rather than notched, The jacket closes at the front with one button, normally mid-way down the jacket. The front of the jacket than curves down into the trailing tails at the back. There are often tweo ornamental buttons at the back of the waist. This design was much more suitable fortvhorseback riding than the much longer cut frock coat. The term "morning coat" became common because in the more formal 19th century is was the primary item of adult menswear. Ot was sometimes often reffered to as the "cutaway". Well-to-do gentlemen who did not have to work would take their exercise by going horsenack riding. Gentlemen at the time wore frock coats, but the jacket was quite long and not suitable for riding. Thus the shorter cut morning coat became common wear, both for riding and for morning wrar. Over time the norning coat actually replaced the frock coat for formal wear. In the 20th century the norning coat went out of style, except at weddings and certain other formal occassions.

Nehru Jackets

we note Nehru jackets during the late 1960s. They were based on jackets worn in India. Nehru became the first primeminister of an indepedent India in 1947. Thus the style became known in the West as Negru jackets. I don't recall anyone wearing them until the 1960s. We know they were advertized in catalogs, but they do not appear to have been very popular for boys. I never say bots wearing them. I was on the East Coast at the time. Perhaps they were more popular on the west Coast, especially California. The style became associated with the Hippy Movemnent. I am not sure hu, probably becauseit ws an available alternative oetblished Western suit styles. Older teenagers may have worn them, but we do not think many pre-teen boys wore them.

Norfolk Suits

One of the more popular styles for boys until recent years has been the Norfolk jacket. While not exclusively a boy's style, it was widely worn by boys from the 1870s to the 1930s. It was most popular in England, but widely worn in America as well. The Norfolk jacket is modeled after the hunting suit worn by the English Duke of Norfolk in the early 19th century. (One source said 18th century, but I don't believe I have ever seen Norfolk jackets in 18th century paintings.) It was the first style to be used in the 1920s for what we now refer to as a sports jacket--a jacket styled like the jacket to a suit, but without matching pants and worn to less formal occasions then required by a suit. I'm not sure why it is called a sports jacket, but would assume the term was coined in Britain.

Rugby Suits

HBC speculated that Rugy suits might have been an American style, in much the same way that colarless Eton suits for small boys became. HBC has noted, however, references to Rugby suits in other countries. I have inquired with my English contributors and they have not heard of Rugby suits made for English boys. This requires some further investigation, however, as Rugby suits were being metioned in Australian advertisements at the turn of the 20th century.

boy's sailor suit
Figure 3.--The sailor suit and related garments were one of the most popular all-time styles for boys. It reached in peak of popularity in the late 19th century. The sailor outfits are sailor tunics, a very poplar style at the turn of the 20th centuty.

Russian Blouse Suits

The Russian blouse styles appeared in Europe during the mid-19th century and persisted with varying degrees of popularity well into the 20th century. Russian blouse suits came in two styles, one-piece and two-piece suits. These open, square collared suits were seasonal wear, usually worn during the summer. These one piece suits, like tunic suits, were usually belted garments, although the belt which might have a button or two, were usually purely ornamental. They were almost always short pants suits, rarely made with knee pants or knickers. An attached belt made as the same material as the suit was an important stylistic feature of these suits. Some suits had embroidered work.

Sack Suits

A sack suit jacket (also called a sack coat) is ashort coat (compared to the longer frock coat) that has a straight back and no defined waist or waist seem. Modern sack suits commonly have a form fitting cut above the waist. The sack suit is the Victorian term for the modern suit styles that developed in the late-19th century. Both single- and double-breasted suits are examples of sack suits. It is still the correct term for these suits, but now little used. The term is misdleading to modern readers because it sounds to English speakers like a baggy suit. Atually this is how the suit got its name. The first sack suits were rather baggy, less form fitting than the standard frock suit at the time that the sack suit appeared in the 184os and became well accepted in the 1850s. Better fitting sack soons were seen as early as the 1860s. There can be both trim and loose fitting sack suit and gradually the suit style developed into better fitting jackets. The sack suit is also known in the 20th century as a business suit. Of course this doesn't sound like a boys'style, but the same style was worn by boys as well as men. It Britain is was also called a lounge suit. The sack suit was initially seen as leisure wear for men who normally wore more fitted frock coats. Soon men like workers and farmers began wearing the suits when they dressed up, such as on Sunday for church. Boys at the mid-19th century were more likely to wear cut-away suit jackets or collar buttoning jackets. Gradually boys also began wearing dack suits. The fact that the sack suit was worn as loosely fitting garment mean that it could be mass produced at sold ready made. This meant marketed at relatively inexpensive prices so that even working-class families could afford it. The most common colors were black, brown or gray and eventually dark or navy blue became populsar. Wwe notice the suits commonly being made in patterns, some 19th century suits will be seen as having rather loud patterns to moden wearers. The jacket and pants commomly matched and there was often a matching vest (waistcoat). Initially the sack suit had four bittons, but three are now more common. Conventions have varied over time as to which and how many buttons should be buttoned.

Sailor Suits

t was in England during the first quarter of the 19th century when someone had the inspiration that boys should wear sailors' trousers. English seamen had been dressing in pantaloons since the 17th century and English boys adopted trousers a half century before their fathers did. English children were the first to be emancipated, little girls changing to soft, unlined frocks in the 1770's with France and the Colonies following next. Some well-known writers had taken the age to task for its manner of confining infants' bodies in tight clothes, among them John Locke, the English philosopher (1632-1704), who was probably the big influence in the change. He was followed by Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher (1712-1775), who carried on the crusade and was forced to flee Paris for England because of his revolutionary ideas. Although the change over in men's dress to trousers occurred early in the period, knee breeches were still worn for dress at formal occasions as can be seen in contemporary portraits. The writings of the Age of Reason were having an effect in putting children into comfortable-clothes, like skeleton suits or sailor suis. The sailor trouser costume known as the English sailor's dress being a short little jacket with an open-necked blouse, a waistcoat without skirts and the long breeches.

Single-breasted Jackets

We see single-breasted suit jackets with lapels in the mid-19th century. We are not sure precisely when they first appeared, but we see them in the photogrphic record in the earliest photogrphic images, meaning the 1840s. This is about the same timthat souble-brasted jackets appeared. Our earlist images are American, but this is because our American archive is so much larger. We believe the style first appeared in Europe, probably Rngland, and quickly spread to America. At the time there wereoyher jacket styles. The collar-buttoning jacket and the cut-away jacket was particularly important. Gradualy single-breasted jackets becme increasingly important. Most boys by the turn-of-the century were wearing single- or double-breasted jackets. After Workd war I, single breasted jackets became the dominant suit jacket.

Skeleton Suits

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.

Split-side Jackets

we are not entirely sure ewhat to call this jacket. It looks rather like a cut-awauy jaacket, but with the two sides running psarallel rather than being cut away and worn with a matching vest. An example was worn by Lloyd Lott, an American boy in 1889. The example we have found may actually be a collar buttoning jacket with only the appearance of split sides. The sduit is heavily decorated with embroidery.

boy's Madras jacket
Figure 4.--Madras jackets for were popular for boys of all ages in the 1950s and 1960s. Some younger boys wore then with short pants and knee socks.

Sport Jackets

Sport jackets as we now know them began to appear after the Second World War. I am not positive why they are called sport jackets. Certainly they are not warn for sport. Probably the term originated in England where they do strange things (I hope our British friends wont be to offended) like dress up in ties and jackets for sports. British boys at prestigious Public schools (a strange term for exclusive private schools) might wear might wear a brightly colored blazer, for example, for cricket or other sports. Not only did the players dress up, but the spectators who came to see the games ("matches" for our British friends) also dressed up. The term sport jacket as it is now used probably refers to a suit-type jacket for informal special occasions, such as sporting events, but not occasions formal enough to require a suit with matching trousers. The players in cricket, for example, would wear the white trousers worn at a cricket match. The players would usually take off their blazers to actually play in the match.

Suffolk Suits

Several styles of suits originated in England. The Eton and Rugby suits are named after the English schools where the styles originated. Two styles carry the names of English counties. The Norfolk suit was named after the Duke of Norfolk who first conceived of it. HBC does not yet know about the origins of the lesser known Suffolk suit. The origins mist of course be English.

Tunic Suits

Tunic suits were made in a variety of different styles. The most common style was the sailor style, but we note these suits in the Russian blouse and Buster Brown style as well.


The tuxedo is esentially an adult fashion. Thus the history of the tuxedo deals with its development for men. Only recently in the 1980s have boys begun wearing tuxedos for formal occasions. Boys now wear them mostly with long pants. Some ring bearers, however, still wear short pants tuxedos. The notion of a man "dressing up" after the sun goes down, whether it be in top had and tails or simply in his best finery, has been with us for centuries. In fact, in the great European opera houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the "dress circle" meant just that, with no one allowed in unless he or she was properly attired. The idea of wearing black for evening wear was, however, according to the English clothing historian James Laver, first introduced by the 19th- century British writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who utilized it "as a romantic gesture to show that he was a `blighted being' and very, very melancholy."

Fauntleroy suits
Figure 5.--The classic Fauntleroy suit began to evolve into the modern velvet suit in the early 20th century. This Michigan boy was photographed in 1908. This boy still wears kneepants, but the jacket buttons up and is worn with a blouse that had a simple collar. Note the bangs.

Velvet Suits

Velvet was originally a luxurious fabric made from silk and was very expensive. Modern immitation velvets are often made from synthetic fibers (acetate, nylon, rayon, and others). The fabric has a thick, soft pile formed by loops of the warp thread, either cut at the end or left uncut. Velvet sometimes has a cotton backing. Velvet was first made in China. The term first appears in European litterature in the 13th Century. It was used to produce fine garments for wealthy individuals. The colors ranged widely, but included many bright colors like red. Velvet of various colors, usually dark, was commonly used in the late 19th Century to produce better boys' party suits, especially Little Lord Fautntleoy suits. In the 20th Century boys dress suits are sometimes made of velvet, especially Eton suits for small boys. It is particularly popular for boys suits around the Christmas holiday season. Velvet trim was commonly used for trim on the lapels of better coats for small children.

Other Suits

Many suits fall into obvious categories. Historical sites have included skeleton, sailor, Fauntleroy, Norfolk, and Eton suits. More recently boys have worn Eton (modern style), single and double breasted suits as well as blazers with slacks. All of these styles, have been worn with a variety of pants styles. This page will, however, focus on the jacket style. This page will adress suit styles that were not commonly worn or that have proven difficult to identify. Some of the most readily identifiable were the Asian-styled jackets, the Nehru and Mao jackets. They were, however, not commonly worn by American boys, because for the mosdt part they were not popular with parents. They were mostly worn by trendy young adults.

Unidentified Styles

HBC has encountered some suit styles that it can not yet identify. Most are 19th century styles. Often the collars or neckwear are known, but not the jacket styles. Do let HBC know if you know anuthing about these suit styles--even if only what they are called.


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Created: December 21, 1999
Last updated: 2:03 AM 10/29/2009