Movie Depictions of Boys Clothes: Costume Styles

Figure 1.--Smocks are rarely featured in American film reflecting the fact that they were not commonly worn by American boys. Thy are more common in European films. These Italian boys wore smocks in a scene shot at a school in "Life is Beautiful".

Movies differe greatly in the attention given to reproducing period styles. Often boys are simply outfitted in non-descript suits, rather than the characteristic outfits of the 19th century. In other films considerable attention is given to costuming. While period movies vary in historical accuracy, they do provid some insights into the life styles of the boys involved and the world in which they lived. This provides insights far beyond what can be provided in still photographs and paintings.

Buster Brown Suits

Buster Brown suits were an important American style, but relatively short lived. Several "B" movies were made of Buster Brown in the 1920s. They were not full feature films, but rather like the Our Gang series, only not as well written. Boys in Buster Brown suits are occasionally seen in period films, but they are not common. Often the Buster Brown suit style is senn in movies, but not the full Buster Brown suit worn with floppy cap, above the lmee knickers and strap shoes.


Europeans for centuries dressed little children, both boys and girls in the same styles of ankle-length dresses, often referred to as petticoats. For most of this time, no special clothing existed for childrn, boys or girls. Boys when they were "breeched", were simplly dressed in smaller versions of the knee breeches and other clothes worn by their fathers. Special clothes for children appeared in the late 18th centuty with distinctive styles for boys and girls. Even so, many mothers continued to dress small boys in dresses for more than a century. This fashion also became common in America and persisted well into the 20th century. Some period movies movies accurately depict the styles of various historical eras. Movies of course can vary greatly in historical accuracy. It is likely, however, that those who have gone to the trouble of depicting boys in dresses and long hair, probably ercised considerable attention to detail.

Fautleroy Suits

Large numbers of boys in the late 19th and early 20th century wore Fauntkleroy suits. The style was enormously popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Several movies have been made based on the famous novel, featuring famous film stars like Mary Pickford and Fredy Bartholmew. The depiction of Cedric's velvet suit and long hair have varied considerably. In addition to the Little Lord Fauntleroy movies, Fauntleroy suits have also been depicted in many period movies.


Although an important boys' style, kilts are not commonly used in movies. Boys outside Scotland began wearing kilts in the 1840s after Queen Victoria began dressing the princes in kilts. Kilts, especially kilt suits, were widely worn by American boys in the late 19th Century. Even so, it is fairly rare for boys to be costumed in kilts for movies. Two movies where they do appear is Life with Father (kilt suit) and The Magnificent Ambersons (Highland kilt). An HBC contributor suggests, My Life So Far, set in Scotland during the 1930s. The film is of interest for other period dress besides kilts. Another important film is "The Green Years" (193?).


Lederhosen through the 1960s were commnly worn as boys know where jeans. Boys often wore them for kikes in the coubtryband they were popular with the Wandervogel, Hitler Youth, and Scout groups. There now appaer in films as more of a folk costume. They are most commonly scene in German and Austrian films, but they were also worn in other areas of Europe.


Rompers in the early 20th century were widely worn by boys. They continued to be wor by boys in France through the 1950s. This is, however a stule that very rarely appeared in films and even then almost always as beinfg worn by boys in the background. An example here is the British film "Children of the Damed" (1964). The only film Iknow of in which a main charcter wore rompetrs was the Italian film "Life is Beautiful" (1998).

Sailor Suits

Sailor suits have been depicted in a great many movies and television programs. Thecsailor suit was one of the most popular styles for boys and akso very popular for irls. Boys wore it for about a century. Thus it is understandable that vit is idly used in film costuming. The accuracy of the production of the suits and other fashions predicted has varied greatly. The sailor suit and was worn over an extremely long period of time during which styles varied. Thus many different types of sailor suits and hats can be seen in movies. Often boys in sailor suits appear only fleatingly and have no real impact on the movie except for establishing a kind of period ambience. In some films, however, the boys wearing sailor suits have major roles in the film and are quite prominently depicted.

Short Pants

Short pants appeared at about the same times the movies did in the early 20th century. The use of shorts in costuming has varied over time. At times movie costuming seems to have reflected standard dress or social-class appropriateness. At other times we seem to note differences between costuming and popular dress. Here of course we are addressing films with contemprary settings. One problem we have in condidering this issue is we do not know how costuming decessions were made. We have not yet found an assessment by film historians on movie costuming. Of course the primary interest in movie costuming is fashionable women's clothing. The subject of how children were costumed as far as we know is not a topic which has inspired scholarly assessment. This is an important issue with HBC because it affects to what extent we can use movies and television as a source of information on contemporary fashions.


HBC has noted only a few films that feature boys wearing smocks. They are perhaps most common in French films, although there must be a lot of Italian movies as well--although HBC has few details on them at this time. In most of the films boys wear smocks for school and not as a non-school garment.

Long Stockings/Tights

This is an especially difficult garment to assess. This is because tights are much easier to use in costume dramas than long stockings. They are more available nd easier to wear. Thus they are often used instead of long stockings in historical dramas set in the era before World War II (1939-45). Tights were not worn as a child's garmrent bfore the War, but long stockings were. Look at "The Little Princess", last version by Alfonso Cuaron (1995) and in "The Secret Garden" by Agnieska Holland (1994). In both films, girls wears tights even if the action is in 1905-1910. In Holland film, we can look at the very beginning of the film a little girl living in India clothed by a servant ; curiously, this passage is really authentic. Her long stockings have a button on the stocking which is tied to a somewhat silky garter. The rest of the film presents the little girl in tights. In the 1990s version of the Secret Garden the girl is wearing tights which is a real anachronism but she is wearing over-the-knee white leather leggings. Here it is a true replica. It gives a good idea how a girl was ewlly well-dressed at that time. Tights did bvecome children's wear in the 1960s. Boys wore thejm in several countries. e do not know of any films, however, in which boys are depicted wearing tights.


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Created: April 14, 1998
Last updated: 6:15 PM 8/26/2012