Boys' Clothing Glossary: "W"

Figure 1.--.

We have begun to build a glossary of boys' clothing terms. As boys clothes until the 19th century was the sane as adult male clothing, we have included many applicable men's clothing terms. We have also included some women's terms as younger boys commonly wore dresses until the 20th century. As HBC is extensively used by non-native English speakers we plan to give considerable attention to this glossary so that words can be looked up. It will also serve as an index as we will provide links to the appropriate pages. We eventually hope to add foreign words, but that will take some time.

Waistcoat: The 18th century man was almost never seen without his waistcoat. Not to have it on was considered "undressed." The waistcoat, or vest, of the 1770s was fashionably worn to the upper part of the thigh, opening in a "V" beneath the stomach. Waistcoats were made in all qualities of silk, cotton, wool, and linens. If adorned, it could be embroidered, printed, brocaded, quilted, tasselled, silver or gold laced, and was generally the most elaborate article of men's dress. When worn for utilitarian purposes it could have sleeves, be called a jacket, and worn outermost instead of a longer skirted fashionable coat.

Wales: "Wales" are the vertical ribs in woven cloth. The term is also used to describe the texture or weave of a fabric. The wales are particularly notable in corduroy fabric. Corduroy "wales" are an especially important aspect of the fabric. Wales affect are an aspect of quality, but they are also an aspect of fashion which has changed over time. The wales of cotton fabric are affected to some extent by the garment involved.


Wicking: Property of a fabric to transport moisture away from the skin to the outer side of the fabric where it can evaporate. Wicking is crucial when working up a sweat in cold weather, since you can later become chilled from your own perspiration.

Wigs: Throughout western history wigs have come and gone from fashion, but it is undeniably the 18th century that was the golden age of male wig wearing. In the second half of the prior century wigs had entered into court fashion in both England and France. In the early years of the 18th century the Full Bottomed Periwig reigned with its cascade of curls. As the century progressed, the proportion of the wig generally decreased and the variety of fashionable forms expanded greatly. By mid century wig wearing was available to most levels of society for the individuals who chose to do so. While certain styles of wigs became associated with particular professionals; the vast majority of wigs had no particular connotations. Made of human, horse, goat, or yak hair, the choice of material and styles changed constantly with fashion and personal preferences. In the closing decade of the century the wearing of wigs was less common amongst the young and fashionable sort, although some conservatives continued to wear wigs into the 19th century.

Wool: Next to cotton, sheep's wool is the most extensively used of all natural fibers. Wool is the fine, soft curly hair that forms the fleece of sheep and certain other sheep-like animals (alpacas, casmere goats, vicuņa, various goats, and others). Wool, like hair, is chiefly composed of keratin; the cuticle of the of the wool fiber or wool "staple" is covered with rough , scakly plates, and the shaft of the stple is somewhat twisted, causing the fibers to interlock during spinning and weaving, in part explaining its great value in clothing. Wool was especially appreciate in the manufacture of warm clothing in the days before central heating. Fashion and health experts promoted the use of wool in children's clothes. A vast number of fabrics are made from wool, including cassimire, cheviot, serge, flannel, and plaid, serge, tweed, velour, and many others. Heavier for equal warmth than pile, fleece, and polyester fabrics. Wool retains some insulating capability when wet. Look for a tight weave as in British Army-type sweaters.

Work clothes: Much of HBC deals with middle class and affluent children and the often stylish clothes they wore. These styles are the ones that often reflected the tempor of the times. HBC would be remiss, however without addressing the clothes worn by the children even in the early 20th century which had to work on the farm and in mills, mines and factories in often dreadful conditions. The styles of clothes were very simple and changed relatively little, but any assessment of boyhood clothes has to address these gutsy children who marched off to work because their families could not afford to feed them and send them to school. The photographic record here played an important role in addressing the pattern of exploitation to which these children were subjected.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: July 9, 2001
Last updated: September 10, 2001