A spin off of the classic English Eton suits became fasionable for small American boys beginning at about 5 years of age. This style from the beginning was preceived as an upper-class style. Even so, it became the most stylish dress suit for two generations of American boys. It did not begin to disappear until the 1970s, but even in the 1990s is worn by very young boys at fornmal events like weddings. We have referred to these suits as American Eron suits, for what of a better term, because they were so common worn in America and called Eton suits in store catalogs and trade piblications. They were, however, worn by boys in other countries as well.
Modified Eton suits were introduced as stylish dress for boys from affluent families. Such mothers often looked to England for styles in men and boys' clothing. Thus calling the suit an Eton suit would help to generate appeal. There was no much similarity with the actual Eton suits worn at British schools. The American Eton suits did have short jackets and were commonly worn with Eton collars. Presumably this is why they became known as Eton suits in America. We are not sure what they were called in other countries. Peter Pan collars also became popular.
I am not sure just how to label this style. It has always been referred to as the Eton suit in America. And it has primarily been worn by American boys, hence the term American Eton suit. It should be noted, however, that some American boys in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries wore the classic Eton suit--primarily boys from wealthy families. The suits under consideration on this page, however, are quite different than a true Eton suit. Presumably they came to be called Eton suits because they were primarily worn with Eton-style collars and had short jackets. The general appearance, however, is quite different from a true Eton suit and worn by different age boys.
I began to note the lapelless Eton jackets in America during the late 1920s. I'm am not positive when they first begun to be worn in America, but appears to be sometime during the 1920s. We are not sure about the details of these suits. They appear to have been worn mostlty with short pants. We do not know, for example, if the suit pants were suspender shorts or not. The Eton suit does not appear to have become a widely worn style for small boys until the mid-1940s. Almost all the boys wearing Eton suits before the 1950s would be boys from affluent families. Only in the 1950s did the style become widely worn by all classes of American boys. Collar styles began to cahnge in the 1940s from Eton collars to Peter Pan collars. It was quite common in the 1960s, but began to decline in the 1970s. It was less commonly worn in the 1980s as even most younger boys stoped wearing short pants suits for dressup. We have not yet determined chronological trends associated with neckwear.
We have noted these Eton suits for tounger boys being primarily worn in the United States. This may in part be because our primary sources are American, but we in gact have seen fewer European boys wearing this style of suit. This is not to say, however, that it was only worn in America and we have occassionally seen European boys wearing this style, especially after World War II in the 1950s and 60s. Our information here is very limited and we have just begun to develop information on the extent to which these suits were worn in other countries. Hopefully our European readers will provide some insights here.
The Eton suit featured a lapel-less suit coat, with the white collar of their shirt predominantly displayed. No tie was worn with the oxford shirt, and rounded
Peter Pan collars frequently replaced the oxford shirt. The suit featured
knickers, or short pants that were also called "suspender shorts". The short
pants ended above the knee. There were both two- and-three piece Eton suits. The third piece, however, was a cap and not a vedst. Eton suits did not come swith vests. Knee socks and an Eton cap finished the look, guaranteeing a properly-attired, swell fellow to make Mom beam with pride.
Tha American Eton suits were most commonly dark navy blue, grey, or black with matching knee socks. These conservative colored suits were by far the most common for Eton suits. During the summer, however, a boy might wear a Madras or other colorful plaid or checked jacket. As one advertisement counsels, "Plaid makes the man." These bright jackets, however were almost always worn with his conservative blue, black, or gray short pants and knee socks. Other colors such as tan were also worn, but were much less common. Some boys wore plaid shorts, but they were not very common. Even with the plaid jackets, the conservtive blue, black, and grey shorts were usually worn.
There was a range of accimpanying garments that were commonly wirn with Eton suits. These garments have varied over time and according to the formality of the event for whoch the suit was being worn. Another factor is that by the 1950s many school-age boys stopped wearing Eton suits. the Eton suit Some boys had matching peaked caps to wear with their Eton suits. The principal accessory for the Eton suit was a blouse. The younger boys
wearing Eton suits generally wore blouses rather than shirts, but some boys also wore shirts. For many reaon Eton collars were common, than Peter Pan collars became more common. In recent years shirts have become more common. The classic suit was usually worn without a tie--especially for younger boys. Some boys wore them with bow ties, although this was not usually the case with more affluent families. The American Eton suit was never worn with a standard necktie. Boys commonly wore knnesocks with Eton suits, even in the summer. This was not alwaus the case , but was the most common pattern. Here formality was a factor
Eton suits were generally purchased for boys of about 4 or 5 years of age and worn until about 7 or 8 when the boy would given a more adult-looking suit with longer short pants or longs. It is interesting to note that the age of 7 or 8 years is often a major dividing point for styles of clothes. Younger boys might wear shortalls, Eton suits, and shorter cut shorts. Boys of 8 would begin to wear adult cut jackets with longer cut shorts. There is not a huge difference in the size or behavior of 7 and 8 year old boys. In America they do not change school at that age. Thus it is unclear why styles change at that age. The authors believe that, in part, it is the British influence. As boys were sent off to their boarding preparatory schools, this would be the age that they stopped wearing velvet suits or sailor suits. Some boys schooled at home may have even worn smocks and had curls until they were sent off to school. Eton suits were worn by older boys, although less commonly. One American contributor reports wearing Eton suits during the 1960s until he turned 11 and entered the sixth grade. He reports that he was raised in the Chicago North Shore, a rather elitist area.
Usage of Eton suits varied over time, affected in part by the age of the boy which fluctuated. We notice Eton suits being worn in formal family portraits, attending Church, First Communion, weddings, family seasonal celebrations (Especially Easter and Christmas) and a variety of other circumstances. We note boys wearing Eton suits to birthday parties. For many of these circumstances social class factors were involved. Birthday parties were once dress up events, especially in affluent families. These parties gradually became increasingly cassual. Some affluent families continued to hold more formal bitrhday parties through the 1950s and Eton suits were one of the popular styles for boys.
Many American boys can recall going to the department store to purchase a new Eton suit. Fathers might take a boy to the men's outfitter to buy his first adult-looking suit, but it is usually mother that took the younger boy for an Eton suit. Interestingly in the 1940s and 50s a boy might wear long pants jeans to play inm but dress up in a Eton or other short pants suit. This was often not an experience a boy particularly relished.
The American Eton suit always had an image as an upper-class style. HBC believes that they were much more extensively worn by boys in affluent or upper middle class families than boys from more modest families. Inexpensive versions did appear, but were not widely available until the 1960s. These cheaper versions were often worn with regular shirts rather than Eton or Peter Pan collars. They were often worn with regular shirts rather than Peter Pan or Eton collars or were worn with bow ties. The upper class image of the Eton suit was often demonstrated by advertisements for expensive cars and other luxury products which might picture a family with boys dressed in Eton suits.
American Eton suits--even for little boys--generally disappeared in the 1980s, although
very small boys are still dressed in them. The shorts,
however, in the 1990s tend to be knee length in contrast to the rather short shorts worn during the 1950s-70s. The style has not evolved into Eton jackets worn with long pants. It was rare and still is
to see a boy in an Eton jacket wearing long pants.
Mothers in the 1990s have long since given up dressing all but the youngest boys in Eton suits. The fashion, however, appears to
continue to appeal to the maternal instinct. Ladies collecting dolls often like to dress then in Eton suits and other fancy outfits. Of course the dolls have the advantage that they do as they are told without
Eton suits are still sometimes seen at formal weddings wear the
might be dressed in a blue or white Eton suit. Often
white knee socks are worn at weddings, with both white and blue suits. The Eton suits worn in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s generally had very short pants, commonly suspender shorts. The same cut was used for the formal suits used for ring boys at weddings. The Eton suits worn for weddings and other formal occasions in the 1990s generally have the longer cut shorts that have become fashionable.
Eton suits are no longer commonly avaialble. Some companies, however, offer traditional classic clothes. Several companies offer Eton suits. Often the largest sizes they are now available in are only up to size 4. They are most commonly available in white and black or navy blue.
This appears to be a fashion especially favored by doting parents and grandmothers. One grandmother writes, "I am looking for an Eton suit for my 3½-year-old grandson. He will be a ring bearer at a mid-October wedding in New York City (I live in California). I remember purchasing one for my son many years ago, also for a wedding. I do feel little boys look adorable in short pants, hence my desire for a navy blue wool Eton suit." A fashion columist advises, "Dear Doting: There's no denying the adorableness of the Eton suit, which is a collarless jacket, matching short pants and a white shirt with a Peter Pan collar. Variations include a double-breasted jacket and longer pants."
American boys wore their Eton suits during the winter with various types of coats. The classic winter outfit was a tan cammel hair coat with military styling. One coat had epeulets and patch pockets. The coat, unlike the Eaton jacket, has lapels with a "V" opening showing the boy's collar and tie. The peaked cap might match the boy's tan coat rather than the material of his Eton suit. The coats were not long, but did extend below the length of the boy's shorts. As these coats were winter wear, they were normally worn with kneesocks.
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