*** topics : activities boys clothing

Boys' Clothing for Different Activities

danving lessons
Figure 1.--Boys and girls who are now adults remember taking dancing lessons. Some teachers made it an experince in learing the social graces as well. This photograph shows a 1957 dance class. A black or navy blue short pants suit and knee socks was often worn by American boys in the 1940s and 50s--especcially boys from affluent families.

We are not sure what the best title for this pageis. I want to set up a page to make it easier to navigate the Historical Boys Clothing web site to find information on clothes styles associated with activities that boys engage in. School is probably the most important. But we are also interested in a range of play activities and sports as well as family outings such as to the park or shore side. And parties are also important. Youth groups are historically important, although not as important as they once were. We are calling this section 'Activities', perhaps a good title will eventually emerge


Quite a variety of activities involved costumes, uniforms, or specialized clothing of various types. Some activities involved formal clothes as for social dancing school or informal clothing for sports. Here we have collected information on the clothing worn for these activities over time and in various different countries. Some of the most destinctive uniforms were school and youth groupn uniforms in different countries. Many boys, especially in the 19th century had to go to work at an early age, in most cases they simply wore small versions of the clothes their fathers wore. Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the medieval era. Boys often at mom's urging have participated in various dance programs. Many American boys somewhere between 10 and 13 take dancing lessons. The European tradition involves teaching music comprehensively. Individual instrumental skill training is combined with history and theory study, solfeggio, and ear training. A popular activity in the 19th and and early 20th century was reciatations, although that is now seldom done. There was no uniform of course for such reciations, but boys often were dressed up in their finest outfits. Some of the most popular clothing worn by boys are sports uniforms. Organized sport for boys is a modern sports have a history dating back to the 18th century or ealier. 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.

Home Activities

Many boyhood activities are associated with home life. Most Europeans and Americans until the 19th century lived in small homes often with only limited specialization. The Victorian era changed this. Technological inovations brought on economic expansion and the creation of wealth that brought a substantial middle class into existence. Large affluent homes in the 19th century often had rooms specifically for the children such as the nursery and the school room. As they got older they might have a room of their own or share rooms wityh siblings in a large damily. Other specialized rooms included the parlor and perhaps a sewing room or study. Particularly popular in America was a large front porch, often facing a tree-lined street. Dress reflected the times and could be quite formal--even at home. This began to change as casual dress became more prevalent in the mid-20th century.

Outdoor Play

Images of children playing games like croquet, jacks, marbles, hoops, tops, etc. provide interesting information about children's clothing styles. Interesting glimpses of children's clothes can be obtained from viewing paintings and photographs of outdoor games. As outdoor photography was relatively rare until the turn of the 20th centuries, older images are almost all drawings and paintings. Sports which developed in the 19th centuries involved uniforms as oposed to games in which the children wore their normal clothes.

Outings and Events

Many fashions are associayed with a variety of family outings or at showcase contemprary fashions. Most cities opened public parks in the 19th century. Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York were two of the most famous. These outings were an excellent opportunity to display the latest fashions and mothers insisted that the children be attired as fashionally as they did. Family incomes were rising in the 19th century, especially the late 19th century. Many families for the first time had the money to go on outings, especially during the wrm summer months when the rapidly expanding private and state schools were not in session. Families in the 19th century often dressed up for these events like picnics or even trips to the seaside, outings that would be considered casual events in our modern world. Another major event was summer camps

Institutional Clothing

Boys were involved with a variety of institutions that overlap with activities. The principal one was of course schools. Other boys joined youth groups for camping and other actibities. Under-privlidged boys were cared for in carity institutiions.Institutions caring for children have often required destinctive dress. In some case this has meant uniforms. In others instances institutiins have been less demanding dress codes. Interestingly uniforms were first adopted by charity institutions in part to identify the children receiving charity. The first English school uniforms, for example, were for the famed hospital schools which at first were for charity children. Only later did exclusive private schools adopt uniforms, with some resisance from the boys. This was part of a program to bring a modicum of dicipline to unruly students, in this case students from affluent families. Paradoxically the uniforms eventually served to identify the status of students from prestigious schools.

Youth Organizations

Boys' youth organiztions appeared in the late 19th Century. The earlist and most famous originated in England, but organizations appeared in other European countries and America as well. The most popular groups adopted destinctive uniforms. A wide variety of youth groups in the 20th century have adopted a great diversity of uniforms. Some of these organizations have achieved enormous renouwn for the positive, character building experiences they have provided boys. The first group, the Boys' Brigade, was founded at the end of the 19th century and had a central Christian focus. The most significant was the Scouts which was founded after the turn of the century. Comparable organizations were founded for girls. Many of these organizations were founded in Britain and the British penchant for uniforms have greatly influenced the adoption of uniforms for the boys. Uniforms came to be a key element for these groups. Many other organizations were founded , some with sinister histories like the Hitler Youth. This web site seeks to provide a historical background on these organizations and a look at the uniforms worn by the boys over time.


Religion has throughout history been a very important part of people's lives. Life in Europe throughou the Medieval Era was centered oin the adoration of God. Religion still is of considerable importance in many countries, but has declined in importance in Europe and some other countries. Religion is today much more important in America than in most European countries which since Woirld War II have becone highly secularized. Throughout most of Europe and America a high degree of religious toleration has developed Some countries are going through an Islamic revival. An aspect of this has become a lack of toleration for people of other faiths, in sharp contrast to the historical toleration exhibited by Islam to other religious traditions--especially the People of the Book. Our website with its American-European focus primarily deals with Christianity, but we are interested in adding information concerning other faiths and we incourage readers to contribute information about their religious traditions. .

Travel and Transport

Travel for centuries was little changed. Transportation of course has major economic implications. Some cultures were especially concerned with transporations and communications. The Persians, Romans, and Incas were notably for their extensive and well mainyained road system. Major changes in transportation began to occur ibnn the 18th century. These changes were a critical part of what has become know as the industrial revolution. Canals played an important role oin the early phase of the indistrial revolution. Efficent new methods of transport were developed utilizing steam engines, both the rail road and the steamboat. At the turn of the 20th century the automobile and aitplan appeared. There are many iamges throughout the ages of people traveling which illustrate period dress. The images are especially common in the 20th century with the develop of amateur photography and the ubiquitous snapshot. It was one popular to dress up for major trips. Car ads once depicted fashionably dresses people incliding children. Boys often wore suits for trips in trains and especially airplanes. Today it is more common to wear casual comfortable clothes.

Country Trends

HBC has created several activity pages in the various country sections of our site. Thus readers can learn about the activities popular in differet countrie and the clothes worn for those activities. In some cases activity clothing is similar around the world. Some countries, however, have desinctive styles for various activities. Tgere still are many destinctive styles for activities, although destinctive national styles are becoming less common.


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Created: November 20, 1998
Spell checked: November 20, 1998
Last updated: May 18, 2004