*** boys clothing for outdoor play and games

Outdoor Play and Games

boys play
Figure 1.--These German boys in 1927 have just had their legs tied to gether so they can participate in a three-legged race, probably at a picnic. All of the boys were wearing sailor suits. Click on the imasge to see two more boys waiting to have their legs tied. Image courtesy of the MD collecion.

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. Some of these games and play equipment seem decidedly dated. HBC contributors remind us, however, or not as dated as one might seem. A Scottish contributor growing up in the 1940s, points out that the pages bring back a lot of memories. He remembers spin tops, hoops and hobby horse or "Obby Osses". I grew up in 1940s and 50s America, I remember hobby horses and my brother had a spin tops were around in my time. The only hoops I remeber, however, were hulu hoops. Many of these games are now seen as children's games, but they did not always begin that way.

Concept of Play

Until the Victorian era, the modern concept of play did nor exist. The governing concept was "Idle hands are the devil's workshop". Parents discouraged even very young children from what we would now refer to as play. Here there were financial concerns. For most families it was important that boys help on the farm or assist with the family income. Girls were expected to assist mother with all the work in the home. Associated with this, 18th and even 19th Century, parents did not want children to engage in activities which they thought would mentally or physically tire them or take them away from their chores. Activities that were encouraged for children included drawing, gardening, hiking, learming musical instruments, reading, and riding. Here social class was a factor. Poor families had to insost on children worrking. More affluent families could be more permissive. Middle class families were more apt to encourage or allow these pursuits. Our modern attitudes toward children's play, as many other aspects of family life, were formed during the Victorian era. Here Queen Victoria and her young family was at the center of that change.

Play Clothes

The concept of play clothes is a realatively recent phenomenon. Children were not incouraged to play until well into the 19th century. Play was considered idele time which should rather be directed toward contructive activities. This was a major hift which occurred during the Vicorian era. Thus play clothes as we now know them are relatively moden.


There are many similarities betwen games played in diffrent Europen countries and America. Children played many of the same games, although thgey often dressed differently when playig them. Images of these games are interesting because they provide intresting glimses of normal every day children's clothing. This is of course true for candid phitographs and not the available commercial post cards. There were also many dectinctive games and activitis. Concors were very mucha British school boy activity. As far as we know, only in America did boys play mumledepeg. In some cases we are not sure what game the children are actually plying, especially in the case of some Ruropean images. Hopefully our European readers will provide ussome guidance here.

Games and Activities

We have begun to collect information on specific games and activities that were popular with children. Some like badmiton were a social gam played primarily by adults. Many other games were mostly for children. There are a huge number of games and activities to consider. W have just begun to scrtch the surface in our assessment. Photographs from the 19th century are limited, because of the limited capabilities of photography--especially film speeds. Also many photographers probably did not consider children's games all that importnt. Here we have an organizational problem in that many games can be played both indoors and outdoors. As a result we have begun to archive all games here, including ones that can be played both indoors and outdoors. Games such as hise and go seek ar probably best known for play outdoors, but could b layed indoors as well. The popular indoor games were known as parlor games, because they could be played in the best room of the house--the parlor. Of course many mothers would not permit boisterous games in the parlor.

Conveyances and Vehicles

A variety of conveyances abd mechanical devices were vehicles that were a bit more than toys. The goat or dog cart was very popular in the 19th century. As the 20th century appraoched the most popular vehicle was the bicycle. Because of the expense it was first mostly for adults. Inventors made it safer, but it ws the model-T Ford and relativly inexpensive cars that made the bike into a child's vehiclke. There were eventually tricycles and peddal cars for younger children. But who can forget the little red wagon which became an integal part of American childhood.


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Created: September 6, 1998
Last updated: March 8, 2004