German First Communions: Chronological Trends

Figure 1.--This German boy wears a white short pants suit for his First Communion with white stripped long stockings and strap shoes. I'm not sure how to date this image, but would guess around 1960. We were not positive at first if the boy is wearing tights or long stockings, but have come to the conclusion that they must be tights.

Interestingly, virtually all the German First Communion images come from the 20th century. We are not let sure why this is. Did First Communion become a more important event in the 20th century? Surely children in the 19th century commonly did First Communion, but for some reasons parents did not seem to think it was important enough to photogrph until the 20th century. We do not know if this reflects chaning attitudes toward photography or if there were changes in Catholic religious practice. We do see many German boys doing their First Communion in the 20th century. We note both individual portraits and group portaits. some of the groups portraits have the children dressed similarly or nearly identically. We suspect these were events sponsored at confesuional schools. These were public schools which had a religious component to the program. Most German children until the NAZI take-over attended confessional schools. The NAZIs began the assault on the religious role in education, especially the Catholic influence. We continue to notice large numbers of children doing First Communion through the 1950s. Girls in the first half of the 20th century often wore wore junior wedding dresses. Boys wore short pants suyits with long stockings or knee sicks. White knee sicks were populsr for a time. Boys began wearing long psnts suits more commonly beginning in the 1960s. Outfits became less formal in the lste-20th century. Overall participation has gradually declined in Germans modern more secular society. Hopefully our German readers will send details on their own experiences.

The 1900s

The 1910s

Boys during the 1910s appear to have worn a variety of suit styles. Double breasted suits were considered very stylish. Some boys wore sailor suits. There were also less fashionable suits that buttoned at the collar. Some boys wore rather formal looking wing collars. Some boys wore kneepants suits, usually with long above-the-knee black stockings. We had thought that some post cards mailed in 1932 showed contempirary fshions, but now believe that some may havecbeen commercial cards with images of boys photographed in the 1910s or very early 20s.

The 1920s

We note German boys in the 1920s wearing a wide variety of garments for First Communion. One of the most common was the sailor suit. Here a wide variety of styles were worn, but we do not notice boys many boys wearing white sailior suits. A variety of single and double breasted suits were worn, some showing Norfolk styling. Belted suit jackets seem particularly common. W also notice jackets with Bavarian styling. Some suits are very formal and look to have been made especially for the First Communion service. Some boys wore shorts with Peter Pan collars. Bows were also worn, but were not very common. Kneepants were still quite common in the eraly 1920s, but short pants more common by the end of the decade. Most boys wore kneesocks, but some boys wore long stockings. High-top shoes were very common. Some boys wore more modern-looking oxfords and some in especially formal outfits might wear strap shoes.

The 1930s

The pages here show what outfits German boys wore for First Communions in the 1930s and how the boys dressed for formal occassions. A HBC reader has provided us six wonderful postcards of German boys in their First Cimmunion suits during 1932. It is interesting to note the similarities and differences among the suits the boys wear. The boys mostly wear old fashioned wing collars. One boy wears a sailor suit. The boys except for one wear short pants suits. All of the boys with short pants wear dark long stockings, although kneesocks had become much more common for boys this age. The boys look about 12-14 years old. The long stockings are not worn for warmth, but here appear to be considered more formal and appropriate for church than kneesocks. These photographs show not only what boys wore to their First Communions at the time, but a German boy's best dress suit in 1932. These were clearly not suits bought just for First Communion, but rather suits that were meant to be worn for best. There appaer to have been major changes after the NAZIs seized power in 1933.

The 1940s

We have little information on First Communions during the 1940s. Certainly World War II had some impact, both on the Church and First Communions, but we are not sure at this time as to the details. Of course the devestation which resulted from the War affected how families could celebrate important occassions like First Communions. Many parents had trouble obtaining even basic clothing for their children, let along special First Communion suits and dresses. And here parents could make do for the boys with simple expedients whereas for the girls there was little exception to the juniot wedding dresses. The NAZIs had begun to undermine religion and after the War the Soviets continued that process in Eastern Germany. We have one image taken after the War, probably about 1947. The boys looks to be wearing a kind of mix between aa Nirfolk jacket n Eton collarless jacket. A German reader tells us that the photgraph was probably taken about 1947. The boy holds a tall candel, a characteristic item in many Gwrman First Communion portraits.

The 1950s

HBC has little information on German First Communion outfits during the 1950s. We know that the German Economic Miricle occurred in the 1950s. Germany rebuilt its devestated cities and Germany families experienced wide-spread prosperity. Families could afford luxuries, including First Communion outfits for the children. This was usually a bkack or dark colored short pants suit worn with white knee socks for the boys. We see white suits, bit they do not appear to have been very common. A few boys wore long pants suits, but they were not very common. We note junior wedding dresses, always whites, for the girls. The boys could wear the suits for other occassions, but the girls dresses were outfits that could not be worn for many other occassions. Thus the appearance of such dresses was a sure indicator of German's revived prosperity. The German boy seen here, for example, is German boy wears a white short pants suit for his First Communion with white stripped long stockings and strap shoes (figure 1). I'm not sure how to date this image, but would guess around 1950.

The 1960s

Boys clothing styles were changing in Germany durung the 1960s. We see several major trends. American casual styles like "T"-shirts and jeans were becoming increasingly popular. Short pants were no longer standard for boys throughout the year. This can be seen in the early-1960s and was especialy the case by the nd of the decade. Boys commonly wore shorts during the summer for casual wear, but they had becomev much less commom during the winter. Another major trend was declining informality. Boys less commonly dressed up in suits even for occassions in whch suits were once expected. Even so, First Communion continued to be one occassion for which mothers did tend to dress the children formally. We see a lot of German boy boys wearing dark suits with short pants and white knee socks. Knee socks were becoming less common for German boys, but were almost always worn for First Communion. Dark short pants suits and white knee socks were very common throughout the decade. We do not see many white suits. And we some some boys weating long pants suits which were not bery ciommon in the 1950s. The girls continued to wear white junior wessing dresses. They were often worn with white tights.

The 1970s

German children tended to dress formally for their First Communions in the 1970s. We note German boys doing their First Communions wearing blazers or suits. I think the suits were black or perha[s navy (dark) blue. It is difficult to tell in the available black and white photographs. The suiys were commonly short pants suits worn with white knee socks. We note groups of boys dressed like this. Many churches apparently organized a group First Communion service and had the boys dress identically or at least coordinated their outfits. The short pants and white knee socks began to become less common by the end of the decade. Girls commonly dressed in identical junior white wedding dresses.

The 1980s

The 1990s

German boys in the 1990s are generally dressed two different ways for their First Communions. Some boys wear a dress suit. Other boys wear a white talar (like a monlk's alb). This is like the religious costume of Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix du Bois. It is also a option for French boys taking their First Communions. These white albs are also worn at baptism as well. Most people say that using the talars or alns makes everyone equal. No one can say "My dress or suit is better than yours". (It's the same argument as in school uniforms.)

The 2000s

We do not yet have much information on German First Communions during the 2000s. One portrait in front of a small church in southern Germany during 2002 shows the children all dressed traditiionslly. The girls all wear junior white wedding dresses and most have little white pouches. I'm not sure what was put on those pouches. The boys mostly wear standard black suits. Several wear Bavarian-style jackets rather than a standard suit jacket with lapels. The Bavarian jackets vary somewhat. One is brown. One of the boys wearing Bavarian jackers weares knicker-length pants and white kneesocks. All of the children have candels. Many of the boys do not wear neckties. Two boys wear red neckties. This probably reflects an overall decline in the popularity of neckties. We are not yet sure how common this was.


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Created: June 10, 2002
Last edited: 9:59 AM 4/9/2011