*** U.S. boys first communion suit: early-20th century

United States First Communion Suits: (Early 20th Century 1900-20)

First Communion
Figure 1.--This boys wears a blouse with an Eton collar, large floppy bow, kneepants, and white stockings. He was probably photographed about 1905. White outfits were not as common before the turn of the century.

American boys in the first decade of the 20th Century wore suits for First Communion much like those boys had begun wearing in the late-19th Century. This began to change in the 1910s as kneepants were gradually substituted for knickers. Knee pants did not entirely disappear. We see boys wearing knee pants with blouses into the early 1920s. This was we think because buying a special suit was expensive, but a fancy blouse and knee pants less expensive. This was especially the case when a group was foing their Forst Communion and the decesion was taken to dress the children identically. White suits appeared after the turn of the 20th century, but the dark suits were the most common.


The early-20th century is the first time that we note large numbers of First Communion portraits. We have found very few 19th century first conmunion portraits. We have found several portraits of American boys doing their First Communion that are dated and this provide us some insights into the early-20th century trends. Even without dates, we can usually establish the decade by assessing the fashions and mout styles. Of course this not only provides insights on First Communion styles, but on how boys were dressing up for other formal occassions as well. Thus often the boys in the early 1920s wearing solid colored dark socks are wearing long stockings rather than knee socks. A good example here is Grant Fahvenbach about 1910. This was still seen in the 1930s, but was not very common. We note a lot of boys wearing blouses in the 1900s, but by the 1910s actual suits seem increasingly common. The increasing popularity of First Communion portraits is in part a new convention being established. A major actor, however, is the increasing integration and rising income of the European immigrants that flowed nto the United States during the late-19h cenntury. Therewas a substantial cost associated with these portaits. It was not so much the cst of the portait itself, but the suits that boys tended to wear for their First Communins. Many of these immigrants came from largely Catholic southern Europe. As a result, the population of Catholic Americans increased substantially.


We are developing some bassic information on the First Communion outfits worn by American boys in the early-20th century. Dark suits were very common, but we see a varuety of outfits. We notice some less formal blouse outfits, but almost all boys wore either knee pants or knicker outfits. This of course reflected popular fashiojns of the time. Knee pants were common for suits in the 1900s, but knickers were mostrly worn in the 1910s. The exception here were the blouse outfits which were commonly worn with knee opants even in the 1910s. Quite a few boys wore Eton collars abd we still see floppy bows even ghough they were becoming less common. Akmost all of the children wore long stockings as formality was a factor with First Communion.


We believe that white outfits for First Communion first appeared in significant numbers at the beginning of the 20th Century. We do mot see them earlier. The all-white blouse and knee pants outfit here may have been taken about 1905. Note the whute long stockings. We also see boys wearing white blouses with regular usully knickers and long stiockings. We have not yet found white suits in the early-20th century 1900s and 10s decades, but that does not mean that they did not exist. It does mean that they were not very common. What we mostly see, especially if a group is involved, is dark probably navy blue knicker suits. They were worn with we think black long stockings. There may have been some navy long stockings, but we believe thst blsck was much more common. It is virtually impossible to destinguish between black and navy blue in period photography. That was if not the trandard fitst communion suit, certainly the most common. We also see some boys wearing a range of lighter colored suits not puurchased especially for first communion. This was never the choice in group ceremonies. White gloves were common fashion accesories. We do not begin to see boys and girls wearing knee socks for formal events until well into the 1920s. For the girls there was no color variety. Their outfits included headwear which might include veils and flowers. The girls all wore white junior wedding dresses. The styles and cuts differed, but never the color. They were all white to reflect purity like wedding dresses. In thus period the girls also wore whuite long stockings and white shoes, although we also see dark long stockings and black shoes.

Arm Bows

Boys wore large bows on their arms. I noticed these bows primarily in the early 20th Century, but they could have been worn during the late 19th Century as well.

Hair Style

Boys taking First Communion would almost always have their long haors and curls cut. I have never seen boys in ringlets, for example, taking First Communion. Some boys in the early 1900s did have bangs, but with their side hair cut above their ears.


We note numerous portraits of boys in First Communion suits during the early 20th century. There were far fewer portraits during the 1890s. The only major Catholic group in America for most of the 19th cebntury were the Irish who began emigrating in numbers as a result of the Potato Famine (1840s). This only changed iun the late 1890s. Thus by the early 1920s, America had a sizeable Catholic population. It was primarily Irish and Italian, but there were many other Catholic immigrants from the eastern European provinces of Russia and Austria-Hungary, especially the Poles. It is possible that immigration from Catholic countries in Europe, especially Italians in the 1890s, had a significant impact on popularizing the convention of a new suit for First Communion.


Navigate the Historic Boys' First Communion pages:
[Return to the Main U.S. First Communion chronology page]
[Return to the Main First Communion page]
[America] [France] [Spain]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1890s] [The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Short pants suits] [Blazers] [Jackets] [Kilts]
[Sailor suits] [Sailor hats]
[Ring bearer/page costumes] [Shortalls]

Created: December 25, 1999
Last edited: 5:02 AM 12/18/2020