Boys Clothes: The 1860s

Figure 1.--Prince Albert Victor of Wales, eldest son of Edward VII in a rather frilly lace trimed dress for a 1868 photograph. Note the lace trimmed pantalettes and short white stockings. Eddy, as he was called by the family, was a favorite of Queen Victoria. He died at the age of 27, probably a blessing in disguise as his private life would have scandalized the Victorians.

Boys' clothing styles did not change radically in the 1860s. Little boys continued to wear dresses. The 1860s were, however, a dividing point between early and late 19th Century fashions. The styles such as skelton suits had completely disappeared. Tunics were becoming less common. Victorian styles such as sailor suits and kilts grew in importance. Collars that had once been open were now universally worn tightly buttoned, except for small boys who still might wear dresses with low necklines. Some of the new styles such as kneepants began to appear. The Civil War in America engendered some popular fashion trends, but does not appdear to have had a major impact on fashion. European fashion still dominated American clothing trends, although the new styles sometimes took considerable time to become widespread. Pants styles were varied. Stylish European boys increasingly wore the new knicker style. Many boys, especially in America, wore long pants after breeching--even quite young boys. The new fashion trend, however, was for shorter pants for boys. European boys of varying ages wore kneepants cut at various lengths or knickers.

Figure 2.--Low necklines in dresses did not signal that the child was a girl, but rather just reflected the styles of the day. This boy was probably painted in the 1850s or 1860s. The little blue ribbon which is the only signal that the child was a boy. Note the side hair part.

Sources of Information

Information on boys clothing styles becomes increasingly available in the 1860s. Not only are more fashion magazines publishing information and drawings, but more pgotographs appear. The photographic record becomes more extensive in the 1860s. For the first time we have substantial numbers of photographs showing how boys were dressed. There are some photographic images from the 1850s, but they are rare. By the 1860s, while photography was still expensive--it was within the means of the affluent middle-class family. Virtually all of the images, however, are studio photographs with the family dressed in their sunday-best outfits. Unfortunately many of the photographs are not dated, forcing the researcher to make educated guesss as to the dates.


HBC has collected information on the principal garments worn by boys in the 1960s. Thre decade was importnant because many of the styles worn earlier in the century were disappearing and the garments and styles that were to become important later in the century were appearing. Young boys still wore dresses in the 1860s. The age at which they were breeched was still left to the disgression of the mother and, as a result, could vary widely. Class destinctions had some impact on breeching. While most younger boys might wear dresses, generally it was boys from wealthy families that were kept in dresses the longest. Pantalettes were still worn by boys in the 1860s. They appear to have been more common in England than in America. (I'm not sure about Europe, but assume they were worn by French boys) Pantalettes were comminly worn by American girls, but by the 1860s it was becoming increasingly less common for boys to wear them. The pantalettes worn by English boys by the 1860s were worn to show just at the hem of the boy's dress. One alternative to trousers for the doting Victorian mother were the kilt outfits for boys which appeared in England during the 1840s and had reached America by the 1850s. It was quite common in the 1860s for younger American boys to wear kilts. It was less common for older boys in the 1860s, but the age for this style increased in subsequent decades. The kilt style was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1840s when they dressed the young princes, but not at first the princesses, in kilts as part of the popularity for things Scottish and the Royal family's astute political judgement. I am not precisely sure when knickers first appeared. I have seen several 1860s images of boys wearing knickers. Thus while knickers made not have first appeared in the 1860s, they do appear to have been much more prevalent in the 1860s. Jackets often had fancy embroidery, but usually in muted dark colors. Many of the jackets, especially the plainer ones, have a distinctly modern look. This is a major departure from the styles prevalent in the first half of the century. The classic sailor suits also worn by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's children in the 1840s spread to the continent and America. The style can be seen in America during the 1860s, but it was not the almost prevasive symbol of boyhood reached by the 1880s. The hats worn by boys in the 1860s were much more varied than later in century when the sailor hat was almost universally worn by boys. Little boys in dresses wore fancy hats of widely varying styles, just like those worn by girls. One style began to be seen was the sailor hat. The large collars worn during the 1880s were not worn rare in the 1860s. Collars were generally small and fancy styled collars were generally rare. The ruffled collars so popular in the early decades of the century had passed from style.

Hair styles

Hair styles appear relatively short. Younger boys still in dresses might have longish hair, but in America shoulder-length hair hair, especially with ringlet curls was unheard of. Practices in Europe are more varied. French boys do appear to have worn long hair, at least by the late 1860s. Curls were, however, not common in France. English boys, at least from wealthy families, also might have long hair, but apparently not as long as was common across the Channel in France.

Figure 10.--These brothers show the range of clothing worn by boys in the 1860s. Note it was not always the younger boys who wore knee pants. One boy wears long pants with matching vest and sack jacket. The next boy wears rather falmboyant Gaaribaldi pants, bolero jacket with contrasting trim, vest. The third boys wears a suit with peg-top trousers and applied decoration. The fourth boy wears a skirt, jacket, and pantalets. The carte de viste is encribed "to Mary--from Cousin Christina." The photograph was taken by Chisholm, photographer St. Johns, N.F. (Canada).


A variety of techhnological ans sociological trends coverrged in the 1860s to mark a major change in the clothing and fashion industry. Before the 1860s boys tended to wear rather formless poorly fitting clothes. After the 1860s boys tended to wear much better fitting stylish clotges--in fact to stylish for the tastes of most boys.

Technological and social developments

The impact on clothing can not be overstated. Fashion changed significantly in the 1860s. The change can be seen by comparingbthe generlly poorly fitting clothes seen in 1850s photographs which the much better fitting and more stylish clothes that adults and children were wearing by the 1870s. A variety of factors were involved here, such as rising income levels, the increasing popularity of fashion magazines, the invention of the Singer sewing machimes (1850-51), expanded production of ready to wear clothes, and other factors. Expanded publication of fashion magazines was especially important. Subtanial improvements occurred in the ability to publish illustrations during the late 19th Century. The cost of reproducing illutrations declined. Thus publications were able expand the number and the detail of their illustrations.

Butterik graded patterns

One of the most important developments affecting the changes in fashion during the1860s was Buttericks invention of greaded patterns. Fashion before the 1860s was limited to the wealthy in the larger cities could follow fashion developments and afford to engage seamstresses. The Butterick patterns were inexpensive and enabled a woman in the most remote corner of America to but a pattern clothing styled with latest fashion. Even more importantly, the pattern made it realitively easy for omen of only limited talent and training to make very stylish garments for themselves and their family. significant and far-reaching. Before the graded patterns, women would take apart a dres they already owned (and thus fit them) and use it to cut out the pieces for a new garment. Obviouslly this was not a process that allowed women to make fashionable garments. The Butterick patterns not only enble any women in America to have fashionable clothing for the family, including families of modest means, but greatly simplified the process of making those clothes.


The two most important countries in terms of fashion were England and France. We hope to eventually acquire information on other countries as well. We not that Italy was unified in the 1860s, but it would not be until the 1870s that Germany was unified. We are developing information on several countries.

Family and Home Scenes

Through most of the 19th century, photography was primarily limited to the studio. We have very few home scenes. Snap shots were limited to the work of serious amateur photographers and required elaborate equipment and effort. Drawings do exist, although we are never sure as to hw accuate they were. Paintings of children exist, but were mostly portaits. We will archive what we can find here to show how children were actually dressed at home and how the various garments were actually worn.


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Created: March 24, 1999
Last updated: 9:38 AM 4/19/2010