*** boys clothes : Belgium Belgische jongenskleding and Vêtements de garçons belges


Belgian boys
Figure 1.--This Belgian boy in a kneepants sailor suit is shown in a 1919 postcard. He poses patriotically with the Belgian flag after liberation from the Germans at the end of World War I. The card reads "Long Live Liberty". Belgium played a key role in the War and it was the valiant resistance of the Belgian Army in the opening weeks of the War that probably prevented the Germans from reaching Paris. Notice that the boy here wears kneepants, but cut above the knee.

Belgium is neatly nestled betweerm the Netherlands, Germany, France, and England. There are historic ties to both the Nethermlands and Frabce and economic ties with England. we have relatively little written information on Belgian boys clothes at this time, but believe they have basically followed French syles. This is stringly suggested by the photographic record. We are sure this ids the case with the the French-speaking population (the Waloons). We are less sure ablout the Dutch-speaking Flemish. Belgium at various historical periods was part of France, as recently as the early 19th century. Belgium was at the heart of the northern Renaissance and the weaving industry was the foundation for the modern European economy. It was ruled by Spain for several centuries. Spain stamped out Protestantism, but was never able to implant the stutifying indluence of the Inquisition. Even after Belgium became an independent nation--following France's defeat in the Napolionic wars, and a brief union with the Dutch, the powerful force of language both divided the country and cemented cutural and social ties with France. One trend in the 20th century has been the cultural conservatism of Belgium. Belgium boys wear clothes similar to French styles, including school smocks, sailor suits, and short pants. While the fashions were primarily French styles, German and Dutch styles were also worn. New fashions sometimes do not become established in Belgium as quickly or old styles disaapear as quickly as in France.


Belgium is situated in western Europe. The country is bordered in the north by the Netherlands, in the east by Germany and the Luxembourg and in the south and the west by France. Its North Sea ports at the mouth of the nglisg Cgannel provide easy access to Britain. It is a small, relatively flat country (30,528 km2) makes it a small country. Its location beginning in the medieval era has meant that it became the economic nerve centre of Europe. There are three major areas: lower Belgium (up to 100m above sea level), central Belgium (between 100 and 200m above sea level) and upper Belgium (from 200 to over 500m above sea level). It has North Sea potys and rivers that run into the heart of western and central Eurooe. The Scheldt is Belgium’s most important waterway. The Meuse River, one of the most important in Europe, also flows through Belgium. The Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt system is the most imprtantb river system in Western Europe. And through the rivers in medieval times high-quality Belgian texiles moved throughout Europe.

Bilingual Country

Belgium is a bilingual country with French being spoken in Walonia and Dutch in Flanders. Belgium became an independent county in 1830 declaring independence from the Netherlands. Once independent, Belgium was dominated for years by a French speaking minority in Walonia. Interestingly the Dutch speaking majority in Flanders share cultural similariies with both the Waloons and Dutch. The Flemish for example are mostly Catholic like the Waloons and share many culinary traditions. Many other traditions, like the language, are shared with the Dutch. Clothing is one of the trends which have been affected by the linguistic division.


Caesar described the Belgae as "the bravest of all the Gauls" ("horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae"). His Legions conquered them (54 BC). The Roman province of flourished. The two provinces include what would be come known as the Low Lands or Low Countries. The medieval history of the Low Lands in genral was complicated, but led to the development of an independent spirit which caused the Dutch to resist first Spanish and then French rule. Here they were assisted by both geography and the interests of the English in preventing a continental power from dominating the area. The Lowlands were inherited by the Hapsburghs which after the Protestanr Reformation set up a struggle between the indepent-minded Low Landers and the Hapsburgs leading the Counter Reformation. The Dutch (United Provinces) in the north managed to maintain their independence in the North, but the Spanish prevailed in the south which is why the Flemish are predominately Catholic. French Revolutionary armies conquered the province (1794). Austria formally ceded it to France (1797). After the Napoleonic Wars the Congress of Vienna combined it with the United Provinces to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815). The province revolted from Dutch rule and formed modern Belgium with a German monarchy (1830). The Kingdom combined Dutch speaking Flanders with French speaking Walonia. The independence and neutrality of the Kingdom was guaranteed by Britain. The Belgians were responsible for one of the most reprehensible activities during the "Scramble for Africa". Belgium was a bi-lingual country and during the 19th century the Flemish struggle for language rights. After the unifcation of Germany, Begium found itself between two hostile countries--France and Germany. The German war plan entiled attacking France through Germany. King ??? complained, "Belgium is a country not a road". The German invasion brought Britain into World War I and ultimately was a major cause in Germany's defeat. The heroic Belgian resistance and suffering under German occupation helped turn American public opinion against Germany. Germany invaded Belgium again in World war II. Belgium after D-Day was liberated by the Allies, but was the scene of the Horific Battle of the Bulge. Belgium participated in the movement toward European unification. Conflict between the Waloons and Flemish continue.


Belgium has few natural resources, except is geographic location. Its location on the North Sea close to the English Channel and wkrg riverine connections into the heart of the Continent makes it idealy suited as a contunental center of commerce. And this is just what the area was in the Middle ages. Belgium imoorted English wool and exported finished textiles. It was the first industrial center in Europe. And it had rich farmland to support the growing coties. Wgat at the time became the Spamish Netherlands became the richest province in Europe. The modern economy has developed from that base with one of the heaviest percapita industrial economy in the world. Belgium has a modern, open ecomomy based on capitalism with a strong social welfre system. The ealy sea/riverine transport system has been developed io include canals, rail, and now highways. The country has a diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is+ heavily concentrated mainly in the heavily-populated region of Flanders, located in the north vlose to the Neterlands and Germany. Belgium imports most of the raw mateials needed by its industry. Access to export markets are essential for the burgenoing outputs of its industrial sector. European unification has thus been vital for the country's post-War success. Something like 75 percent of Belgium's exports are with other European Union countries. While Belgium's history has dark chapters as a result of its border with Geramsy, it has greatly nenefitted economically bythis proximity and access to the vibrant German market. The country like many EU countries has accumulated a massive national debt as a result of the generous welfare system. Unlike a ountry like Greece, Belgium has a real, vibrant economy, but Belgian voters have chosen to elect socialist politicians whi have borrowed vast sums to support Government programs rather than limiting those programs to what the country can afford. And this with the United States providing a defense unbrella that wouls have required much larger military expenditures.


Despite the limited information on Belgium, HBC has begun to sketch out a basic outline of the chronological development of Belgian boys' fashions on the basis of available paintings, drawing, and photographs. There appear to be many similarities with France. Hopefully Belgian visitors to HBC will eventually provide some historical details. While we still have realtively little information on the 19th century, we have begun to compile a much better assessment of 20th century fashions.


A HBC reader tells us that Belgium has an important place in the world of childern's fashion design. This is something that we have no information about. Our initial assessment was that Belgian parents generally followed French trends. This we will be interested in hearing from our Belgian readrs about the role of Belgium in children's fashions.


Some of the styles most associated with Belgian boys are the French styles like smocks and berets. Younger boys wore dresses well into the 20th century. Tunics were a very popular style throughout the 19th century. Boys wore pantalettes with both dresses and tunics. Smocks were commonly worn to school in the late 19th centurty and early 20th century, but I am not sure how common they were as a non-school garment. Sailor suits became very popular in the late 19th century--even though Belgium havd no navy of any importance, Boys mostly wore kneepants in the late 19th century, but short pants became more common by the 1910s. As in France, smocks and berets appear to have quickly went out of fashion in the 1950s. Belgian boys also common wore short pants. Belgium is a very traditional country. Boys in Belgium continued to commonly wear shorts even after other boys in Europe were wearing long pants and jeans. Knee socks were also commonly wornn by Belgian boys. Boys in siome private Catholic schools wore white knee socks although I don't think that was common outside of school.


HBC has noted certain outfits worn for a variety of occassions or activities such as school or youth groups. We have also noted more specialized outfits worn for choirs or First Communion. We are archiving information on these activity uniform or clothes in this section. There is also specialized clothing worn for dance or dressing up for music recitals. We do not know at this time to what extent these activities and the costuming and clothing association with them varied between the French and Dutch soeaking boys in Belgium.


The primary onstitution associated with childrem are the schools. Belgian schools were stronglyassiciated with French education. Here geography and language were powerful forces We not only see similarities in the curiculum and teaching methods, but also schoolwear. Smocks were commonly worn in both Belgian and French schools. There were other institutions caring for children, such as orphanages. We have no information on Blgan orphanages at thus tim, but believe as n othr countries that the numbr had to be increased as a result of World War I. We note colonies (camps) for refugee children In Frannce. The boys there wore smocks. The influence was primarily French, but we notice Belgian boys wearing smocks at these camps. A good example is the Debruyne boys (1918).


We have only limited information on styles at this time. Boys styles could be quite elaborate in the mid-19th century. Sailor styling became very important in the late 19th century. We are not sure how popular Fauntleroy suits were in Belgium.



We do not have much information on clothing color yet. We hope to pursue this topic at greater length as HBC expands. At this point we can only comment on the few color images we have archived and can not yet assess trends. Early hotography of course was black and white. There were some colorized images. While colorized images are not the same as color photographs. We believe that colorized images usully tried to get the color if not the precise shade correctly. One early 180s albumen portrait shows a girl wearing a rather drab grey dress with black trim. The boy wears a brown tunic with matching knee pants. Both children wear white stockings. White and black cangenerally be determine in the black and white photography. We note a lot of children wearing what looks like black school smocks in the early-20th century. It could be a very dark blue, we are not sure.

Hair Styles

HBC has not yet acquired dextensive details on the hair styles worn by Belgian boys. We believe they were largely similar to French styles, but there may be some differences between trends in Walonia and Flanders. We have noted that short hair styles have predominated since the late 19th century. Long often shoulder-length, but generally uncurled hair was a popular fashion for younger boys in the late 19th-century. By the 1910s, shoulder-length long hair had become less common, but fashionable boys might still wear their hair over their ears. HBC has noted Belgian boys in the 1930s-50s wearing the the "choupette" curled hair style that was also popular in in France.


Belgium is a small country pnce part of the Spanish Netherlands in the lowlands between Germany and France. The population is split between the Flemish related wih the Dutch to the North and the Waloons related with the French to the south, but both sharing Catholcism. The country is heavily industrialized with a sizeable agricultural sector. Industrialization meant that the country was fairly affluent with families able to addord the latest fashions. All of this of course affects fashion trends. We do not know of any destinctive modern styles. As was the case throuhjout Europe, girls until the 20th century all wore dresses and skirts. What we see for the most part are styles influenced by French and German trends. Belgium had a substantial African colonial empire which hhad an economic impact, but virtully no impact on fashion. There are some interesting folk styles which basically disappeared around World War I except for festivals and ceremonies.

Family Portraits

Family portraits are an interesting way of comparing the clothing of the other members of the family with the ways that boys dressedin any given time period. Many of the HBC pages show boy's clothing in isolation. This is necessary because we do not have the ability to address the enormous additional topics of girls, women's, and men's clothing. Images of families, however, enable us to relate boys' clothing to hat worn by the other family members which might be useful to readers with a wider dfashion focus. These images also provide some insights into Belgian family life.

Figure 2.--Belgian movies set before the 1950s often show the smocks that almost all Belgian school children once wore to school.


Belgian films look remarably similar to French ones. I do not know of particularly classic Belgian films, but HBC correspondents have provided some sample images. Belgians boys are often shown wearing short pants and until the 1950s schoolboys are commonly seen in smocks. Berets are also worn, presumably in the French speaking areas. Modern movies show boys wearing the same pan-European styles.


A French reader tells us, "Looking at the Belgian images HBC has collected, there is no real difference I can detect between Belgian abd French fashions. A good example is the Belgian colonists in the Congo waiting to receive the Prince Regent Charles in 1947. I could easily believe that these adults and children were French. The girls are dressed in summer dresses or Girl Scout/Guide uniforms for Sunday or special occasions, in this case the arrivalm of the monarch. The boys are dressed in several ways. Some wear a romper, others are with a sort Cub uniform, others are in colonial white outfit and another boy is dressed as a " Petit garçon modèle ". Belgians are very close to the French, particularly the Waloons."


We have been unable to find much information about photography in Belgium. We do note that some of the first forensic photographers were taken in Belgium (1843). That was only a few years after the invention of the Daguerreotype priocess. We notice relatively few Dags and Ambros, but the same was true for Rance and Germany as well. We first begin to see lsrge numbers of photograohic images whgen the albumen process abd the CDV becomes popular (1860s). The photographs we have archived sugges that Belgian photography followed the same basic trends prevalent in neigboring France and Germany. Belgium had a very strong chemical industry and Belgian companies manufactured photographic paper. Gevaert Ridax was an important manufacturer of photographic paper. Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863–1944) was a Belgian chemist who invented Velox photographic paper (1893). Velox became the basis for Kodak photgraphic paper. We have not yet foiund information on Belgian photographers. We do note the Baker-Johnsoins, but their woek is primrily associated withn the United states. The most important museum of photography in Europe is located in Charleroi, the largest city in Wallonia. It is situated in the former Carmelite monastery of Mont-sur-Marchienne.

Post Cards

One good source of information on Belgian boys' clothes during the early 20th century is postcards. Children were a popular subject for cards during this period. Many of these cards have been carefully saved by collectors in Belgium and other countries. The clothes depicted are sometimes rare fancier than those actially worn. HBC believes that the colors that are painted in are largely imaginitive as they can be quite bright. HBC does not think that Belgian boys commonly wore bright yellow sailor suits.

Catalogs and Fashion Magazines

We have only limited information on Belgian clothing catalogs and advertisements as well as fashion magazines at this time. Belgian is a complicated country to assess. Sirely Dutch publications must have been read in Flemish (Dutch speaking) areas and French publications in Waloon (French speaking) arreas. German publications also probably were distributed in Flanders. We know there were many similarities with French fashions. Dutch and even German fashions may also have influenced Belgium. One of the subjects we want to consider is to what extent English and French fashions affected the two different language communities. It is unclear howeasy it was to order clothes kisted in foreign catalogs.

Ethnic Groups

The two major Belgian ethnic groups in Belgium are the Flemish in Flanders and the Waloons in Walonia. Ethnicity mirrors the language divide. This cultural, ethnic, lingistic divide has been a major issue in Belgian national life since its creation in 1830. There is also a small German minority in the east along the German border. The Germans annexed it during the World War I and World War II occupations. Belgium had a small Jewish community. The Germans which occupied Belgium hunted down and killed most of the ciuntry's Jews. Modern Belgium has a Muslim minority.

Individual Details

HBC has few specific details on individual Belgian boys, other than the royal family. Given that French and Belgian clothing clothing styles have been very similar, readers interested in Belgium may want to persuse the more numerous accounts HBC has collected on French boyhood. We will also include published accounts of Belgian boyhood.


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Created: September 18, 1998
Last updated: 6:26 AM 1/4/2018