England is of course just one part or country of the United Kingdom, albeit by far the largest, which includes Scotland, Ulster, and Wales and formerly Ireland. The historical relations bewtween these countries of the British Isles is quite complex and beyond the focus of our study here. The English to a large degree imposed their cultural on the neighboring countries which is reflected in perhaps the most powerful cultural element of all--language.
English clothing styles have had a major impact in setting boys' fashions. France is generally regarded as a major fashion center, but this is primarily women's fashions. Until the 1960s when America fashions began to dominate worldwide, it was British fashions that were the most influential. Many of the major styles worn by boys in the 19th and early 20th century originated in Britain: sailor suits, kilts, Eton suits, Norfolk suits, and blazers and short pants suit originated in Britain. The Fauntleroy suit also has partial English origins as the author of the book was born and raised in England. France had a major impact on fashions, especially during the Reagency period, but it has been British styles that dominated boys' fashions until American casual "T" shirts and jeans began to replace the more formal British look.
England is of course just one part or country of the United Kingdom, albeit by far the largest, which includes Scotland, Ulster, and Wales and formerly Ireland. The historical relations bewtween these countries of the British Isles is quite complex and beyond the focus of our study here. The English to a large degree imposed their cultural on the neighboring countries which is reflected in perhaps the most powerful cultural element of all--language. English is now spoken throughout the British isles. We do mention the history of the different countries of the U.K. briefy to acquaint the reader with the fact that there remain substantial social and cultural differences between the different parts of the U.K. which to an extent have been reflected in clothing and fashion. As a result, there are some separate HBC pages. American and other non-British readers often confuse the term English and British. The term British is not synonamous with English, but of course the nationality term used for all the people of the United Kingdom.
England's written history began with the Roman invasion of Celtic Britain. The country's history is a fascinating saga of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans. Throughh all that tumault the major threads of Western covilization bloosomed. Democracy as we know it began to develop with the Viking invasions. It developed in large measure out of the conflict between the monarchy abd nobility with the middle class and Protestant reformation playing a major role. One of the key questions in history is why the Industrial Revolution occurred first in England. There are a variety of factors which played a role, such as the ready supply of iron and coal. But iron and coal occurred close together in many other countries. The unique factor which set Britain apart was its developing democracy and the relative liberty of its people to persue ideas and economic interests. The modern free enterprise system emerged in Britain. There surely were other factors such as the Royal Navy and developing empire, but free minds able to persue economic interests protected by law were key factors which caused this major step in human history occurring in England. England evolved into Britain with the Act of Union. It was Britain that transferred its values and law to North America and the comparison to Hispanic South America is striking. Although Britain and America fought two wars, the ties of culture and values created a Anglo-American alliance never formalized by treaty that fought three major struggles in the 20th century against authoritarian/totalitarian powers (Imperial Germany, the Axis, and totalitarian Communism) that had very different values and view of the human spirit.
The history of the English economy is an especially important subject. Until the 18th century, it was like other countries, primarily reliant on agriculture and to a lesser extent trading. Then all of a sudden the industrial revolution took hold which transformed not only England, but the world. A student of both economics and history has to explain why the various social, political, and economic forces came together in England during the 18th century to create the first modern economy. The economy of medieval England was based on the wool trade. Before the 18th century several important elements were in place. Laws protected private property even from royal excesses. The English appropriated capitalism which the Dutch invented. And social attitutudes a well as laws protected and even promoted free thought, including scientific inquiry which led to practical applications. This combined with the availability of key natural resources (coal and iron) led to the industrial revolution (mid-18th century). The first steps were to develop textile weaving machines. The need for efficent naval construction also helped bring about the industrial revolution. The result was an extrodiarily efficent economy and the creation of great wealth. At about the sane timne, the loss ofthe American colonies (1783) taught the British an important lesson, to allow the colonies to participate in free trade with relatuively few trade limitations compared to the other European empires. The economy allowed England to resist Napoleon and to emnerge after the Napoleon as the preminent world power. The United States followed the English system, only without an empire. The English capitalist economy is often accused of creating poverty. Marx of course wrote Das Kapital in the British Library. This is a major error. English capitalism created wealth. Poverty existed in England before the industrisl revolution. Capitalism fid create greater disparities in wealth because of the wealth it created. Gradually Germany emerged as a major economic competitor with capitalist system developing with greater government direction. After World War II, the governing British Labour Party embarked on an experiment with socialism. Some social inequities were addressed, but Britain fell behind many continental countries. The Thstcher era only partially reversed this course. Britaian today along with many other European countries is facted with Mrs. Thstcher's famous dictum, "Socialism is fine until they run out of other people's money to give away."
Specialty boys fashions did not exist for most of the millenium. Little boys and girls were dressed alike in dresses until at about 5 or 6 they were dressed in small versions of adult clothing. It was
not until the mid-18th century that clothes especially fashioned for
children began to appear. The first such style was the sailor suit worn with the long bell bottom trousers of the British sailor. The fashion of children's clothes did not become firmly established until the later period of the 18th century with the popularity of French Regency fashion. British fashions for boys emerged in the mid-19th century. One of the major forces in setting the classic boys' styles was Queen Victoria and her children. The fashions chosen by the young Queen had an enormous impact on British styles. These fashions, however, soon spread throuought Europe and on to America. The great influence of Queen Victoria was magnified by the mairages of the Queen's children and grandchildren until by the turn of the century Victoria was in fact the grandmother of Europe. Courts throughout the continent were influenced by her tastes and the population in those countries by the fashions set by the various royal families. Few families have ever had such a great influence on children's clothing.
England has had a greater impact on boys' garments than any other country. Important boys' garments and styles developed in England. The prestige and importance of the English monarchy may well have played a major role here. An English monarch, Queen Victoria, popularized the Scottish kilt for boys. She also made the sailor suit into a boys' staple throughout Europe and North America. Other major boys' suit types like the Eton and Norfolk suit developed in England. English boys have worn kneepants, short pants, knickers, and long pants, although the chronology is somewhat different than in America. Some garments like short pants became almost associated with English boys--although they are not now commonly worn in England except during the summer and at a few schools. Boys coats around the world have been grearly influenced by English styles. Sweaters have been very popular in the often chilly English climate. Many important sweater types first appeared in England. Knee socks were commnly worn year round for school, play, leasure events, and formal wear. Sandals were more popular in England than any county and became a school staple.
Several major styles of clothes have been worn by English boys. England in fact played a major role in boys' fashions. English styles until after World War II were probably the most important in the area of boys' fashions. The American Fauntleroy suit was of the few major boys; styles that did not originate in England and here the monarchy played a major role. This changed after World War II with the spread of American casual styles, but unil World War II, English styles were a major factor in boys' clothing. These styles have varied over time, but some like sailor and Eton suits endured for extended periods. The origins of the boys' sailor suit or vague. Apparently it was in England during the first quarter of the 19th century when someone had the inspiration that boys should wear sailor outfits. This idea was originated by Prince Albert who conceived the idea of dressing the oibes in sailor suts to tie the monarchy into the prestige of the Royal Navy. The popularity of the Eton suit grew from the prestige of public (elite private boarding) schools at a time that England lagged behind America and Germany in state financed education. Even so, English private schools influenced schools in america and throughout the Empire. Thus English school uniform garments became standard wear in many countries. England was of course tied into Scotland as part of Britain. And again the Royal family intervened to promote Scottish styles. The English also invented Scouting and Scout uniform styles also inflienced popular fashion in many countries. The English contribution to children's fashions seem on the whole essentially durable and often informal. Although there have been period when British boys wore elaborate outfits, generally English styles have been plain, unfussy designs. The tailoring widely admired for men's suits was eventually also adapted over time for boys' suits. Some of these styles have had a huge impact on boys' fashions which continue to this day.
Children's clothing, especially boys clothing, was for much of the 20th century rather drab. Colored garments were not unknown in the early 20th century, especially for younger children. For the most part, however, we see rather drab colors being worn. The only colour at school was ties, sock tops - and blazer/cap badges - for posher schools blazers would be coloured. A British writer in the 1960s remembers mostly grey school clothes. He writes, "Most of my school clothes were grey, although I had a blue blazer. A friend attending a R.C. state primary had a fancy blue and gold blazer and they had trimming on the jumper too. His primary school and mine were considered the best R.C. and C. of E. respectively primaries in the district so there may have been a bit of religious rivalry about who had the best uniform. Mostly we wore grey items." Outside of school there was more colour - bright t-shirts and so on but even then our cords were always grey, blue,green and brown and never a bright shade and the cotton shorts that my brother preferred were similar colours. Socks were always grey or khaki. Even plastic macs were always grey. Colored garments seemed to come in later, the late 60s/early 70s.
Short hair cuts appear to have become standard for English boys by the turn of the 19th century. Younger boys might be kept by their mothers in curls. Boys educated at home might be kept in long hair, if their mothers thought that stylish. The ringlet curls American boys wore in the late 19th century were less common in Britain. Boys would have their hair cut short before being sent off to school. Short back and sides were a common hair cut at English private schools. Some styles such as the British short back and sides were worn in many countries, although we often do not know what it was called in different countries. Acailable information on numerous individual boys provide a good overview on British hair styles.
Here we will follow family fashions over time. HBC has decided to also gather information on entire families. One of the limitations of HBC is that too oftn we just view boys' clothing in contex with what the rest of the family was wearng. This will help to compare boys' clothing with that worn by mothers, fathers, and sisters. These images will help show show differences in both age and gender appropriate clothing. Much of the photographic evidence here is very stiff formal portraits. This provides important evidence as to the formal clothes worn by English families. The photographic technolgy of the 19th century limit the ability to take candid portrits of family life. The many chilftrn's books and periodical publications provide many wnderful images of family life, although almost always comfortable middle class families.
England was particularly important in setting boy's fashion. It was not quite as important for girl's fashions. Here France was probably more important. That is not to say that English girls' fashions were not influentional. We suspect that not only did England originate fashions, but it was a factor in transmitting French styles throughout the Empire and to the United States. Interestingly, we do not see the significant disparity that developed between English and America boys' fashions also developing in girls' fashions. England of course was a major factor in the development of the fabric and garment industry. We have begun to collect some information on chronological trends. England also stongly influenced styles in its many colonies as well as to a lesser extent the United States. It was England which established many school uniform styles. And school uniform styles influences overal girlswear in England an other countries.
HBC has collected information on a variety of activities in which English boys have participated in over time. Many of these activiities involve specialized costumes. Often the children. however, just wore their ordinary clothes. The available images thus show trends in English boys' clothing over time. The activities include choir, choir, dance, games, religious observation, school, sport, and many others. Some of these images are interesting because they depict life-style information in addition to fashion.
The literature on English orphanages and work houses is legion. Of course most of our concept of English orphanges comes to us from the bleak descrioptions Charles Dickens provides in Oliver Twist. As bad as conditions were in 19th century English institutions, it should be remembered that these were some of the first attempts to deal with the problems of poverty. The Victorians viewd these efforts as Christian charity. Other strongly held Victorian values resulted in the creation of institutions that were in
fact as bleak as Dickens described. Many Victorians saw poverty as a lack of effort and a result of a flawed character. Others felt that it was more charitable not to intervene and that Government action would simply foster a debter class that would create even more indigents.
The regions of the country as a whole are covered under the United Kingdom. But England itself has several different regions such as Corwall, Devon, Kent, Lancaster, Norfolk, Surrey, Yorkshire, and other regions. We have just begun to collect information on these differet counties. The speaking of Corish died out in the 18th century, but there is some attempt to teach a little in the schools. Many Amerucans were introduced to Yorkshire by the marvelous James Herriot books and TV programs. One HBC reader has provided us some images from his Lancaster village.
Children living in different communities often had varied experiences growing up. England was a heavily indistrialized and thus urbanized country. England and Germany were thge two most urbanized of the large European countries. France was much less urbaized. The Netherlands and Belgium were also heavily urbanized, but much smaller countries. England thus had some of the largest industrial cities in Europe, including Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, and others. Even within cities, children had different life experiences, depending on their social class. Many working-class families in cities until after World War II did not have runnuing water or toilets in their homes. There were often few green areas and chilldren grew uop never seeing animals beyond cats, dogs, and rats. They often had unhealthy dkiets with little milk and fresh vgtables. Children growing up in these cities thus had very different life experiences than rural children. This became especially apparent when children from the cities revacuated during World War II (1939-45). And in between the big cities we have suburban communities surrounduing the cities as well as villages located throughout the country. English cities had a character all their own. They were more soread out than German cities where many city residents lived in large apartment complexes. English city dwellers were more spread out, commonly living in two-story housing estates. During World War II this played a major role in the Battkle of Britain. London was so large and spread out, the Luftwaffe had to deploy enormous resources, but were only able to destroy a small part of the enormous city because it as so spread out, much of which had no military significance. While heavily urbanized, England had an important farm sector as well. Ebngkland was not self syuffuient in food, but there was subtantial food production from a relatively modern farm sector. Often farm children grew up without access to some of the amaenties of city life like libraries and cinemas.
The English are at amalgum of the various people who settled in southern and central Britain since the Neolithic period. Very little is known about the original Neolithic inhabitants. DNA analysis have provided some interesting information. Recent tudies suggest that the majority of the traceable ancestors of the modern English people reached the British Isles in the Neolithic era (13,000-5,500 BC). These people were related to the Basque people. More is known about the subsquent groups that entered the British Isles during antiquity, including the Celts and Romans as wll as the Anglo-Saxons, Norse, and Normans who reached the British Isles during the Middle Ages. On the perifery of England were the Irish to the east and the Picts to the north in what is now Scotland. These different groups were unevenly mixed. he Celtic tribes controlled what is now England. The DNA evidence suggests that the Celtic tribes who conquered the original Neolithic inhabitants, came in relatively small numbers, but suceeded in imposing their culture. This changed with the Roman invasion (1st century AD). The Romans were concentrated in the cities and the Celts in the countryside. These two groups were beginning to increasingly mix at the time of the Abglo-Saxon invasions (6th century. The anbglo-Saxons pushed the Romano-Celts to rge preifery in Cornwall and Wales and dominated much of modern England. The Norse appeared and raids turned into conquest (9th century). The Norse almost totally defeated the Abnglo-Saxons, but Alftred the great managed to defeat the Norse (9th century). England gradually emerged as a mixture of the Anlo-Saxon and Norse people. The final invasion was the Normans, a Franofile-Norse people (11ith century). They left only a minor ethnic imprint, but a major cultural legacy. Over the next several centuries these various ethnic groups inter-married to form the English people.
England is a country composed of many different ethnic groups. This anounted to a series of comquerors so these various groups do not really fit into the modern concept of minorities. There were no important ethnic group to enter England during the middle ages except a small number of Jews who were eventually expelled in the late Middle Ages. but gradually returned in small numbers. :arger numbers arrived with the Russian anti-Semetic campaigns (late-19th century). A small number of Hugenoughts sought refuge in England during at the end of the French religious wars (17th century). The numbers were small, but they brought skills and technology to Englabnd that proved of considerable ecionomic importance. Large numbers of Irish people emigrated to England as a result of the Potato Famine (1840s). This was followed by a steady flow of Irish people seeking work during the rest of the century.
Small numbes of Europeans entered England after World War II, the greatest number came from Poland. Only with the advent of Empire did new minorities appear (19th centuy). Interestingly, the numbers did not become sizeable until after World War II and the British began disasebling their Empire (20th century). The largest group came from South Asia, including what is now Bangladash, India, and Palistan. Others mostly blacks came from the Caribbean. Other blacks came from Africa itself. Liverpool as the major Atlantic port city had England's first black community (1730s). Other minorities came in small numbers, including the Chinese. Again England's first Chinese community was in Liverpool. These minority groups in recent years have expanded. Actual immigratiion has been reduced, but the minority generally have a higher birth rate the native-born English.
English artists perhaps do not have the same stature as some of their cross channel rivals--the French. This is perhaps the French impressionists are today so imprtant a part of our artistic mind set. Certainly English painting was eclipsed by the explosion of impresionistic art in France during the 19th century. There is one areas, however, in which the English were unrivaled and that is portriture in the 18th and early 19th century. The work of Gainborough, Lawrence, Reynolds, and others provide us with some of the most magnificent portraits ever executed. Even landscapist master Constable contrubuted at least one marvelous portrait. The English are also noted for their watercolors, but
these tended to focus less on portriture. These masterful portraits of course provide an invaluable record of fashion trends.
England had an important film industry before being eclipsed by Hollywood. English films are generally better known to Americans than most other foreign films, priarilybof course
because they were made in English. Clothing styles, especially Eton Collars, at the turn of
the 20th century are shown in How Green is My Valley (1941), even though it is about Wales. Clothes during the 1930s are depicted in Lassie Come Home. English school boy clothes during the early 1940s can be seen in Hope and Glory (1985?). The short pants suits worn even in secondary schools during the 1960s can be seen in Kiperbang (1980?). HBC believes that English films were more carefully costumed, at least the children, than on the Continent. Ths is, however, only an initial assessmemt. The English have also produce some wonderful child actors, many of whom moved to America to make films in Hollywood. Thus some important films about England were made in America.
There is a great deal of fashion information in literature. As it is literature and not actual history, the comments on clothing have to be taken with caution. Authors vary as to how accurately they write about fashion and other historical cultural matters used to flesh out their plots and characters. Of course the most reliable fashion references are those in contemprary works. There are various types of literature of interest to HBC. We note useful information in both novels and children literature. Of special interest to HBC is the large number of boy characters in British literature. Of course one helpful aspect of many books are the often fascinating literature.
English mail order catalogs and periodical advertisements help to illustrate destinctive English clothing styles and changes over time in those styles. English mail order catalogs offer a great deal of information on specific clothing styles worn over time. As many of the catalogs are dated, they provide useful information on importan fashion trends. English mail order and other retail catalogs offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. I am not sure precisely when these catalogs first appeared in England. IOt appears to be after the United States as merchants and consumers were not separated by long distances as was the case in America. HBC is also collecting information on individual stores and retailers. We had originally conceived of separate sections for mailorder and regular stores. We have since reassess this decission and decided to combine this information. Tis allows us to use the information to better assess fashion trends over time. Our information on English stores is still very limited at this time. Some of the most important chain stores carrying boys clothing is Brithish Home Stores and Marks and Spencers. There have been other smaller chains. One HBC reader has porovided us a copy of the Colts catalog. Colts was a store operating in England and other European countries during the 1960s and 70. There are also local boys' and menswear reatilers. These stores often stock the uniforms for local stores. We do not yet have information on mailorder companies. We also would like to add information on manufacturers, but have very limited information at this time.
English researchers made some of the most important discoveries which led to modern photography. It was English scholar and resaearcher William Henry Fox Talbott that first fixed an image on paper (1834). He does not, however, seem to have told anyone. Talbot was a classical scholar and amateur scientist of independent means and saw no need or inclination to either publicize his achievement or develop a commercial application. He apparently did not even tell his mother untilmafter Daguerre began publicizing his accomplishments (1839). She was apparently furious with him. And after Tabot began showing his images, he called them calotypes, using the Greek word "kalos" meaning beautiful. This showed his roots as a clasical scholar and lack of interest in self promotion. The resut of course is Daguerre is generally seen in the public mind and only a few historians have ever heard of Talbot. Daguere's process using metal plates was in fact a commercial dead end although the Daguerreotype was a commercial success in the 1840s. . It would be Talbot's process which used a negative that would until the digital age be the basis for modern photography. Talbot worked to improved his process in the 1840s. Frederick Scott Archer (1813-57) in England invented the photographic collodion process which preceded the modern gelatin emulsion. The initial result ambrotype which used this process. This esentially ended the commercial potential of the calotype. Professional studios quickly adopted the collodion process. Interestingly, upperclass amateurs, often from thelanded gentry, continued to dable with caloptypes. Thus mny of these images are scenes of the countryside, but rarely of the rising industrial cities.
Some interesting details are available on specific families as well
as articles from fashion magazines. We have also added some historical accounts as well as published memoirs. English readers are encouraged to provide HBC information about their personal experiences or historical accounts with which they are familiar. These personal accounts add graetly to the other informnation HBC has garnered from fashion magazines, catalogs, and available images. Often the personal perspective is not avialable from these other sources. Thus these personal accounts are a very important part of HBC.
Some other interesting web sites have information on English boys
British prep schools: British prep schools in the 1980s. This is our printed book.
British prep schools in the 1980s. British prep schools in the 1980s. These are our eBooks. They are mostly about Britain, but also include New Zealand schools.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main British country page]
[Return to the Main European country page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Essays]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossary] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]