English Boys' Clothes: Styles

Figure 1.--Some fashion styles are easy to identify. Others are more complicated. And mothers no uncommonly experimnted with different styles. The Eton collar was such an important part of boys' outfitting when dressing up. So this boy's mother added an Eton collar to his sailor suit. The cabinet card portrait is undated, but we would guess the 1890s. The boy looks to be about 6-7 years old. He holds a horse whip, a common prop for a boy. Notice the cabinet card album on the table. The studio was A&G. Taylor in Leeds. Taylor had oyjher locations in England and Scotland. Interestingly, the back artwork was done in Paris.

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 unill 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.

Skeleton Suits

The skeleton suit was the first decidcated boys style, in fact the real child style. Before the sleleton suit, boys' after breeching just wore scaled down versions of what their fathers wore. We know these suits first appeared in the late-18th century. We are not sure, however, just where they first appeared are who invented them. We believe in may have been England, but we can not yet confirm that. It is a topic we are still working on. They are thestyles generally used for depictions of Dickens' wotrks like Oliver Twist and David Copprfield. We have fojund more images of English boys wearing skelton suits than from any other country.

Scottish Styles

Scottish styles were also poplarized by England. Scotland was part of Britain, but it was england that was bt far the dominnt part of Britain, the great part of the popltion and economy. Several garments were part of scottish dress, but the kilt bd Scottish caps were by far the most important. A deritive not really a Scottish garment was the kilt suit. The kilt was a Scottish garment and was worn more in Scotland than any other country. When Queen Vicgoria began dressing the princes in kilt she made in a populae English fashiom. Royalty, especially the British monarchy were a major fashion influence in the 19th century. And we see quite a number of English boys wearing Highland kilt outfits. we see fewer boys in other countries wearing kilt outfits. Nothing approched the popularity of the sailor suit which Queen Victoria and Primce Albert also popularized., not only in ngland, but the americas and Europe as well. A related style, the kilt suit proved even more popular in foreign countries. This was especially the case in America where Higland kilts were not a major style, but the kilt suit proved to be a major style for three decades (1870s-90s). We see a few kilt suits in Scotland, but not very many. Another important Scottish style was headwear, both Glengary and Balmoral caps. We see them being worn with kilt outfits and non-Scottish styled garments.

Sailor Suits

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 sailors' trousers. (Some sources suggest an even earlier appearance of the sailor suit as boys' atire, but as yet I cannot confirm that.) It is not known who first coceived of the idea. It is known with certainty, however, who popularized it. It was Queen Victoria who began to dress the young princes in sailor suits during the 1840s. The 5-year old Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) was not the first English boy to wear a sailor suit. It was, however, when in 1846 the prince's portrait was painted onboard the royal yacht during the Queen's visit to Ireland that the sailor suit began to attract the interest of English mothers and eventually mothers around the world. The prince wore a scaled down version of a real Royal Navy uniform. The uniform was arefully chosen to be an enlisted man's sailor suit. This can not have been an acident. It was almost certainly a carefully chosen decision calculated to give a favorableimpression of the monarchy to the British people. Unfortunately HBC does not yet have details on precisely how the uniform was selected.

Eton Suits

It was in England that the Eton suit was created in the late 19th century and it was in England that the Eton suit reached its greatest popularity. For two generations a well dressed English boy was expected to wear an Eton suit for formal occasions. Many boys also wore them as a school uniform. The characteristically short jackets have been worn with a variety of pants.

Norfolk Suits

The Norfolk suit was created in England and no where was it so widely worn as is England. The Norfolk jacket is modeled after the hunting suit worn on the estate of the English Duke of Norfolk in the early-19th century. (One source said 18th century, but I don't believe I have ever seen Norfolk jackets in 18th century paintings. Sportsmen on the Duke's estate reportedly first wore what we now call the Norfolk jacket. Guests included the Prince of Wales who became King George IV. Tradition has it that the Prince himself ordered a garment from his tailors that would allow him to swing a gun with grater ease that the tightly fitting, tailored suit jackets he wore. The Norfolk desisign had a loose, comfortable fit accross the soulders and chest. The jacket also had box pleats, two in the front and one in the rear which opened and clothes as the individual swivels about. It was a rare garment that was specifically designed rather than adapted for use in sports. It was also a waist-length jacket, We are not sure if it originally had matching trousers. Knickerbocker pants becme associated with it. We have less access to English clothing catalogs than in America, but we note many avialable British photographs showing boys commonly wearing Norfolk jackets. HBC has noted it being commonly worn in Britain during the late-19th century. It was initially an adult style for country wear, but became a popular styles for boys. Early images show vertical pleatrs. We do not begin to see the horizontal belts until the 20th century.

Fauntleroy Suits

Fauntleroy suits were widely worn in England. Fautleroy suits were popularized in America, but became popular in Englznd, perhaps more so than znywhere else in Eutope. This probably helped popularize the style worldwide. We believe the style was less popular for working-class families than was the case of America. Here a factor was that American workers were the highest paid in the world and could afford items that British workers and even more continental workers could not. In adiition, the convention of sending boys off to boarding prep schools at about 8 years of age was becoming established in the 1880s--the same time of the Fauntleroy craze. Few boys after they left for their prep schools would condescend to wear Fauntleroy suits when they came home. There also were some stylistic differences. Wide brimmed sailor hats were less common as were runglet curls. One major difference is that English boys less commonly wore the huge bow tied in ekegant classic bows. English suits often had knicker pants and the boys did not often wear the boot-like high button shoes. Rather English boys more commonly wore patent leather shoes like pumps, strap shoes, and buckle shoes even before the turn of the century.

School Uniforms

The tradition of school uniforms developed at Britain's elite private schools, in typical British fashion referred to as public schools. Children at the country's developing state school system generally did not wear uniforms during the late 19th and 20th century. Britain was late to provide a free public education to children. Some European countries, especially the Germans had a much more extensive public school system. Britain had a great variety of state and charity schools for those who could not afford a private education. Children at these schools wore a variety of clothes.


Baden Powell's Scout movement in the 1900s played an important role in popularizing short trousers with English boys. Shorts trousers in fact became a symbol of English and eventually world scouting. Uniformed youth groups were a limited succes at first, but this changed quickly after the appearance of Scouting in the 1900s. The Boys' Brigade was the first such group which appeared in the 1880s. Quite a number of other grouos were organized. In the 1900s these groups were surpased by the Scouts. Baden Powell first conceived of Scouting as a element of the Boys' Brigade. English boys, however, were attraccted by the outdoor activities and the more secular approach. Scouting was organized as a separate group and soon became the predominate youth organization in England. Unlike some other youth groups, Baden Powel promoted an internationist approach and the movement began to spread around the world. Interestingly only one Scout association was organized in England, unlike the European pattern where Scout associations were organized by different religions and secular groups. Also political parties did not organize nationalist youth groups as proved to be the case in Germany and other European countries.


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Created: 1:10 AM 12/18/2014
Last updated: 1:56 AM 3/27/2016