English Boys' Clothes: Family Trends

Figure 1.--This illustration set at home show theolder boy wears a knickers suit with Norfolk styling. The younger boy wears a middy blouse. Both girls wear dresses, with large bows at the back. Note how formally these dress. The illustration comes fom a 1908 issue of "Chatterbox". I do not know who the illustraor was. Image courtesy of the AM collection

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 often we just view boys' clothing without any context as to what the rest of the family was wearng. Cllecting information and images on what the rest of the family was wearing 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. The illustrations of course provide less definitive information, but do give an idea as to what boys wore for various occassions.

The 16th Century

Clifford Family (1580s)

Here we have a fascinating portrait of Anne Cliford and her family, including her two brothers. We do not know who the artist was, but a HBC reader has provided a good bit of information about Anne Clifford. The portrait is displayed in Skipton Castle in Yorkshore. The portrait was painted decades after the time depicted, so we are unsure about the accuracy of the clothing shown.

The 18th Century

English artists have provided us lovely views of Englih families in the 18th century. As there ws no photography, the number of images is limited. And because most of the family images are portrits requiring expensive commissions, w mostly have f=view of well-to-do aristicrtic or merchant families.

Trower Family (1730s)

William Hoare painted the Trower chikdre, we think in the 1730s. The chikldren are Elizabeth and Thomas Trower painted with a landscape background. We have no idea who the Trower Children were . They look to be about 4-6 years old. We are not sure if they were from Bath or viiting the resort town. Both chidren wear dresses, but different styles. The boy's brown dress has a hint of suit styling while the girl wears a standard white dress. Both wear blue sashes, but ine differently. We are not sure, however, to what extent the difference reflects gender conventions as opposed to non-consequential variation.

West Family (1772)

Benjamin West was the first American painter to rise to international prominence. He lead an astonishing life that led him from theAmerican backwoods to the Ebnglish Royal Academy and acceptance into the glitering halls of English aristocracy. This was an amazing accomplishment for a self-taught, largely uneducated colonial boy.

Earl Gower family (1777)

Potratist George Romney provides us a charming view of Earl Gower's family. The family made a fortine in building canals, the principal method of hauling freight in the 18th century. Romney liked to paint clasical images. Thus the children are done up in Grecian robes rather than the clothes they usually wore. They seem to be enjoyingthe experience.

Hoppner family (1791)

Court painter John Hoppner has left us a charming image if his three soms preparing to bsthe in a brook. The youngest boys are undressing, but the older boy wears an erly skeletin suit. These suits had become standard for boys by the 1790s. The boys name was Catherine. Hears a velvet maroon skeletin suit with an opoen frilly collar. It is a long pants skeletin suit with pnts cut zbove the ankles. Hoppner was from a German immigrnt family with court connections.

The 19th Century

We note some large families in the 19th century. Not all families were large, but a number of children seemed the Victorian ideal. Younger boys throughout the 19th century wore dresses. Pattaletts were common. The age of breaching varied from family to family. Here social class was a factor. Boys in the early 19th century wore long pants skeleton suits. Tunics were also worn. Long pants contiued to be standard for boys until after mid-century. Gradually kneepants and knickers became more common. Wenote Eton collars becoming increasingly common by mid-century. Sailor suits became fashionable in the late 19th century, both boys and girls wore them. Girls wore dresses throughout the 19th century and the family photographs help to understand the changes over time. .

The 20th Century

A range of 20th century family portraits show us how boys and other members of the family and in many cases thed whole family dresssed. Clothing was still quite formal in the early 20th century for both children and adults. We note in the early part of the century that boys wore a variety of outfits, including tunics, Fauntleroy suits, and sailor suits. Older boys wore kneepants and knicker suits. Norffolk suits were popular, often worn with Eton collars. Long stockings were common. Girls wore different styles of dresses. Major changes occurred after World War I (1914-18). Clothing became more informal. Boys commonly wore short pants, odten with kneesocks. Girls still mostly wore dresses. Clothes became even more informal after World War II (1939-45). Girls still commonly wore dresses through the 1960s. Long trousers for boys began to vecpmed more common in the 1960s.

Alphabetical Listings

We have not yet listed the English families aphhabetically that we have archived on HBC. Most of them fit into the chrinolgical lisdtings. One family whish has a long history is the Tennant family which began in Scotland.


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Created: March 3, 2003
Last updated: 11:04 AM 11/24/2014