*** English boys clothes -- families chronology

English Boys' Clothes: Family Trends

English families
Figure 1.--This illustration set at home shows the older boy wears a knickers suit with Norfolk styling--as common school uniform. The younger boy wears a middy blouse. Both girls wear dresses, with large bows at the back and long black stockings. Note how formally they are dressed for casual home activities. The illustration comes fom a 1908 issue of 'Chatterbox'. We 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 17th Century

Ottley family (1636)

This beautiful portit of Sir Francis Ottley (1600-49) and his family was painted by Petrus Troueil (active 1633-36). It was painted about a decade before the Civil War. We know nothing about the artist. He painted for only a short period. His name does not sound English, but all his works were English. He clearly is an accomplished artist. It is strange that he was active for such a short priod. And it has remained at the Ottley family home, Pitchford Hall, from the date it was painted (1636) until the contents of the house were dispersed (1992). The painting is of Ottley and hius wife with two of their three known children, Richard and Mary. Ottley married Lucy Edwards, daughter of Thomas Edwards of the College, Shrewsbury (1624). She was the widow of Thomas Pope, another Shrewsbury resident, and was some 8 years older than her husband. We see the lace and decorations and fabrics that the Cavilers were so famous for. Interestingly mary i wearing a black dress, allbeot woth elabprate lacy collar and wrist cuff dcoration. Ottley was Governor of Shrewsbury and an important royalist commander during the English Civil War (1642-51). King Charles placed him in chgarge of the Royal Mint established in Shrewsbury during the War. Ottley served as the Royalist High Sheriff of the county and helped negotiate the surrender of Bridgnorth. After being captured and parolled, Ottley spent much of the rest of his life trying to free his estates from sequestration.

Capel family (c1641)

This portrait shows Arthur Capel, 1st Baron Capel of Hadham, and his family. It was painted about 1641 by Cornelius Johnson/Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen. You can see the formal garden at Cassiobury House in the background. The family members are are (from left to right): Arthur Capel, 1st Earl of Essex (1631-1683) his father Arthur Capel, 1st Baron Capel (1604-1649) Henry Capel, 2nd Baron Capel (1638-1896) mother Elizabeth, Lady Capel (died 1661) Charles Capel (died 1657) Elizabeth Countess of Carnarvon (1633-1678) Mary Duchess of Beaufort (1630-1715). Johnson's arrangement of the figures was influenced by Van Dyck's portrait of King Charles I's family and by Honthorst's portrait of the Buckingham family. This portrait has been used to illustrate English gender conventions. It is awondrfi depiction of patriarchy. Baron Capel was an ardent royalist, devoted to Charles I during the English Civil War. Capell was one of the primary Royalist leaders, but achieved no succss. Together with Earl of Norwich, he surrendered to Lord Fairfax at Colchester, on the promise of their lives being spared (1648). The commitment was not held as binding on the civil authorities. His fate was thus undecided for several months. He escaping from the Tower, but was betrayed. He was condemned to death by Parliament and beheaded along with the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Holland, a few months--after the King (1649).

The 18th Century

English artists have provided us lovely views of English families in the 18th century. As there was no photography, the number of images is limited. The number of painted portraits is mo where mear the mimber that would become abailable after the invention of photigrapy, but we so have a number of paonted portatits, mostly from the second half of the century. We are mot entirely sure whu there was such a difference differebnce between the two halves of the century. It may reflect the growing eealth in England. Here the Industrial Revolution and the control of India may have been factors. But because most of the family images are portrits requiring expensive commissions, we mostly have views of well-to-do aristocrtic or merchant families. There ere not yet styles specifically for children who mostly wore scaled down versions of what their parents wore. The styles we see are mostly boys once breeched wearing knee breeches with long stockings. This only began to change ar rgevendvofvthe century when we see some boys wearing skeleton suits, some with long pants. Suits could be very coloful, as least for the privlidged classes. Neither boys or adult men wore long pants innthevportraits of the well to do. We are less sure about the the working class which were in the process of moving from the countryside into the growing industrial cities by the end of the century.

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 knee pants 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, often with knee socks. 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: 1:47 AM 6/2/2021