English Boys Suit Trousers: Knickers--Chronology 19th Century


Figure 1.--This cabinet card portrait shows three unidentified children about 5-12 years old. The girl has a lace collar with a high waist and pleated bodice. The boys wear knicker suits. One has a cut away jacket and best. The younger boy loojs to have a velvet collar-buttoning jacket. The portrait is undated, but the mount style looks to date tothe 1890s. The studio was White in Littlehampton.

The English knickers, almost always referred to as knickerbockers by the British, were close or medium-fitting trousers that were cut short. The length varied from just above the knee to calf length. The length caried over time. They appeared in the mid-19th century. The first to appear were the bloomer knickers for younger boys. Standard knickers for older boys appeared later in the century. We are not sure about the precise chronlogy. Our albeit limited archive suggests that long pants were still the common trouser type for English boys' suits as late as the 1870s. We begin to see quite a few boys wearing knicker suits by the 1880s. We see many boys wearing knicker suits at school in the late-19th century. We believe school rules were involved, but we have few details at this time. We are not sure if schools were affected by popular fashion or helped to set the style. School rules may have driven prevalence in the wider society. At the time the public (elite private boarding) schools had an impact on popular fashions. But many boarding schools adopted knicker suits as a standard school uniform. We see knicker suits in late-19th century photographic record. They seem to have commonly been worn to school, but they were not universal. We also see preparatory schools for younger boys wearing long pants uniforms. Knicker suits were also worn for country outings by young men and adults. This would have been a relatively narrow part of the population. As our English archive grows we hope to be able to developed a better understnding of trends associated with knickers and the other types of suit pants. One noticeable trend here is that unlike America we see some English boys wearing knee socks rather than long stockings with knickers.

The 1850s

The English knickers, almost always referred to as knickerbockers by the British, were close or medium-fitting trousers that were cut short. The length varied from just above the knee to calf length. The length caried over time. They appeared in the mid-19th century. The first to appear were the bloomer knickers for younger boys. Standard knickers for older boys appeared later. We are not sure about the precise chronlogy. This is difficult to follow because unlike america, there were relative few Dags and Ambros taken (1840s-50s).

The 1860s

The first decade for which we have detailed information on English boys' clothing, including suits and trousers in the 1860s. This is because of the sudden appearance of the abumen printing with negatives--the CDV. The CDV actually appeared in the 1850s, a French invention. But for what ever reason was not immediately successful. This changed dramatically in 1859 and suddenly in the 1860s we have for the first time large numbers of photographic images. Most show boys once breeched wearing suits and trousers. We notice both shortened-length and long trousers. Long trousers dominated, but we see quite a few younger boys, including younger primary-age boys wearing the shortened-length trousers, usually as part of suits. The most common type of shortened-length pants appears to have been knickers, although our English archive is not yet sufficent to make any dfinitive statement. The choice of trousers varied from family to family. There was not yet any strong conventions. And this meant among the fashionable families in comfortable circumstance who could afford to have portraits taken. We believe that working-class children continud to wear mostly long pants.

The 1870s

Our albeit limited archive suggests that long pants were still the common trouser type for English boys' suits as late as the 1870s.

The 1880s

We begin to see quite a few boys wearing knicker suits by the 1880s. We see many boys wearing knicker suits at school in the late-19th century. We believe school rules were involved, but we have few details at this time. We are not sure if schools were affected by popular fashion or helped to set the style. School rules may have driven prevalence in the wider society. At the time the public (elite private boarding) schools had an impact on popular fashions. But many boarding schools adopted knicker suits as a standard school uniform. We see knicker suits in late-19th century photographic record. They seem to have commonly been worn to school, but they were not universal. We also see preparatory schools for younger boys wearing long pants uniforms. Knicker suits were also worn for country outings by young men and adults. This would have been a relatively narrow part of the population. As our English archive grows we hope to be able to developed a better understnding of trends associated with knickers and the other types of suit pants. One noticeable trend here is that unlike America we see some English boys wearing knee socks rather than long stockings with knickers.

The 1890s












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Created: 9:34 AM 2/4/2016
Last updated: 1:02 AM 4/19/2017