*** French boys clothes : activities vêtements garçon français

French Boys Clothes: Activities

French boys activities
Figure 1.--The principal activity for most children is school. This portrait shows a French bosrding school during 1920-21. Unlike most French schools, this school had a uniform. This is the 5th and 6th class (form).

French boys engaged in a wide variety of activities from choral singing to athletics. Other major activities include dance, music, school, Scouting, summer camp, and much more. Athletics seems to have been less important in France than in America and England, in part becaise of the higly academic orientation of the school system. Many of these activities have destinctive clothing or even uniforms. HBC has begun to collect information on these activities and the clothing associated with them over time.



Beach resorts also began to become popular in France in the late 18th century. I have little information on developments in France. however, because of my inability to access French sources. There were many important seaside resports in the 19th century. Some images do provide insights into beachwear. Like England, fashions appear to our modern eye to have been very formal, hardly suitable for what we now consider to be beachwear.


Many countries of Western and Central Europe have a long tradition of church boys' choirs dating back to the medevil era. One of the longest traditions is that of the French boy choirs. The choirs were associated and continue to be associated with the the Catholic Church. I do not know of any secular boy choirs in France. The French tradition has influenced the development of boy choirs in several other countries, including Belgium, Canada, Haiti, and others.


We have little information on French boys involved in dance. We note boys taking dancing lessons for social dancing. This seems to have been boys from affluent families. We note younger boys smarly dressed up for the lessons. We do not know if boys received dance lessons at school. This was basic dances such as the box step used in standard social dances. This was common in American schools, often in gym class. French schools tended to be more academic with fewer non-academic activities than American schools. We do know some boys especially interested in dance engaged in performance dancing. The specific dance form was usually ballet. This seems to have been done at special schools. Some boys may have been involved in performance dancing. We do not know of other ferformance dancing that was popular in France.


We do not yet know a great deal about festivals in France. The country has a long, rich history and fascinating culture. As a result there are many varied festivals, especially during the summer and early fall. The French as a result if an expansive welfare system enjoy 5 weeks of paid vacatioin annually and thus have plenty of time to enjoy the many varied festivals. Most French people take their vacations in July and August. We notice a huge number of fairs and festivals, traditional ceremonies, as well as sporting events, and cultural events like concerts. From HBC's perspective, the regional town festivals and fairs are especially interesting when local residents bring out their folk costumes to war. Until fairly recently in French history, the regions and provinces were very important with fascinating cultural and linguistic traditions. Hopefully our French readers will be able to tell about some of their favoirite fetivals.


The French celebrate 11 national (jours feriés) holidays each year. France introduced the civic calendar (1582). The standard holidays including New Year, Valentine Day, Easter, Armistice Day, and Christmas are all important in France. Over time several new holidays have been introduced. Bastille Day was incorporated at the onset of the French Revolution, a major inflection point in French history (1789). Armistice Day was added after World War I and thge resulting huge loss of life (1918). Labor Day was added as socialists grew increasingly binfluential (193). Victory Day was added after World War II (1945). May is especially important with a holiday nearly every week. The best known French holiday is of course Bastille Day on July 14 honoring the beginning of the French Revolution. The two most important celebrations for French children are surely Easter and Christmas which is the case in much of Europe. We do not yet know a great deal about how these holiday are celebrated with the exceotion of Easter abd Christmas, but are gradually ascquiring more information.



There are all kinds of family outings that French families enjoy. Outings to the countryside for a picnic are popular as they are in other countries. Tourism is also popular. France is today one of the most popular countries for tourism around the world. When people are questioned where they want to visit, France inevitably is at the top or near the top of the list. Before World war II, intenational travel was for the wealthy, but there were plenty of domestic tourists. There is plenty to see in France: Rivierra beaches, many historical sites with wonderful castles and chateaus, beautiful country side, wine areas, Paris with all its art treasures, religious sites, and much more. The building of rail lines in the 19th century was a major step in making tourism possible for the averahe person. Children of course were involved both as tourists on family trips and working at tpurists sites in a range of capacities.


France has some beautiful urban parks which have been brought to the world by some of the country's most estemed artists. French boys like English boys might have worn fancy Fauntleroy suits to the park and certainlty sailor suits were very common. HBC believes that some informal styles like smocks were worn by French boys, even before World War I. Tops and hoops were vey popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After World War I, boys mostly wore short pants. Sailor suits were still seen, but were less common. Boys would commonly take their smocks off after school. Skating became very popular. Suits were still often worn. Sandals and high-top shoes were common as were kneesocks. After World War II boys still wore short pants at increasingly short length, but suits became less common in the 1950s. Berets became much less commn in the 1950s as did high-top shoes.


We do not have much information on play in France. Many of the play activities seem European wide including America. We do notbyet know much about bthe games French boys played. The games may have different names, but are basically the same. One such game which at first was played by adults was Blind Man's Buff. It coild be played inoors ot outdoors. The translation is 'buff de l'aveugle', but it was called 'colin-maillard'. This came from a medieval fight between a French lord of Louvain and a man named Colin who fought with a mallet and was blinded in the battle. Of course an important part of childhood is outdoor play. We do not yet have nuch information on the games French children played. We know of five popular games: pétanque, escargot (snail), jeu de la barbichette (game of the goatee), les loups-garous de Thiercelieux (Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow), and bilboquet (cup and ball). One popular activity was a range of vehicles such as bicycles and other convehences like scooters and pedal cars. These were at first expensive and only available to wealthy children. They became more available after World War I. Gradually they became more available as prices declined and incomes of average families increased.


France is a largely Roman Catholic country. Protesant groups have been severely persevuted in France. Since the Revolution there has been relogious freedom. After World War II, migrants from North Africa have added Islam to France's important religious groups. Religion has palyed a major role in France's history and the lives of its people. The importance of religion and school attendance has declined significantly in France. Even so so, religion isstull an important force in France, especially in the lives of children. Many French boys have served as altar boys. The Church has been the primary force behind the organization of boys choirs. The Church has also palyed a key role in French education. Most French boys have a Forst Communion which is a major event in their lives. Important French holiday are religious festivals, including the most important for children--Christmas


French boys have not commonly worn formal school uniforms like their across the Channel English cousins. The smock became a type of uniform in several European countries. Beginning with the Third Republic in the 1870s through much of the first half of the 20th century, elementary school boys in France wore black, dark, blue, or grey school smocks over their clothes. As this was a very common practice, it gave the appearance of a school uniform. Not all French schoolboys wore smocks--serving to obsure social differences. One account from 1900 describes a French boy who began the lycee wearing a sailor suit with long curls his mother dearly loved.

Summer Camp

The summer camp experience is largely thought of as important component of American childhood. HBC knows less about summer camp in European countries like France. We have one report of "holiday camps", although we are not sure precisely what this meant. We do know that there were programs to provide a healthy summer camp experience for city children from low-income families, but we have few details at ghis time. The boys at one of these holiday camps appear to be wearing a kind of uniform--white shirts and suspender shorts. Hopefully our French readers will provide more details on French summer camps.

Theatrical Entertaiments

French children enjoyed a variety of theatrical entertaiments. They seem basically the same as was the case in other European countries. Children might ttemd thatrical productions,but this was primarily activity for adults. One poplar theatrical activity for children were pinch and judy pupet activities. They were especially common at neach resrts, but also were held in parks. After the turn-of-the 20th century we begin to see movies which vecame very populr with children. France had the first movie industry and has continued to have a major film industry, somewhat limite by the market size of the French-speaking world. Like other European coyntries they have trouble competing with Hollywood. This isespecially the case with boys who love action films which are not the forte of French film makers. Another popular entertainment for children in France is the circus. The modern circus was actually invented created in England by Philip Astley (1742-1814), a former cavalry Sergeant-Major turned showman. He served in Seven Years War and after the wr began to put his riding skills to work. As this proved popular, other animals and other cts were gradually added by different howmen. The idea soon spread to other countries. Equestians also led the way in etablishing a French crcus tradition, but foreign performers also toured France.


We do not have a lot of information on French toys yet. Many toys are similar from country to country. With France, commercial post cards are a useful source of information. We also note a La Samaritaine from the 1930s which illustrates popular toys. We seem to commonly note teddy bears (nomurs), blocks, bowling pins (skettles), drums, pull toys, puzzles, toy planes, trins, and cars. Toy soldiers seem to have been a real favorite, al least before World War I. We also notice toys and a game called diablo which seems destinctively French. Dress up costumes, especially Indian gear, also appears popular. Hopefull our French readers will tell us more.


One interesting subject is transportation. Here we are interested in how transportation changed over time. Here we have gone from horse and buggy in the 19th century to trains and in the 20th century autmobiles and planes. France has one of the most efficient raul systems in the world. And this was the major mode of travel in the late 19th and early 20th century. To this excellent system, high speed trains have been added in recent years. Only after World War II did average families begin to acuire cars. The transition from sale to steam power fundamentally chnged international commerce. This has fundamentally changed the mobility of individuals and families. The results in economic and social terms are profound. Also interesting is how peole dessed for travel. People used to dress up and travel in suits and other rather formal garments. This began to change after World War II and now people dress casually for comfort when traveling.


We do not yet have much information about French boys working. France in the 19th century had the same problems associated with child labor as oyher countries as they industrialized. These are best known in England because of Charles Dickens, but similar problems were experienced in other countries such as France. We are not familiar yet, however, with the efforts in France to regulate child labor. We believe that the problem was addresses sooner in Franced than in Britain and America, but do not yet have the historical details. The French children most likely to work in the 20th century were children in rurral areas who worked on family farms. Hopefully French readers will provide us some details about child labor in France.

Youth Organizations

The only important boy's uniformed youth group HBC knows of in France is the Boy Scouts. France adopted the Scouting movement in the 1900s. HBU knows of no uniformed youth groups in France before the introduction of Scouting. Unlike England and America, several competing Scouting associations developed in France, organized primarily around relogious groups. I do not know of other youth groups organized. Some political parties may have had youth groups, but HBU does not believe they were of great importance--having trouble competing with Scouting. There has been at least one pre-war French youth organization based on socialism/communism : the Mouvement des Jeunes Socialistes was active in the 1930s. They were nicknamed Les Faucons Rouges (the Red Falcons). The only other French group that HBU is aware of at this time is the youth group by the Vichy political group duruing World War II. Except for this short-lived nationalist movement during the World War II Vichy era, we do not know of any others. Details on French Scouting and the nationalist group are available in our uniform satellite site.


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Created: October 26, 2001
Last updated: 11:39 AM 5/23/2024