French Boys Clothes: Family 1

Figure 1.--This photograph shows Jules in 1867. He was about 15 years old and a student at a lycee. Note the military style uniform. I'm not yet sure how common such military uniforms were at French schools.

Many of the personal accounts available to HBC are individual accounts. HBC has been able to obtain a few accounts providing information about how children in a particular family were dressed over time. This of course provides information on clothing trends and conventions over time. This HBC contributor has provide some very interesting information on boyhood clothes that he and his father and grand father wore. One interesting point is the military style uniforms worn by boys in the lycee in the 19th century. Another interesting observation is the variety of hair styles worn.

Grandfather Jules

Our HBC contributor provided information on his Granfather Jules. Jules' father was a tax collector and landowner in Normandy. He had only one son, Jules, who was born in 1852. Jules finished his secondary studies at a prestigious secondary school in Paris, as a pupil of the lycée Louis Le Grand where he certainly was a boarding pupil.

His grandfather Jules was a lycée student in 1867. Jules was about 15 years of age at the time. The boys wore a military style uniform. This was not a military school, it was just a regular uniform that the boys wore. Napoleon I gave military looking uniforms to everybody, including the teachers, the judges and so on. In 1867, when this pictures was taken, his nephew, Napoleon III, was ruling France, and the French contributor supposes it was about the same which is why he wears a military looking jacket. Note that the palms on the uniform means that it is a school uniform. This appears to have been a typical lycée uniform.

Let me explain about a lycée. A lycée is a state secondary school. The lycées were created by Emperor Napoleon It at the very beginning of the 19th century. Some of them were former Jesuits colleges. This was the case of the one that my grandfather attended, Lycée Louis Le Grand, was a very prestigious chool. It is still today one of the best lycées in Paris, and probably in France. Up to the 1970s, you could spend all your secondary school in a lycée, which had all the 7 secondary classes, so from about 11 to about 18. Nowadays, lycées are only second cycle schools, that is 5th, 6th and 7th years of secondary school, in French seconde (2nd), première (1st) and terminale (last year). Up to about World War II, there were only separate lycées for boys and girls. Now, they are never separated. When our contributor attended lycée, in the 1960s, he was in a coed lycée in a small provincial town in Normandy, but the prestigious lycées in main cities became coed only in the 1970s.

Interestingly 1867 was still during the Second Empire with Emperor Napoleon III. It was a few years before the disastrous Franco Prussian War (1870-71). I'm not sure if these military style uniforms became more or less common after the War. One result of the War was the rise of the Third Republic which instituted school smocks, as a democratic educational reform. I'm not sure just what age children wore smocks and how it affected the schools that had military-style uniforms.

Figure 2.--This photograph shows André in 1898. He was 3-years old and still wearing dresses. Note the lace collar. He wears natural curls with one large ringlet. This became known as the choupette in France, but I am not sure that it was called this at the time. We note similar styles in other countries.

Jules pursued a career in law. He must havecbeen a very good student. He became a very brillant judge; he died in 1913 and was then first president of the French Supreme Court (cour de cassation).

Father André

Jules' son and our French contributor's father André was born in 1895. The photographs show him at age 3 in 1898 and about age 8 in 1902. We are sure that the first photograph was taken when he was 3, because this is handwrited on the back of the prtrait by his mother. Interestingly, the photograph was taken at Nadar's studio, a famous photographer in Paris. Jules was dressed according to the fashion of the french bourgoisie of the time.

As a little boy in 1898 he still wore dresses. The photograph shows him in what appears to be a black velvet dress and "V" cut fine lace collar. One side of the collar and dress crosses. He has not yet had his hair cut and he has long, natural curls. Note the one large ringlet curl at the top of his lead. If that had not been formed, he would have had amazing dense hair, Long shoulder-length ringlets like American boys wore in this era were not as popular in France. No idea why he has that big curl on his head. It must have just been fashionable. We do not know when he was breeched and his curls cut. It looks similar to the choupette hair style worn by French boys in the 20th century.

Unfortunately, I don't really know much about the clothes he wore as a boy. These are the only photos of him as child that exist. I assume he wore the usual cloth of wealthy french bourgeoisie boys of his time.

Another photograph of Andre exists, but is undated. Our HBC contributor thinks that he was about 8 years of age in 1902. HBC thinks he looks a bit younger, but detemining age on the basis of looks is an inexact process and the contributor supplied the estimated date. Andre's clothes at this time can not be assessed as he wears a heavy, long double breasted coat with a fur collar. He appears to wear a beret or tam and has still not yet had his hair cut. While it is difficult to tell, he may be wearing knickers--although the riding boots and coat make it difficult to tell.

One of the reasons that HBC thinks he might be younger than 8, is that I don't believe he would have been sent to school with cirls like that. The other boys almost certainly would have trased him. Our French contributor reports that he went to a private primary school. He did not attended all day long at least in the first years, because a nurse taught him at home. There was no uniform for this type of school.

Figure 3.--This photograph shows André in 1902. He wears a heavy coat. He was about 7 years old at the time.


André's son Yves was born in 1950. One image taken about 1954 shows him when he was about 4 years old wearing a Chinese outfit. He had a great-grand mother who had travelled to China at the beginning of the century, and this is probably one of her "souvenirs"

Yves reports that as a boy he lived from the age of 8 to 16 in the country side, attending a very ordinary school. He rembers being dressed very plainly, with long pants from the age of 10, shirt and pull over. After age 10 which would be about 1960, he never wore short pants, even in summer, because he thought they were out of fashion.

When he was about 15, around 1965-66, he sometimes liked to wear a tie with my pull-over to go to school because some other boys did so, and he also often wore a tie on sundays to go to church, but his parents did not insiste on it. Later, when he became a university student, he prefered blue jeans and casual wear all the time, because all my friends were dressed like that. He did not dare to dress more formally, because he would have been teased by the other students. He would have preferred, however, to have dressed more formally.

Early 20th Century French Hair Styles

HBC readers may want to look at the information we have gathered on the hair styles worn by French boys in the early 20th century. Short hair was common. Many boys had theor hair cropped or even shaven. Boys from affluent families, however, like André, might wear a variety of long hair styles.

Reader Comments

A French reader comments on this page, "I find this story very interesting and I thank HBC's contributor for this fascinating account. I notice that the choupette was a hair style known for some time and worn by boys, even at the turn of the century (figure 2). I also note the photograph of André with long hair (figure 3). Of course he could been 8 years old! He also could have gone to public school. Before 1914 boys till 10 years old, (specialy from affluent families might have long hair. About Yves in the 1950s, it is true that some boys (very few really) wore long pants. It was rather in country side and for boys brought up in very ordinary way. Its was his case as he said. In the 1960s more and more boys were wearing long pants, but this was not the case in the 1950s."

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 6, 2000
Last updated: March 18, 2002