Scottish Boys' Clothes: Literary References in Novels

Figure 1.--This is the cover of the 1979 paperback of A.J. Cronin novel showing the Irish orphan and his suit made out of green curtains. Also notice the Eton collar and Norfolk styling. Of course the illustration is modern and can not be used a valid contemporary evidence. The text though is valid contemporary evidence and can be very useful.

There is interesting fashion information in Scottish novels. We have many sill unanswered questions about Scottish boys clothes and are hopeful that some Scottish novels will provide us some inights. There are useful refrence to fashion in novels for the simple reason that fashion is important to people. Novels are all about descriing the human condition. Thus novelists have to address what is important to people. Of course a major part of any novel is developing the character of the key people in the novel. Of course many people express their character in the clothes they choose. In other instances clothes are determined by the circumstances in which they find themselves.

James Buchan

James Buchan is another popular Scottish author who has has had his worked turned in to both movie and television productions. Buchan gives us some rather gritty views of childhood in Scotland. His spy novel Hunting Towers (1922) described how working-class boys dressed in Glasgow, a very run-down city after World War I. He also explains that Boy Scouting while popular was a primarily middle class organization. Many working-class boys could not afford to purchase a uniform.

A. J. Cronion

One of A. J. Cronin’s most beautiful novels is The Green Years. The book is about an Irish orphan, Robert Shannon. The illustration on the cover here depicts the suit that was made from the curtains. There is a description of the clothing worn by Robert’s best friend Gavin. "He wore his kilt, the dark Blair tartan, austere leather sporran, black brogues." [Cronin, p. 45.] There’s also a description or Gavin’s school clothes. "He wore the restrained outfit of his exclusive school, grey flannel trousers and shirt, a shapeless cricketing hat of the same grey, relieved or, rather exalted by a thin band of blue and white, the Larchfield colours." [Cronin, p. 160.]

George Douglas

George Douglas in his famous 1901 novel The House With the Green Shutters refers to a boy wearing knickerbockers, also referred to as knickers. He writes, "He pointed to a sharp-faced urchin of twelve … a red-haired boy with an upturned nose, dressed in shirt and knickerbockers only. The cross of his braces came comically near his neck – so short was the space of shirt between the top line of his breeches and his shoulders. His knickers were open at the knee and the black stockings below them were wrinkled slackly down his thin legs, being loosely tied above the calf with dirty white strips of cloth instead of garters.” [Douglas] This is interesting for a number of reasons. Note the informal methods to hold up his long stockings. Also notice that the terms "knickers" and "breeches" are being used interchangably. Also the trouser garment they seem to be describing is kneepants.

Robert Louis Stevenson


Cronin, A.J. The Green Years.

Douglas, George. The House With the Green Shutters (1901).


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Created: July 30, 2003
Last updated: 2:28 AM 7/7/2005