United States Boys' Clothes: The Mid-19th Century--The 1850s


Figure 1.--This Boston boy, Frank A Castle, wears a short tunic-style jacket. Notice how the emroidered decoration is repeated on the bloomer knickers which are blouced well below the knee an worn with white stockings. We think this portrait was taken in the 1850s, but the early 60s is also possible.

Much more information is available on boys clothing during the 1850s than the previous ddecades of the 19th century. The 1850s is the first decade in which large numbers of photographic images of boys appear. Thus for the first time we have large numbers of very accuate images picturing boys' clothing. American boys by the 1850s were no longer wearing long tunics, although the style had evolved into a kind of tunic jacket which was popular. The tunic-style jackets often had embroidered designs. These andother suits often had fanciful designs. The collars worn by boys grew increasingly small in the 1850s, in sharp contrast to the collars boys wore in the earlier and latter period of the decade. Boys commonly wore long trousers, generally quite baggy. Some younger boys began to be seen in shortened-length trousers, bloomer knickers bloused below the knee. The cut was generally but well below the knee. Long trousers were most common, but fashionably dressed boys from affluent families did wear the new bloomer knickers. Some boys might also wore long pants well above the ankles, but this may have been primarily the result of boys outgrowing their clothes and the high cost of replacing them--not a fashion statement. The 1850s was the last decade of slavery in America. Most black children lived as slaves in the South and were crudely dressed. Small numbers of blacks lived in the north and dressed like other children of similar economic levels.

Photography

Much more information is available on boys clothing during the 1850s than the previous decades of the 19th century. The 1850s is the first decade in which large numbers of photographic images of boys appear. Thus for the first time we have a substantial numbers of very accuate images picturing boys' clothing. Photographic portraits were still expensive, although not as expensive as a painted portraits. Falling prices will mean even more photographs in later decades, but compared to early decades there are a substantial number of accurate images avaiable for the first time in the 1850s. Many of the portraits from the 1850s are Daguerotypes or Ambrotypes. The Daguerotypes can be from the 1840s through 60s, but most are from the 1850s. The Ambrotypes date from the 1850s through 60s, but most are from the 1850s. Both of these positive processes become much less common when the less expensive and more useable negative-based CDV and cabinent card formats rapidy replace them. We have collected a number of 1850s portraits, most are from America.

Artists

Although photography developed in the mid 19th century, artists are still a major source of information about fashion. One artist who provides us a look at how children dressed in the 1850s is George Baker Jr..

Garments

American boys by the 1850s were no longer wearing long tunics, although the style had evolved into a kind of tunic jacket which was popular. The tunic-style jackets often had embroidered designs. These andother suits often had fanciful designs. The collars worn by boys grew increasingly small in the 1850s, in sharp contrast to the collars boys wore in the earlier and latter period of the decade. Boys commonly wore long trousers, generally quite baggy. Some younger boys began to be seen in shortened-length trousers, bloomer knickers bloused below the knee. The cut was generally but well below the knee. Long trousers were most common, but fashionably dressed boys from affluent families did wear the new bloomer knickers. Some boys might also wore long pants well above the ankles, but this may have been primarily the result of boys outgrowing their clothes and the high cost of replacing them--not a fashion statement.

Black Children

The 1850s was the last decade of slavery in America. Most black children lived as slaves in the South and were crudely dressed. There are very few images available of slave children, just as there are few painted portraits. Slave children generally often wore clothes discaded by their owners. On large plantations slave children might wear simplest garments fashioned by their parents from rough fabric. Small numbers of blacks lived in the north and dressed like other children of similar economic levels.

Individuals

We have archived a number of individual portraits on HBC. The number is limited before the 1860s, but we have a few from the 1850s. A good example is three childre, we think from the same Maine family. The portraits are not precisely dated, but we think they azre from the late 1850s.







HBC





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Created: April 20, 2001
Last updated: 10:39 PM 11/13/2005