*** United States boys clothes: The 1910s

United States Boys' Clothes: The 1910s

above the knee knickers
Figure 1.--This boy's name was Kendall. He lived in Williamsville, Vermont. His mother used this photo postcard to send Christmas greetings, probably about 1910. Notice the above the knee knickers.

The early 20th Century was an interesting period in the development of boys' clothing. In many ways it was a period of many varied styles. Late 19th century styles continued after the turn of the century. Many of the new more casual styles of the 20th Century had begun to make real inroads in American boys' fashions. Styles such as tunics and rompers are characteristic of the period, other formerly popular 19th Century fashions had wined. The boys' kiltsuit was now little worn. The Fauntleroy suit was still worn at the beginning of the decade, but had passed from fashion by the end of the decade. The emerging 20th Century styles like knickers and short pants were well established in the 1920s. Long ringlet curls were increasingly less common at the beginning of the decade and rarely seen at the end of the decade. Note: Many of the images used in this and other HBC pages are undated. Thus HBC has been forced to estimate the date. Thus the HBC readers should exercise some caution because the dating may be slighly in error. This is especially true of the various time-line pages. Readers who can offer any refinements of the dating would be most appreciated.

Momentous Changes

The most abrupt change in boys' fashions probably occurred in the early-20th century (1900s-1910s). A more profound change in styles occured at this time than in any other period. The two decades were similar, but with imortant differences. The over riding difference was a shift from the formal, fancy styles of the late-19th century. This was especially the case for boys exemlified by the Little Lord Fauntleroy Craze (1885-1905). It was unusal for boys' styles to be so falmboyent. What changed at the turn of the century was a shift toward informal, more practical clothing. Of course the new styles may look formal to us today, but it was a huge shift from the etrene formality and highly decorative styles of the late-19th century. Another majhor change was centuries-long convention if younger boys wearing dresses and skirted garments. The difference between the 1900s and 1910s is that new styles appeared in the 1900s, along with the old styles. Onte 1910s the bew styles become increasingly common and the old styles gradually disappear. We are not sure why the turn of the 20th century was such a turning point for fashion. Often there are larger societal developments which move fashions trends like wars and economic shifts. But this does not seem to be the case at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps readers will have some explantion as to what was occurring. of course World War I erupted (1914) and dominated the rest of the decade. The War was a powerful force for pushing practical plain clothing, but it furthered a fashion trend already in motion rather than launching a new trend. While not originating the change, the War was such a powerful driver that it transformed society fundamentally. Another shift occurred during this period. Boys shifted from the knee pants that they had been wearing for decades, to knickers. The change occurred suddenly and very quickly, about 1908-09. Again we have no idea what caused the change. It was not related to the trend toward plain, less fancy clothing. Younger boys continued to wear knee pants for a while, some shifting to short pants. But most boys began wearing knickers which like knee pants became essentially universal. Another development is that American and European fashions began to diverge Until the 1910s there was alot of similarity between Eurooean and American fashions. This changed when American boys began wearing knickers. European boys began wearin shirt pants. Some European boys wore knickers, but it was not largely universal as in America. We are primarily looking at boys' fashions. but there were also changes in girls's fashions and adult fashions as well.


We note a variety of trends involving the various garments worn by American boys during the 1910s. The fashion of outfitting boys in dresses continued to be quite common at the turn of the century, but by the 1910s it was becoming less common. Little boys more commonly wore the newer fashions like rompers, tunic suits, and short pants. The custom of little boys wearing dresses did not disappear entirely. The style of the dresses increassingly were plainer frocks and not the more fancy girlish styles with elaborate lace and ruffle trim. Rompers were widely worn by boys after the turn of the century. They may have appeared before 1900, but they were not widely worn in the 1890s. I am not sure preciselt when rompers first appeared. I'm also not sure how they varied in the 1900s and 1910s. (Any insights HBC visitors might have would be most appreciated. They were a style for generally younger boys. Many of the boys outfitted in rompers might have worn dresses before the turn of the century. They were an informal style in the early 20th Century, but some dressier styles appeared in the 1920s and later period. One of the most characteristic styles of the early 20th Century in America was the tunic suit. This style was most popular in the 1900s, but still widely worn at the beginning of the 1910s. By the end of the decade, however, it had passed from the fashion scene. Many mothers who might have dressed their boys in dresses, instead appear to have chosen the related tunic style. To many boys, tunics were preferable to dresses as they good wear knicker-like bloomers that showed they were no longer wearing girlish dresses. A variety of outfits appeared for younger boys not yet deemed old enough for more mature looking suits. These outfits usually were made with short pants, usually cut rather long at knee-length. Shorter short pants did not begin to appear until the 1920s. These suits were often worn with white socks, but long stockings were still worn. Some still had the belted-styling of the tunic suit. Both colored and stripped material were common. The outfits varied greatly. American boys mostly wore knee pants at the turn of the century. As the decade progressed knickers became increasingly popular, but during the 1910s kneepants were still very common. younger boys still wore kneepants and by the end of the decade some boys were wearing the new short pants that had become popular in England. Younger boys also wore a kind of above the knee bloomer pants that were worn under tunic suits. Older boys as the decade progressed increasingly were wearing knickers, but there are many images showing older boys wearing knee pants during the decade. Knickers were not new. They had been worn in England for decades. The were also worn in America during the 19th Century, but were much less common than kneepants. The short pants that were increasingly worn in Europe at this time never proved as popular in America. Younger boys still wore wide-brimmed hats. The extremely wide-brimmed straw hats worn by very little boys in the 1900s were now less common. Some sailor hats had the brims turned down. Boys also wore sailor caps with rhe still popular sailor suit. Older boys might wear straw boaters. The most common style had by the 1910s, however, become the flat cap. Younger boys might wear strap shoes for dressy occasions. High top shoes continued to be commonly worn. They were mostly lace up shoes because button shoes were increasingly less worn. The low-cut oxford shoe began to increase in importance. We see knee socks, but they were not yet very common, children continued wering three-quter socks and long stockings.

white tunic suit and long stockings
Figure 2.--This photograph was probably taken about 1910. White stockings had become very popular for dressy little boys' outfits, in this case a tunic suit. Long hair by the 1910s, however, had become increasingly less common.

Hair Styles

Boys in the 1910s wore short hair. The only exceoption was very young pre-school boys which might have short curls. They were more likely to come from families in affluent circumstances. The long ringlets found in the late-19th and early-20th cntury are no longer seen in any numbers. We see a range of short hair styles. Bangs were popular for younger boys. Some boys might have sj=hirt criopped hairr, but not shaved heads as we see in Europe at the time. Most boys had hair long enough to comb. We still see a few boys with center parts. This was a popular style in the 1900s, but side parts were standard. Girls commonly had long hair. Ringlets variously styled were common. Ringlets took quite a bit of work, so often we see girls with long uncurled hair. We see some girls with moderate bobs by the end of the decade, but this was a style more associated with the 1920s. The style most associated with girls in the 1910s were enormous hair bows, both white and colored bows. They were variously arranged on the head. Huge bows were all the rage. Both little girls and teenagers wore them.


Sports began to come into their own, especially by the 1910s. And boys had a pashion to play them. Facilities like ball fields were not readily availabe in cities. Parks that existed did not have sports facilities and many discouraged active play. The most popular sport was baseball. And this stick ball energed as way of playing baseball in city streets. It was primarily played in the northeast, especially New York Cuty and Philadelphia. We are not sure when the sport develoed, but believed it was being played by the 1910s. School of course was a major activity. America had a fine public school system. Almost all kid attended school, but until the 1910s, many children ended school after only a few years of primary school, entering the work force. Compulsory attendance and child labor laws by the 1910s were becoming increasingly comprehensive. We at first see many of the activities that were popular in the 19th century. Boys continued to play marbels. Board games became inceasingly popular. Youth groups appeared early in the century and quickly became a popular activity. The American Boy Scouts were founded (1909) and in the 1910s rapidly became an important natiomal movement. Toys became increasingly sophisticated. New toys constantly appeared decade by decade. By the 1910s one of the most prized toys for boys were an electric train set. Chemistry sets were also popular. More boys were getting trikes and bikes. There were a range of seasonal activities. Children in the summer wanted to cool off. Country children could go swimming, that was more complicated in cities. Fire hydrants could be opened. Ice blocks could be licked. In the winter there was ice skating and sleding.

Social Class

Social class was a major factor in 19th century fashion. Clothing and fashion constitute more of dusposible income than is the case tdoay. Clothes were expensive and formal dress much more important than is the case today. This continued to be the case in the 1900s, although we notice some chnges beginning to take shape. By the 1910s this was beoming increasinfly pronounced, especially for younger boys. There wre still sunstantial scial class differences. This basically was an economic matter. The fashions were set by the well-to-do and the middle-class followed as best they cold. The working class also followed the fashions trends ser by the upper class, but with less means to do so for them selves or their children. We see boys from families in comfortable circumstances having seasona; clothing. They might weae sailor caps and hats, tunic suits with bloomer knickers, and knee pants, white socks or stockings and strap shoes. White was very popular. Working class boys had much smaller wardrobes. They were less likely to wear juvenile-styled clothes. More practical styles prevailed. Many working-class boys basically had a suit for best wear and and outfit for everyday wear. A factor here is that boys from well off families spent more time superbised than boys from less well off families. Thus they tended to be less aware as to how some other boys, especially boys from less well off families, might view their clothing.

Dressing Up

There was still considerable formality in dress, not as much as in the late-19th century, but still continued to be fairly formal. A good example is an unidentified portait of three children dress up in summer togs. Concessions were made to the summer heat. Suits were still very commom in the 1910s, but boys often did not ewrar therir suit jacket during the summer. Generally children dressed even more formally during cooler weather.


The early 1910s marked a major shift in boys' clothing styles. The flat cap became the standard headwear for boys. Boys no longer wore dresses. Kilt suits had disappeared. The only skirted f\garment we see to any extent are tunics which had become an important style in the 1900s. The old formal styles had declined in importance during the 1900s. Major styles like Fauntleroy suits had largely disappeared. Suits were still common. Norfolk styling was popular. While suits were still commonm, the new more casual styles became increasingly important as the 1910s progressed. Kniclers became standard for boys. Short pants were not as common as in Europe. Even the Boy Scouts in America did not wear shorts as was the case in Europe, except at camp. Neither knickers or shorts had the casul connotation that shorts have today. It was morea matter of age apporopriate clothing.

white oufits 1910s
Figure 3.--This postcard back portrait shows three Chicago children, probably photograohed in the 1910s. A major shift in boys fashion was underway. Until the 1910s, Europen and Americn fashions were similar. Beginning in the1910s, knoickers became standad in America, In Europe short pants were beginning to appear and became standard after the War in the 1920s.


White was a very popular color in the 1910s. We see more white outfits in the 1890s-10s than ever before or since. We arenor sure why anbd we incourage readers to provide any insights that they might have. We suspect that white was more common than ever before because America had becime the largest industrial economy and by far the most prosperous which is why Europeans emmigrated to America by the millions. The reason for this of coursewas that America was the most capitlist country. And this had consequences on fashion and clothing. It is why the Faintleroy Craze took off (1885). But it also led to white becoming invasingly imprtant. White is not a very practical color, especially for boys. And it is primarily asseasonal color. As families became more prosperous, they could afford to spend more on clothing. Clothing was a more important family expense at the time than it is today (measured as apercentage of the family budget). Thus seasonal clothing was somethin many families could not afford. We see many girls anbd younger boys wearing white. As family income rose, we see more seaonal outfits. And summer clothing meant whute or other light colors. Ehite declined somewhat after World War I (1920s). We believe this is because modern laundry detergents anbd washing mchines becanme common un the Roaring Twenties as well s color-fast dyes. Colored clothung no longer faided after a few washes. br>


American school children in the 1910s dressed differently depending on where they went to school. We still see a lot of rural one-room schools. Rural children commonly wore dungares to school and went barefoot. This was especially true of the South which was the poorest part of the country. Boys in the North were more likely to dress up, at least for the school photograph. We see youngr boys in the early 1910s still wearing blouses with wide collars. Kneepants were common and when the boys were not barefoot commonly worn with dark long stockings. Many boys not wearing overalls wore suspenders. Boys in the cities dressed differently most wore shoes to school and overalls were not common. Many boys wore suits to school. Knee pants were common, but we also see boys wearing knickers. Some boys wore ties, but mostly in city schools. We see some boys wearing sailor suits, but not very many. We do notice girls wearing sailor dresses. Some boys wear coveralls, but they were not very common. They were especially rare in rural schools. Many boys wear flat caps, but we also see beanies. We note Catholic boys dressed up in suits for First Communion.

Adult Fashions

HBC's focus is on children's fashions, especially boys, but it is interesting to also look at overall fashions that adults wore during the same period thast we are assessing boyswear. Through the early-20th century formality was the catch word for popular fashion including children's wear. This of course meant urban wear. This had becone to change after the turn-of the 20th century, but formal dress was stil still standard in the early-20th century. World war I erupted at mid-decade, at least in Europe, but America followed some 2 years later. Women wore absurdly decorated hats. We see both dresses and blouses with skirts. Hems covered the ankles. Bowler hats were popular for men. They wore suits and ties even at home. The utilitarian drive of the war introduced an element of informality unknown before the War.

Regional Differences

America was a much more rural society in the late 19th and early 20th century tha it is now. Many Americans live on the farm or in small rural towns. When they dressed up they followed the same dressy styles as boys in the cuties wore--although the latest styles probably took a little longer to reach rural America in the days before television. Fashion magazines and mail order catalogs made sure that rural America was never to far removed from the latest fashions. Most of the time rural boys would be likely to wear work clothes like overalls. They would often wear such clothes to school--at least elementary school. They were not called jeans at the time, and of course the idea of designer jeans could not even be conceived in the early 20th century, but Levi Straus dungaree overalls were widely worn by men and boys.

straw boater and double breasted suit
Figure 4.--This boy wears a double-breasted knicker suit with a straw boater. Note that he wears a small ribbon tie rather than the neck ties that appeared in the 1910s. This photograph was probably taken about 1915.

Historical Events

Americans began thec1910s with great optimism about the new century. The sinking of the Titanic (April 15, 1912) brought a realization concerning the limits of technology. The Progressive Era began about 1895. Major progressive reforms were enacted during the Roosevelt Administration in the 1900s. Taft continued actions against monoploles. A split in the Republican Party resulted in the elelection of Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1912). The Wilson Administration enacted further progressive reforms. The Progressive Movement essentially ended with America's entry into World War I. Progressive was made on major issues like child and women labor. A Federal Reserve was created. Labor unions while growing were still unable to effective negotiate with major corporations. Progress was made in state legislatures while Congress proved unwilling go dress many issues involving work plsace issues. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire tragically illustrated often unsafe working conditions. A Commission found that the status of children in America was still apauling with inadequate nutrition and housing. As bad as conditions were, they were preferable to those in Europe and untill the outbreak of World War I (1914), immigrants continued to flood into the counyty. American had become greatest undustrial power in the world. A major factor here had been the mass production of automobiles. Ford introduced the first moving assembly line (1914) and in 1915, the one millionth Model T (costing $345) rolled off the assembly line. Industrial expansion had created huge numbers of jobs and great propsperity. Rising incomes had profound social consequences and the continued expansion of the middle class. Whole new industries appeared to capitalize on expanding purchasing power, including motion pictures and phonographs. Expanding trade and internation events like the Olympics were also seen as harbingers of a new age. im Thorpe, an American Indian, electtrified American by winninning gold medals at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. The increasing integration and prosperity in Europe to many meant that a major war was no longer possible. America was shocked with the outbreak of World War I and the terrible killing. German resumtion of unrestricted subnmrine warfare brought America into the War and sealed German's defeat. This prevented Germany from dominating Europe, but after the War American involvement becme widely viewed as a mistake. At the end of the decade amendments were passed providing for women's suferage (1919) and initiating an unprecedented national campaign--prohibition. Oppression of black Americans continued in the South an many fled north to major indudstrial cities. The end of the decade also brought the National Park Service. The Girl Scouts of America were formed to provide oportunities compsarable to the Boy Scouts. The Russian Revolution (1917) led to a Red Scatre sand demands for limits om immigration. America's inolvement in Europe ended when the Senate rejected President Wilson's Treaty and the League of Nations leading to two decades of isolationism.


We begin to see sunstantial changes in girls clothing during the 1910s. Here World War I. was mjor factor driving chsange. Although stylistic changed, well-to-do women wore fancy dresses and so did their daughters. We see the same fancy outfits and elaborate hats, athough hairbows, sometimes gigantic, became extrodinarily popular with girls, including teenagers (1910s). Girls conducted a virtual arms race to see who could have the largest bow. We also see a vriety of hats, some highly decorted. Fob turned fims were popular. Long hair was praised. All girls wore skirted garments. dresses. It was virtually the only basic garment girls wore. Virtually the only exception was the bloomers girls wore for high school gym. While the dress was the basic woman's harment, working women tended to wear a blouse and skirt. At school we see far more girls wearing dresses than blouses and skirts. Long stockings were standard. Both boys and girls wore black long stockings, the girls and younger boys someimes also wore white stockings. Footwear was more varied than that of the boys. We see both low-tops and high top shoes. All this began to change with World War I (1914-18). The War emergency made the frivolity of pre-War fashion seem absurd. And for the first time we see women wearing pants which became very common in war plants. Women and girls worked in mills, indutrial fctories were the mainsty of men and noys--but by the 1910s boys were being phased out. And in fctories women wore work clothes--commonly pants. Such practical matters rose in importance and we begin to see affecting fashion after the War.

Personal Accounts and Articles

We are compiling some information about individuals in the 1910s. In some cases we have some information about their lives. In other cases we have just the name or an especially interesting photograph. Also included are aricles about the fashions of the era.

The 1900s: An Ohio boyhood

1911: Raymond Bykes: America--messenger boy

About 1915: Unidentified teenager

1916: Harold Walker: America--agricultural laborer

The 1920s: First long pants suit


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Created: June 6, 1999
Last updated: 12:08 AM 7/28/2022