*** United States boys clothes: suits components jackers suit styles

United States Boys' Clothes: Suit Components--Jackets

boys cut-away jacket
Figure 1.--This CDV portrait is unidentified. We do know that the boy is American. The portrait was taken by Case & Getchell of 299 1/2 Washington Street, Boston. The boy wears a plain cut-away jacket suit without a vest. Notce the decorative piping and stripes. The portrait is undated, but was probably taken in the late 1860s. Image courtesy of the PH collection.

The style of a suit was primrily determined by the jacket style. Categirizing suits is a little complicated, but we see several five basic styles that have been worn by American boys. The skeleton suit was popular in the early 19th century. We notice a variety of fancy styles in the 19th century for younger boys. The principal jacket style by mid-century was the cut-away jacket. We also see collar-buttoning jackets. Many of these suits were detailed with military styling. Of course the best known suit style in the late-19th century was the Fauntleroy suit. Older boys' sack suit jackets could be quite plain. One popular style for many years was the Norfolk jacketwith pleats and suilts. Eton suits appeared in the late 19th century. A juvenile Eton suit became a popular style for younger boys in the 1920s and continues to be worn today.

Blouse Suits

Button-on Suits

We are not entirely about the chronology of these button-on suits. We see them in the 1860s, but are unsure about the 50s and 70s at this time. We have found a number of CDV portraits. Most are undated, but look like the 1860s. They look rather like one-piece suits, but I believe they were two pieces that buttoned to gether. They were suits in the sence that the top matched the bottom, but there was no jacket. Rather the top was a shirt liked top to which the pants buttoned. The suits were often decorated with piping, embroidery, and buttons. We are not sure about the colors. We notice these suits done in a number of styles. Both the tops and pants varied. We notice both long pants and bloomer knickers.

Collar-buttoning Jackets

We see collar-buttoning jackets in the mid-19th century through the very early 20th century. This was a very popular style for boys to wear after breeching, They seem to have been done in sizes for school-age children. Some boys might wear intermediate styles like sailor suits and Fauntletoy suits first. They were done in many different styles. Some of these had military syling, especially during the mid-19th century. Elements of Norfolk styling appered in the 1870s, including vertical vents and belts. Some were done as Fauntleroy suits in the late 19th century. A good example of these collar buttoning suits is an unidentified American boy about 1870. While the jackets buttoned at the collar and had collars in the suit material, this did not prevent mothers in the 1880s adding blouse collars and floppy bows. This added more variety to the jackets than the actual styles of the jackets themselves, I am not yet sure about the social-class conventions, but this seems a style that was worn by boys from more modest income families. We note them being worn with both knee pants and long trousrs. When they forst appeared in the mid-19th century, knee pabys were not yet very common. We dob't see them commonly being done with knickers.

Cut-away Jackets

We notice a variety of fancy styles in the 19th century for younger boys. The principal jacket style by mid-century was the cut-away jacket. Suits with cut-away jackets appeared in the mid-19th century in a range of different styles. Many of these were very plain and other suits were detailed with military styling. Piping, stripes, and embroidery were commonly employed in the detailing. Of course the best known suit style in the late-19th century was the Fauntleroy suit, one without military styling. The cut of the jacket varies as to how sharply the two sides separated. There were also differences in length. Fauntleroy cut-away jackets were especially small to show off fancy blouses to the best advantage. Cut away jackets were connected at the top in various ways. Some buttones near the collar. Others had tab connectors. The cut-away jacket suit was worn with and without vests and with a variety of blouses, both plain and fncy blouses.

Eton Suits

Eton suits appeared in the late 19th century. They had destinctive small jackets worn with stiff Eton collars and were mosly worn in England. The Eton suit can be confused because the Eton collar was very widely worn. Portaits show that the Eton collar and Eton suits had crossed the Atlantic as early as the 1840s. I do not know, however, just how popular the style was. The American primitive show here for a variety of reasons. HBC is fairly confident that the style of their suit and collar was inspired by the English Eton suits, the shape of the collars, the short black jackets, the long grey trousers all point to this. The image also shows how common it was during the first half of the 19th century for boys, even very young ones, to wear long pants after breeching. A British expert on Eton collars, however, notes that he wouldn't call the relatively unstiff flat-down-upon-the-shoulders collars depicted in the painting of the American brothers true Eton Collars. Although the latter probably evolved from the earlier type they are different in important respects. The true English Eton Collar stands higher and is much stiffer--and presumably rather more uncomfortable." Photographic evidence and fashion catalogs suggest that Eton suits and collars were not nearly as popular in America as in England. Eton suits were being worn by American boys in the late 19th century and at the turn of the century. The boys wearing them, however, are generally boys from affluent families. The style was much less commonly worn by middle-class boys. The collar itself was more popular than the entire suit. The Eton collr in America was much more commonly worn with sack suit jackets than actual Eton suit jackets. While wealthy boys might wear a proper Eton suit, more common was the Eton collar with an ordinary suit. While the Eton suit generally disappeared in the 1910s, the Eton collar continued to be worn with suits into the 40s. A destinctly American off shoot of the Eton suit was the American Eton suit which was beginnng in the late 1920s wiorn by younger American boys, a suit with a short lapeless jacket usually with suspender short pants. A juvenile Eton suit became a popular style for younger boys in the 1920s and continues to be worn today. It was initially worn with an Eton collar, but by the 1930s, Peter Pan collars had become more common.

Fancy Half-sleeved Jackets

We are not entirely sure what to call these jackets. The most destinguiding feture were the half sleeves so we will use that as a description until we find what the contemporary term was. They were worn wih blouses that had long balooning sleeves which can be seen with the wide jacket half-sleeves. Our ininital assessment is that they were not nearly as poopular as other cintemporary styles such as the collar-buttoning military jackets. This was a European style that was worn in America, we thinbk modtly in fashionable northeastern cities. We note them during the mid-19th century. We believe they were worn in the 1840s, but this is difficult to confirm because Daguerreotypes are complicated to date. We have trouble descrimibaring those taken in the 1840s from the 1850s dags. We know these jackets were worn in thr 50s because we have Ambros depicting them. We rarely see them by the 1860s. We are not sure just what to call these jackets. Surely there was aerm, but we have not yet found it. We do not yet have enough examples archived to know just how the jackjets were styled. This was a juvenile style worn by pre-teen boys. We notice girls wearing a similar style with dresses.

Fauntleroy Suits

No where was the Fauntleroy suit more popular than in America. Quite a number of boys wore formal velvet Fauntleroy suits, but many more boys wore less expensive suits with large lace or ruffled collars. American boys generally wore Fauntleroy suits with wide-brimmed sailor hats. Other head gear was worn, but was not nearly as popular as in Europe. Some boys wore their Fauntleroy suits with long ringlet curls. Most of the American boys with long hair wore ringlets. I was not common for boys to have long uncurled hair. One of the most destinctive elements of the American Fauntleroy suit was that it was worn with large, carefully tied bows. Most boys wore large bows to match the large collars. Almost all Fauntleroy suits, except for kilt suits, were worn with kneepants. Unlike England. knicker Fauntleroy suits were rare. The American Fauntleroy suit was often worn with heavy high top shoes that looked like boots. The patent leather pumps and buckle shoes worn in England were much less common in America. Here we have not extensively developed this page on American Fauntleroy suits. This is primarily because the main HBC Fauntleroy page has primarily been developed wiyh information and images about Fauntleroy suits in the United States.

Frock Coat Suit

The standard men's suit during the Victorian era was the somber frock coat suit. This was not a boys' style, although we see a few boys wearing them. We do, however, see teeenagers wearing them, especially older teenagers. A good example is Clarence E. Summer, we believe in the 1840s.

Military Styles

We note a number of suit jackes done with military styling. Mikitary styling was one of the many inluences on men and boys clothing. The most common military style jacket was the collar buttoning jackets popular in the mid-19th century. They were often blue like U.S. Army jackets. We also see wjat look like grey jackets, but this was not necesaeily to emulate a Confederate uniform. They commonly were done with a row of closely spaced buttons, sometimes brass buttons. The buttons were sometimes so closely spaced that they were obviously a stylistic statement rather than just practical closures. We also noticed various styled jacket with miltary features. This was often done as piping. These jackets were popular during the mid-19th century before ready-made clothes were stabdardized. Thus we see a range of different styles. Military fratures include epaulettes. pocket flaps, and stripe detailing on various elements of the suit like the collar, cuffs, pockets, and button front.

Norfolk Suits

Norfolk suits was one of the most popular styles of boys suits during the late 19th and early 20th century. It was of course a European style imported from England. The style may have begun in the 870s, but we see many boys wearing jackets with Norfolk elements by the 1880s. The basic elements were vertical elements and horizontal waist belts. Some jackets only had the vents, but some had belts as well. In many sits the vents were only hinted at, in others they were pronounced. This was a style for school age bopys. Younger boys wore skirted garments and fbcy uits like Fauntleroy suits. The Norfolk style was also wirn by teenagers. There was quite a wide range of styles for the jackets. We see both collar-buttoning jackets and sack suit jackets with lapels. The collar-buttoning jackets were mostly worn in the 19th century. We note Norfolk suits with all kinfs of pants. Most boys in the 19th century wore them with knee pants.

Standard Lapel Suits/Sack Suits

The sack suit became the standard suit style for both men and boys. The sack suit first appeared in the mid-19th century. It began as a loose fitting single-breasted garment without a waist seam. The lapel was the destinguisjing feature of these suits. They were worn by men and boys. A related style, the collar-buttoning jacket was only worn by boys and seems to have evolved from military tunics. . It was seen at first as a somewhat casual suit or jacket style. It is now so standard that the simple term "suit" is used today to mean sack suit. Older boys' sack suit jackets could be quite plain. Sack suits generally had "V" fronts with lapels, but there were some exceptions. The two basic styles were single- and double-breased suits. There was a wide range of stylistic variatins affecting the lapels, pockets, and other features of the jackets. Both styles were widely worn for many years, but after the 1950s we mostly see boys wearing single-breasted suit jackets. There were some notable variations. One popular style for many years was the Norfolk jacket with destinctive pleats and belts.

Sailor Suits

The sailor suit is one of the most suceesful boys styles of all time. It was one of those rare coincidences of an outfit which both boys amd mothers liked. Sailor suits were introduced as boys' wear by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1840s when the Prince of Wales was outfitted in a white enlistedman's uniform. The first generation did not commonly wear sailor suits, but it became almost a uniform for British royals in the second generation. The second generation of princes aooeared in sailor suits after they were breeched. The style eventually spread to the Continent. The style gained momentum when Queen Victoria's daughters and grandaughters mairred into most of the important royal families in Europe. The style also spread to the new American Republic HBC has realtively little information about sailor suits in America during the mid-19th century. The sailor suit was one of the most popular styles for boys in the late-19th century. The style was conceived in England, but proved popular in America and coincided with the emergence iof America on the world scene as it was building a powerful navy. We also note girls wearing sailor styles. Paradoxically, the sailor suit continued popular in the anti-war environment of the post-World War I era and mothers continued willingness to dress small boys in the sailor suit. As sailor styles became increasingly popular with girls, fewer boys wanted to wear them. American boys have worn a variety of garments with sailor styling. Most of the garnments worn in Britain were also worn in America. The classic middy blouse was the standard shirt-like garmet, alough reefer jackets were also common. A range of pants incliding bell bottoms, knee pants, knickers, and short pants were also worn. The types of pants varied over time. Knee pants were popular in the late 19th-century. Short panrs became more common in the 1920s, but sailor suits also began to be worn by increasingly younger boys. There were also other items such as hats and caps as wll as coats, scarves, dickies, and other items.

Short Jackets

We notice boys in the early 19th century wearing short jackets. We are not entirely sure about the color, but they were black or dock colors. They were worn with contrasting light-colored long trousers. The suits were simlar to Eton suits, but I am not sure if this was the origin or what they were called at the time. A good example is a boy attending President Jackson's inaguration (1829)

Skeleton Suits

The skeleton suit was popular in the early 19th century. We note American boys wearing skeleton suits. America at the tiome of course was a fashion backwater. Affluent families in America primarily just followed popular styles in Europe, primarily England and France. The population of America was very small at the time. The population in cities, where boys from fashionable families were most likely to wear skeleton suits, was especially small. A good example is Charles Mosley in 1791. His bright red velvet skeleton suit looks just like the ones by European boys from affluent families.


The term tuxedo is variously used. It essentially always refers to some kind of formal dinner jacket. It appeared first in Britain (1860s). And because American men's styles at the time were largely set in Britain, the tuxedo soon appeared across the Atlantic in the United States. Perhaps because of the growing prosperity of industrializing America, we tend to see more Americans wearing tuxedos than people in many other countries. The tuxedo was an adult men's style, but by the 1890s we begin to see American boys wearing tuxedos as well. This of course was quite a whiole after the tuxedo first appeared in America. Here the styles varied and boys tuxedos were more variable than men's tuxedos. Tuxedos for boys were an upper-class styles. Middle-class boys as well as working-class boys did not wear them. And they illustratean interesting phenomenon among the upper class. We often see upper-class boys in the late-19th and early-20th century wearing very fancy, juvenile styles like the Fauntleroy suit ot hair styles like ringlet curls. But we also see upper-class boys shifting to adult styles earlier than middle-class boys. This of course varied from family to family.


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Created: 12:06 AM 1/31/2006
Last updated: 12:01 AM 2/10/2023