*** United States boys clothes : specific skirted garments

United States Boys' Clothes: Skirted Garments

boy dress
Figure 1.-- These two boys are Rodger and Rodrick from were from Waupaca, Wisconsin. We think their last name was Ownens. The cabinent card portrait is undated, bit looks like the 1890s to us. At first glance we thought the boys were wearing wearing Fauntleroy kilt suits. But on closer examination they seem to be jacketed dresses. The difference is that rather than wearing a kilt skirt the boys seem to be wearing drsses. The top of the dresses is made to look like a vest, but the top seems to be sewed toether rather than separate garment.

Skirted garments or often seen as primarily female garments. Many American boys, however, have worn skirted garments. American boys over time have worn several different skirted garments. The most important have been dresses, skirts, kilts, and tunics. Dresses were the principal skirted garmenr for many years. Skirts and kilts were popular in the 19th century. Tunics were widely worn in the early 20th century. There have been some other skirted garments of less importance. Pinafores have been worn by younger boys. Smocks were not as common in America as Europe. The popularity and age conventions for these different have varied substantially over time. Two of these skirted garments, kilts and tunics, are male garments. We have seen some girl's garments referred to as kilts, but almost alwaus these are skirts, often pleated plaid skirts rather than proper kilts. While theseare the principal skirted garments, it is not always possible to olace the actual garments that boys wore neatly into one of these categories.

Specific Garments

Younger European boys wore skirted garmnts for several centuries. This conntinued as the English settled along the Atlkantiuc ciast of North America. We are unsure to what extent these conventions continued during the early settlemnrnt period or how they affected by the largely rural agricultural societ. We thinks that these skited garments were most common with well-to-do urban families. The principal skirted garment was dresses. We are less sure about skirts. We have virtully no information on the 17th century and only a few paintings from the 18th century. As America developed we see largely European conventions becoming standard. And with the invention of photography we can follow this in some detail during the 19th century. This we have asunstntil recird for the last few decasdes in which the convention persisted. Kilts suits were especially popular. Smocks were never commoin in meric, but firks dud wear pinafores. The convention lrgely dusappeared after the turn-of-th 20th century. The one skirted garment that was common during the early-20th century was the tunic suit.


Most skirted garments are reltively easy to identify, although there is some overlap., especilly when we only have photographs to work with and not the ctul garments. This of course applies to skirted garments in general and not just to American garmnts, but our archive is primarily American so se are discussing this issue here. Ans ome of the complicated garments, ijncluding kilt suits and tunics were especially common in America. We note some portaits in which the destinction between a jackeed dress and a kilt suit are difficult to work out. Another problem is destinguishing between tunics and dresses. Essentilly a tunic is a long dress. The definition of tinic falls within that of a plain dress. The primary difference is that the tunic, at least in the 19th cntury, was a garment for boys that had been breeched nd worn over pnts. Younger boys might wear them with pantalettes. The problem estunguishing dresses nd tunics comes as some tunics re quite worn and when worn with knee pants, it often can not be determind if the boy is wearing pants/trousers underneath. We will post some of the images here that we are hbing trouble idenifying. Reader comments are welcome.

Mixed Portrait Images

Many portraits show a mix of garments, includung skirted garments. In the eraly 19th century we mostly see dresses without much variety. Boys also wore tunics, but they were much less commn. After mid-century we see a lot of portraits with the younger boys wearing kilt suits and the girls wering dreses. Skorts were less common, we think because mothers usully dressed the children up kn theor best outfits for a photographic portrait. This all varied with a mix of gender, chronology, and age. Here we are mostly talking about the 19th century. Boy swearing skirted garments rapidy declined after the turn of the 20th century. We do see tunics becoming a major boys's garment (1900s-10s). After that we rarely see American boys wearing skirted garments beyond infancy. We have found a few exceptions, but they are not very common at all. And at the same time we begin to see girls wearing pants, althought this was limited until afrer World War II, and at first only for outdoor play.


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Created: 9:50 PM 10/12/2008
Last updated: 2:57 AM 8/17/2021