Canadian Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothings: Chronology

Figure 1.--Eatons in 1927 offered a wide range of suits for boys. Older boys mostly wore knicker suits as in America. Many had an extra pair of knickers. Norfolk styling was popular. Not the flt cap, another popular style. Notice the belt loops on the knickers. This would not have been as common before World War I.

Canadian mail order catalogs and newspaper advertisements offer a very useful time line on changing fashion trends. I am not sure precisely when mail order catalogs first appeared in Canada. I believe that they were initially an American inovation. Western Canada in particular must have been influed by Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward in the United States. HBC has begun collect mail order pages. Advertisements appeared in the newspapers before the first mail order catalogs appeared. We do not yet have much 19th century information, but we lnow a good deal about the 20th century.

The 19th Century

The 1870s

Montgomery Ward launched America's most famous mail order business in 1872. There may be earlier companies, but Wards was by far the dominate company. I'm not sure to what extent they did business in Canada or affected the formation of French companies. Certainly especially Western Canada needed such mail order catalogs as much as America.

The 1880s

Sears Roebuck launched their mail order business in 1886 and became along with Wards the two principal American mail order companies. Again, I am not sure how much this affected Canada. We note French companies were also active. A common fashion in the 1880s was for younger boys to wear dresses or other skirted garments like kilt suits. We note a boy's sailor dress for a 3-5 year old boy offered in Le Monde during 1885. Knee pants were becoming standard for boys in the 1880s, but only younger boys. We note a Toronto retailer offering collar-buttoning knee pants suits for boys up to age 9-10 years of age in a 1883 newspaper advertisement. This seems similar to American styles and conventions.

The 1890s

We do not yet have much information from Canadaian catalogs and magazines from the 1890s. We do have some limited information on suits. Suits were a very important part of a boy's wardrobe in the 1890s. Both affluent and very poor boys wore them. We note a very wide range of suits offered in the by Eatons Fall-Winter 1893-94 catalog, including both two- and three-piece suits.

The 20th Century

The 1900s

Tunic suits were the popular style for boys in the 1900s. They were made in different styles: Russian, and sailor. They looked rather like dresses, but boys wore them with knicker-like pants. These look very similar to the styles worn in America. I'm not sure, however, to what extent the Buster Brown shoes were worn in Canada.

The 1910s

Younger Canadian boys might wear sailor suits. We see Canadian boys wearing knickers suits with flat caps and long stockings during the 1910s. Quite a range of underwear styles were available for children in 1919. The styles were still quite different from modern styles. There were shirts, drawers, and combination or "union" suits with the shirts and pants combined. There were also waists, a support garment worn by women and children. Also sometimes combined with the waists are worn separately were stocking supporters for the still commonly worn long stockings.

The 1920s

Flat caps were a major style during the 1920s. Quite a cariety of suits were offered for youngr boys. Sailor suits were still popular, at least for younger nboys. Nrfolk suits were very popular for older nboys. Knickers as in American seem to have been widely worn in Canada. Stores offered knickers suits for older boys and short pants and kneepants for younger boys. Many suits included an extra pair of knickers. Longstockings were primarily offered in the early 20s, but kneesocks were increasingly apparent in the catalogs by the end of the decade. We note Eton's catalogs offering long stockings. The most important catalog, besides the American Sears and wards catalog, was the Eton Department Store catalog.

The 1930s

We have very limited information from Canadian catalogs during the 1930s. Eatons offered a range of suits for boys in its 1936-37 catlog which included short pants suits for boys up to age 12 years. They were shown being worn with long stockings. We note an Eaton's ad in the Spring-Summer 1939 catalog which offered various suits with short pants, knickers, and long pants. Eatons refers to long trousers), "Bloomer" pants (knickers), and "knee pants" (short trousers) in Canada, even as late as 1940). We notice that Eaton's in its 1939-40 Fall-Winter French edition catalog offer garter waists in sizes 2-14? years. The model was a girl. I'm not sure to what extent boys at the time wore them. We also notice hosiery being offered in theEaton's Fall and Winter 1939-40 catalog. Long stockings were particularly important among the offerings.

The 1940s

Canada joined England in World War II in 1939. I'm not sure at this time how the War affected clothing styles and availability. Eatons in the 1940s had French-language catalogs. I'm not sure when this began. The French editions made Eatond became a big seller among French-Canadians. Long stockings are still advertized, even during the summer. You notice American clothes entering the Canadian market. The U.K. was totally absorbed by the War in the early 40s and in the late 40s the economy was devestated. The English fashion industry was not producing new styles and could not even satisfy domestic nglish demand. Canada was not devestated by the War, but like America had an expanding economy. The French populstion in Montréal was growing. Eatons used the linguistic approach to develop the French-speking market. Long stockings was a concession for rural customs where Catholic religion was extremely strong. It was not until the 1960s tht French-speaking Canadians fully accepted modern styles.

The 1950s

We have very little information from Canadian catalogs in the 1950s. We were surprised to find a Canadian company still selling long stocking supporters in 1959.

The 1960s

We still have very little Canadian catalog information from the 1960s. We have some items from Eatons, the most important department store and catalog store. One Etons page offered a colorful range of outfits for young boys up to age 6 years. It included several different sets, mean coordinated tops and bottoms. This was also apopular approach in America for pre-schoo and school age boys. A HBC reader has provided us a 1965 catlog item for a garter waist which shows that long stockings were still being worn in Canada (especially in Quebec and other French-speaking areas of Canada) as late as mid-60s, a decade later than in America. This item appeared in a Simpson's catalog. Simpson's was an important Canadian clothing retailer (including children's clothing) during the 1960s.

The 1970s

Mail order catalogs chronicle trends in fashions. Catalogs in the 1970s show many clothes that look almost identical to American fashions. We do not notice much difference, except for more cold weather clothing. Our major source is Eatons. We note a lot of polyester clothes and bellbottom trousers. We also notice T-shirts, tank tops, and camp shorts for summer wear, all popular American styles.

The 1980s

The 1990s

The 21st Century

The 2000s


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Created: October 8, 2001
Last updated: 4:10 PM 1/24/2012