** fabrics for boys' clothing: velvet

Fabrics Used in Boys' Clothing: Velvet

Figure 1.--The Spanish master Goya painted this young Spanish nobel boy wearing a skeleton suit in the late-18th Century. Note the bright red velvet.

Velvet is one of the most familiar of what are known as pile fabrics. It is is generally considered a luxurious fabric both because of its appearance and the material used to make it, especially the silk. It had a luxurios feel and productions methods were complicated making it in addition to silk an expenive fabriv . Velvet was widely used for fashionable younger boys' suits and girls' party dresses. The small size of younger children made it affordable, but it was most common with families in comforatavle circumstances. True velvet is quite expensive and made from silk. Thus much of the velvet during the Fauntleroy era was cotton with a small blend of silk. We see a lot of velvet being used during the Fauntleroy era. The image of a Fauntleroy suit is generally associated with velvet for boys wear, but velvet suits were worn well before the late-19th Century. Velvet is still considered a luxurious fabric, but now commonly made of various cotton-synthetic blends. WEe alsp see velvet being used as trim on coats and jackets. Color is more difficult to sort out. The black and white photography of the day suggest black, but other dark colors such as navy blue, bugundy, and forrest green would have looked like black in period portraits.


Velvet is one of the most familiar of what are known as pile fabrics. It is produced by adding to the usual warp and weft threads of plain weaving an additional row of warp yarns which are woven into the ground of the cloth, and passed over wires on the surface. In the case of a loop pile the wires are simply drawn out, but for velvet or other cut pile, a knife is first passed along a grove on the top of each wire to cut the pile before the wire is withdrawn. The resulting fabric has a thick, soft pile formed by loops of the warp thread, either cut at the end or left uncut. Velvet was originally a fabric made from silk and real velvet is still made entirely of silk. Less expensive velvets are often made on a silk face with a cotton basis. This velvet-like material has the appearance of velvet with a cotton backing. Modern imitation velvets are often made from synthetic fibers (acetate, nylon, rayon, and others). A less expensive fabric is made from cotton and variously referred to as velveteen or courderoy.

Figure 2.--Velvet is often associated with the fancy Fauntleroy party suits worn by boys in the late-19th century.


Velvet can be made in a wide variety of colors. Luxurious boys' suits in the late 18th Century were made in a wide range of colors, including bright red. A famous painting by Goya shows a Spanish nobel boys in a bright red skeleton suit. Boys suits gradually became less flamboyant. The velvet Fautleroy suits made in the late-19th centurty were mostly, but not excclusivly black. Given the black ans white photography of the day, it is difficult to detect other colors, but we know Fauntleroy suits were made in other dark shades of brown, blue, burgandy, and green. We also noticelighter colors like cream, grey, and white, but they were not as common. We know that becuse it is possible to detect the lighter colrs in the photographic record and they are cleatly not as common. For most colors, however, we have to rely on paintings until modern times.


The first velvet was apparently made in China. This would seem likely as there is a silk component. We are unsure just when. The material was first introduced in Baghdad (around 750 AD, but production eventually spread to the Mediterranean and the fabric was distributed throughout Europe. The term velvet was first used by Europeans in the 13th century. Thede velvets were made from silk and, as as result incredibly expensive and only accessible by the royal and noble classes. It was used to sew fine garments for wealthy individuals. At the time there were no specialized children's clothes. Boys wore scaled down versions of their father's clothes, or if they had not yet been breeched, their mother's clothes. It was not until the late-17th Century that specialized garments for childen became popular and such suits were first made for boys. Our information on the 18th century is limited. We know much more about the 19th century. Some sketon suits were done in velvet. With the inventin of photography we have much more detailed informaton. This was especially true when the CDV became well established (1860s). We note manyimge of younger boys weaing various suit styles. The Faunleroy Craze resulted in really large numbers of younger boys wering velvet Funtleroy suits (1880s-90s). After this the use of velvet declined. It was not among the more practical fabrics for boys. It never disappeared, but we continue to see some younger boys wearing velvet suits (mid-20th century). We see some suits like junior Eton suits done in velvet although other fabric like flannel were more common. We also see formal romper outfits and shortalls done invlvet.

Figure 3.--Some boys' choirs, like this Bulgarian choir, had fancy velvet suits done for performances. Other choir tended to have less formal outfits.


A range of different garments have been made from velvet. While many garments have velvet trim, a smaller range of garments were made entirely or largely in velvet. Some of the best known are skeleton and Fauntkleroy suits. We have also notice dress rompers in velvet. And junior Eton suits are sometimes done in velvet. Younger boys might wear velvet dresses, just like their sisters. These of course would be the best dresses, often for party wear. In the late 19th Century, younger boys might wear Fauntleroy dresses, velvet dresses with lace and ruffle trim. Until the late 19th Century there was little difference between the dresses worn by boys and girls. Destinctive, plainer styles appeared for boys in the late 19th century, but the Fauntleroy craze was so popular that some mothers preferred the fancier dresses for their boys. The first purpose made child's outfit was the skeleton suit. It was style widely worn in the early-19th century. Particularly expensive skeleton suits were made of velvet. Both the jacket and pants were made of velvet, both one and two piece styles. The Fauntleroy suit was one of the first American fashions. Until this time, America children wore European style. The Fauntleroy Craze had an enormous impact. Velvet of various colors, usually dark, was commonly used in the late 19th-century to produce better boys' party suits, especially Little Lord Fauntleoy suits. Both the jacket and kneepants were made from velvet. In the 20th Century boys dress suits are sometimes made of velvet, especially suits for small boys. It is particularly popular for boys suits around the Christmas holiday season. Most commonly os these outfits were junior Eton suits, often they were short pants suits. Both the jacket and shorts might be velvet, but in some cases just the jacket.


We notice boys in several countries wearing velvet suits and other garments. So far most of the images we have found are American, British, and French. We have foujnd wquite a fewe examples from these countruis. Quite a few of the American examples are Fauntleroy suits. We have also dound many British examples with a Wide range of styles. Fancy velvet suits for French boys was apparently Mrs Burnetts inspiraion for Little Lord Fauntleroy. We have also noted velvet suits and other garments in several other countries. This is partly because of the popularity of Fauntleroy styling. But we see velvet garments in other countries and other garments as well.

Figure 4.--Little boys might wear fancy one-piece velvet suits, often trimmed with lace and ruffles. This images comes from a fashion magazine.


Black velvet trim was commonly used for trim on the lapels of better coats for small children. This did not originate as a child's fashion. In fact men's Chesterton jackets still are made with the velvet-trim collars. The fashion dates back to the French Revolution (1789-99) when gentlemen in other countries began adopting the black velvet collars to show sympathy with the executed bourgeoise. It soon became an upper-class fashion which is still seen today. Boys in the early 20th fashion might wear coats with the black velvet trim. This was also an esentially upper-class fashion and was generally only used on expensive coats for both younger boys and girls. We note other garments with velvet trim. An exanple is a Pennsylvania boy wearing a kilt suit. The jacket has velet trim on both the lapels and the sleeve wrist cuffs.


Fabrizio de Marinis. ed., Velvet: History Techniques Fashions, essays by Aurora Fiorentini Capitani, Roberta Orsi Landini, Luisella Pennati, Alfredo Redaelli, Stefania Ricci. ISBN:0-9627985-1-7, Price: $35.00. Originally published by Idea Books. Now available from Riverside Book Company, Inc. 250 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10107


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Created: May 5, 1999
Last updated: 12:58 AM 12/4/2021