Fabrics Used in Boys' Clothing M-Z

Figure 1.--

Boys clothing has been made in a wide variety of fabrics. Aristocratic boys once wore fabrics such as brocades that we would today consider totaly unsuitavle for boys. Some such as denim have been used for play and casual clothes. Others such a velvet have been made for elegant party suits. Other fabrics such as flannel, serge, cheviot, corderoy and many others have been used for a wide variety of different garments. Quite a variety of other fabrics, sometimes quite expensice such as cashmere, camelhair, and satin have been used for expensive boyswear. Some fabrics were once quite popular, such as chambray, cheviot, duck, and serge were once very commonly used for boys clothing, but now rarely seen. In recent years clothing has moved from formal styles to more utilitarian clothing and thus the hard wearing durable fabrics like denim and corderoy have become increasingly important. One particularly luxurious fabrics sometimes used for outfits to be worn by younger boys is velvet. Many fabrics have interesting modern historical stories denim and chino. Other fabrics date back many centuries if not milenia. Cashmere, camelgair, and silk were staples of the freat caravan trade. Some of the most important fabrics used in boys clothing has included the following.


Madras is a fine cotton fabric with patterened texture, used primarily for dresses, skirts, and sports jackets. Also used for trousers in the United States-- primarily short pants for children and teenagers. Its design may be in the form of yarn-dried stripes or an allover pattern woven in white or colored yarn. End-to-enf Madras, used for men and boys' shirts , is similar to chambray, the difference being that in the Madras dyed and white yarns alternate in both warp and filling. Curtain Madras is an open-textured fabric woven in a gauze weave. It is usually a marquisette made of fine yarns. Madras became popular in America during the 1950s and 60s for sport jackets, shirts, and Bermuda shorts. They were usually worn with contrasting clothes. Thus a Madras sports jacket would be worn with solid color, often blue, short or long pants.

Manchester Cloth

The term " Manchester cloth " is sometimes used to describe corduroy. The term is used because large quantities of corduroy was manufactured in Mnchester, England. Corduroy was one of the many fabrics developed by the English cotton goods industry which was centered in Manchester and surrounding cities and was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. As Manchester-produced corduroy was exported in large quantities, the word used for corduroy commonly used in Germany and the Netherlands was " Manchester Cloth ". The term " Bedford cloth " is also sometimes used to describe corduroy.


Merino wool originated in Spain, The finest quality Merino Wool now comes from Australia. Merino Wool is on average 5 times finer than a single strand of human hair and yield superfine soft wool which drapes well, retains its good looks and is highly valued by the fashion world. The unique benefit of Merino wool is that it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The name Merino has become synonymous with quality, softness and style.


The term nainsook was a soft finished cotton fabric used for infants and children's underwear. Nainsook was usually white, but we have noted some garments with patterns like checks. An example of children's underwear made with nainsook are the combination suits offered in the 1923 Montgomery Ward catalog in the United States. I had thought it was of Chinese origins, but was Indian. In Hindi, the term "nainsukh" literally means "eye pleasure". It is one of the many clothing realted terms entering the English language through the British Raj. An example of children's underwear made with nainsook are the combination suits offered in the 1923 Montgomery Ward catalog in the United States. I had thought it was of Chinese origins, but was Indian. In Hindi, the term "nainsukh" literally means "eye pleasure". It is one of the many clothing realted terms entering the English language through the British Raj.


Nanking is a city in southern China where cloth from a local variety of yellow cotton was manufactured. The cloth is now woven from regular cotton and dyed yellow.


Percale is a fine cotton material. It wascused in baby' clothing. AFrench reader indivated that perxcalecwas used in embroidered bibs which have an importante place in baby outfits. Percale was also used for little boys' shirts.


Plaid is a fabric having a pattern of different colored stripes or even black and white crossing at right angles. It is usually a woolen fabric, but has come to mean any fabric of different colored yarn in a cross barred pattern.


Poplin is a corded fabric. It can be made of cotton, wool, rayon, or silk. Today poplin for boys' clothes is usually a blended fabric made of cotton and a synthetic polyester. The term derives from a French term for Papal as it was made in Avinon where the Pope was brought by the French to control him. The French term is "popeline" and the Italian "papalina". It is a popular material for boys' jackets in many European countries, including the Netherlands. A French reader refers to "popeline d'Alsace. It is a white material commonly used for dress rompers, shirts, and short pants.


The term "rep" ties is used today for preppy style striped British regimental neckties sold at places like Brooks Brothers. Rep refers to the weave and is a horizontlly ribbed fabric. It is best known as a silk fabric, but was done in other material as well, including wool, cotton, and rayon. Rep silk doesn't have as much of a sheen (as satin does). Rep material tends to be a tight, highj-quality weave somewhat stiffer than most weaves. It is not a fabric much used in children's clothes, but we notice an occassional mention. We note sailor suit shields done in rep silk--rather like ties. An exanple is a Sears sailor suit in 1914.

Figure 2.--This little American boy wears a large lace collar and fancy satin dress. The photograph was probably taken in the 1890s.


Satin was first produced in China, probably in the 14th Century from silk. Modern satin is generally made from synthetic fibers (including acetate, rayon, nylon), as well as silk. It is a woven fabric characteristic by a glossy face and a soft slippery texture. Satin is an expensive fabric and only used in costly garments. Caviliers, both adults and boys, might wear satin coats and breeches. Satin was often used for sashes decorating fancy suits like Little Lord Fauntleroy suits in the late 19th Century. Boys suits with open necks were sometimes made of satin. European royalty often used satin, even for childrens as recently as the 20th Century until World War I (1914-18).


A HBC reader writes, "You might want to add "sateen" to your list of fabrics (although you already have "satin" and "satinette"). Sateen was a cotton material with a sheen that made it similar to satin for added softness. Also sateen is washable (necessary, obviously, for a garter waist) whereas real satin requires dry cleaning. It was used for one of the better qualitiy Sears garter waists in 1939-40. See the 1939-40 Sears advertisement. "Kern's Sateen Button-On Garter Waist" used sateen material over the hips where the hose supporters were attached to "eliminate irritation at rub points". Most ordinary garter waists were just made of cotton tape for the waist band and shoulder straps with of course elastic for the supporters themselves." We are not sure just what sateen was and how it differed from satin. We assume it is a cotton rather than a silk material, but finished with a sheen. How this is done ahd just what the difference with Santinette is, we do not know. A reader writes, "I'm not quite sure but I have a feeling that "satinette" is just an older or variant form of "sateen". Both are cotton imitations of "satin", but sateen is still in more or less common use today whereas we never hear anymore of "satinette". Your example of "satinette" is boys' knee pants suits in the late 19th century whereas the Sears use (for garter waists) is 1939-40."


Satinette or satinet is an inferior or less expensive form of satin made from cotton rather than silk. HBC has noted it being used to make in expensive boys' suits in the late 19th century. It has also been used to mean a thin, light satin. In connection with boys' clothibng the forst usage is more likely.


Searsucker is an all cotton fabric. It was used for summer work clothes in America, especially in the South. The material became popular in America during the 1930s for suits. It had the advantage of looking smart without pressing. After all who wants to press clothes in the summer? Seasucker is generally associated with American summer wear. I do not believe it was commonly worn in Britain or Europe. Searsucker short pants were worn by boys from the 1930s through the 60s.


Serge includes a variety of twill weave fabrics with a characteristic diagonal wale. The term serge first appears in the 14th Century. It is often used to apply specifically to a smoothly finished worsted fabric used for suits. It was commonly used for boys suits in the late 19th and early 20th Century for boys suits, especially sailor suits. We have noticed many American and English garments made out of serge. A French reader notes that it was also commonly used in France for winter clothing, incuding long and short trousers.


HBC has noted this fabric in adverisements for turn of the century garments. No details, however, are available on the fabric.


This fabric from French derivation is a closely woven woollen material used primarily for garment linings.


Shantung was a silk material, comonly made in prints. A French reader reprts that it was used for dress rompers and shirts.


Silesia is a light-weight, smooth finish, twilled cotton fabric, used for linings. HBC has noted its use in as tghe pocket linings in late 19th century boys' suits. Like many fabrics, it is named for the area where it was developed--Silesia. Silesia is an area of Poland that was annexed to Prussia in the partions of Poland. As part of the Potsdam Conference in 1945 it was returned to modern Poland. It was an area rich in iron, coal, and other minerals and thus an important industrial area of eastern Europe.


Kid or other soft leather finished in the flesh side with a soft napped surface. The outter side can also be given a swede finish by removing a thin layer. Sude was used to produce popular jackets, generally for older boys. It was also popular for Rindkernvelou lederhosen in Germany. The word is derived fro the French, "swed".


Tartan is a cross-checkered pattern repeated repeated continously. The various destibtive patterns are referred to as "setts". The patterns consist of different colored bands, stripes, or lines of definite with and sequence. They are woven into wool cloth, sometimes with silk added. Tartan patterns have existed for centuries and in various cultures, but have come to be assocaited with Scotland where they have become a quasi-heraldic emblem of families or clans. Tartan is most assdociated ith Sottish kilts.


A French source mentions "toile métisse," "toile rayonne," "toile de lin", and gabardine. I'm not sure just what these terms mean, except for gaberdine. These materials are used to produce long and short trousers and coats.


HBC is not sure when tweed was first made. We have noted this fabric in adverisements for turn of the century garments. Tweed fabrics are generally associated with Scotland and kilts are often worn with short tweed jackets. HBC is not yet sure, however, as to when tweed fabrics were first produced. Tweeds continue to be popular in our modern era. A tweed is a course wool fabric in a variety of weaves and cloth. One of the best known tweeds is Harris tweed. The most popular pattern is herringbone. Tweed continues to be a popular fabric for men's and boy' clothing, especially jackets. These tweeds are still made on traditional looms with treadle shafts, bearings and piclling rods. The warp beam feeds the wool into the loom length wise through bobbing heddles. Then a lever is used to strike a wooden shuttle ino the space between warp strands introducing a the weft or crosswise strands. Most Scottish weavers have learned their trade from their fathers. Often they began at a young age with simple tasks such as filling bobins at age 8.


Twill is not a specific fabbric, but rather a type of weave. Twill is one of three basic weave structuresin which the filling threads are woven over or under two or more warp yarns, resulting in a destinctive diagonal pattern. The dictionary suggests comparing plain and satin weave. The term twill weave began to be used about 1885.


Velour is a velvet-like fabric made of rayon, wool, or other synthetic and natural fibers. It is used an inexpensive alternative for velvet in clothing and upolestry. The term originated in France during the 18th Century to refer to the velvet like texture of fur, especially beaver pelts commonly used for hats. Velour shirts were popular for boys in the 1970s.

Figure 3.--.


Velvet was originally a fabric made from silk. Modern velvets are often made from synthetic fibers (acetate, nylon, rayon, and others). The fabric has a thick, soft pile formed by loops of the warp thread, either cut at the end or left uncut. Velvet sometimes has a cotton backing. The term was first used in the 13th Century. It was used to produce fine garments for wealthy individuals. 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. In the 20th Century boys dress suits are sometimes made of velvet, especially fancy one-piece suits or Eton suits for small boys. It is particularly popular for boys suits around the Christmas holiday season. Velvet trim was commonly used for trim on the lapels of better coats for small children.


HBC has noted references in French publications to zéphir fabric ("tissu"). HBC does not knopw what the English translation is, but French readers tell us that it is a printed, cotton material similar to ginham. It was widely used for women and children's clothes. The word zephyr is normally the name of a very smooth wind. As well it is name of a god in the greek mythology. With reference to garments it defines a very light fabric. A French reader reports that zéphir was widely used dress rompers, shirt outfits, smovks, blouses, and so.


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Created: November 10, 2000
Last updated: 6:58 PM 8/18/2007