British Royalty: Edward VII--Boyhood Clothing

Figure 1.--This is surely the most important image in the history of boys' fashions. Edward VII like his brothers were dressed in sailor suits, establishing a royal tradition. This famous portrait 1846 by Winterhaller now hangs in the Royal Gallery at Buckingham Pallace. Note the Prince's curls and bell-bottom trousers. Edward was 5 years old. The painting was Albert's Christmas gift to Victoria. Notice the hands in his pockets. His grandsons were not allowed to do this.

The clothes Bertie wore as a boy may well had more impact on boys' fashion than perhaps any other boy, although he of course had no idea at the time. There are few photographs of him as a little boy as photography was so new. Edward wore dresses like his sisters as a little boy. At about 5 he appears in tunics. Several images show hin in Higland kilts which created a fashion sensation. He and his brothers appear to have worn kilts differently than future generations. He created another fashion sensation when he appeared in a white sailor suit, establishing a major fashion trend. We note he was wearing rather mature looking suits by age 10, but I am not sure when he began wearing these suits, perhaps a cople years earlier.


Bertie and the other princes wore a wide range of different outfits. As little boys they wore drsses. Then we see tunics and kilts. A major innovation was the sailor suit. There were political connotations to these garments. The kilts appealed to Scotland. The sailor suit was homage to the Royal Navy and its historic prestige. Notice that the royal couple chose an enlisted man's (rating's) uniform. This helprd build the image of the perfect middle class family. Some basic information exists on the various garments that Bertie wore.

Play clothes

Available images show Edward and his brothers and sisters wearing a variety of dressup or fancy outfits. We have no idea at this time what the children wore for play, boyh inside and outside the nursery. We have not yet found images or written descrioptions of their play clothes.

Little boy dresses and curls

Edward and his brothers all wore dresses as little boys. I have no images of Edward in a dress. One image showing his younger brother Alfred in a dress provide a good example of the dresses Edward would have worn. The dress has a low neckline as was stylish in the 1840s. Victoria was well-known for her thrifty side, so the some of the dresses worn by the boys' elder sister Vicky, the Princess Royal, were probably worn by Edward and Alfred. There appears to have been no difference in the dresses worn by the young princes and the young prinesses. The young princes also had curls, but not long shoulder length hair. The dresses were quite similar and thrifty Victoria may have used the baby dresses of the older girls for her younger boys. I am not sure at what age Edward was breeched, but it appears to be about 5 years of age as paintings exist of him at about 5 years of age in sailor suits and other outfits. Even after emerging from little boy dresses he contuinued to wear curls. Paintings show Edward wearing curls in tunics, sailor suits, and kilts. I'm not sure when his curls were finally cut.


Early images of Edward show him at about 5 years of age in a skirt-like tunic. The available images show him in tunics that look much like the dresses. The tunics often had no collar and fit losely around the neck. This was a common style of the early 19th century and contrasts sharply with the later decades in which boys wore stiff Eton collars or elaborate Fauntleroy lace collar. I'm not sure what Edward wore with his tunics. As a younger boy he may have wore pantalettes with his tunics as they were still in style during the 1840s. Or he may have worn long pants with them. The available images I have to not provide full length views of Edward in his tunic outfits.

Sailor suits

Edward also wore a classic sailor suit with bell-bottom trousers like those worn British sailors. A classic painting of him, in fact one of Albert's Christmas gifts to Victoria show a jaunty looking Edward in his sailor suit. It may have been the first boyish clothes Edward wore after emerging from dresses. This outfit was to set a style throughout Europe from Russia to Spain of dressing boys in sailor suits. The sailor suit is now associated with little boys, but at times quite old European boys were to be outfitted in the sailor suit and this fashion, which lasted for more than a century, was popularized by the young Prince Edward. Bertie appears to have liked his sailor suits. He reportedly flaunted them before his governess and boasting in French, "I'm a little cabin boy ...." Intrestingly, his parents appear to have pemitted a degree of casualness in dress. Note that the famous painting by Winterhalter shows Edward with his hands stuffed casually in his trousers. His grandson David (Duke of Windsor) complains that this was a luxury he and his brothers were never allowed.


Edward also wore kilts as a boy, the first English prince to do so. I'm not sure when Victoria began dressing him in kilts, but I am aware of paintings as early as 1849 showing him in kilts, often with his brother Alfred. The boys appear to have worn kilts fifferently than was the case ffor dress occasions as well for everyday outdoor activities at Balmoral. They almost always wore kilts while in Scotland, but also sometimes in England as well. Edward and his brothers were the first generation of English royals to be outfitted in kilts, in deference to the Queen's great interest in Scotland or perhaps as a political gesture. I'm not sure when Edward was first outfitted in a kilt, but images show him in kilts as early as 1849. Romantic views of Scotland were populary literary and poetic themes of the day. There were also sound political reasons for forging links with the Scottish people. The Scotts at the time of Victoria's assescion tended to view the monarchy as an English institution. Thus Albert may have made some poltically astute suggestions. One side note Victoria did not dress the princesses in kilts. Future British princesses as well as British girls did wear kilts, but this fashion for the first generation of British royals was strictly reserved for the boys.

Figure 2.--The Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred on the Isle of Wright in 1855. Edward was about 14 and his brother about 11. Notice the floppy hats, loose collars with casual ties, and open jackets. The sence here is casual informality, quite different from boys fashions later in the century. Also notice at these fairly young ages that the boys are beginning to adopt adult fashions.


I'm not sure when Edward and his brother were first allowed to wear more adult-looking clothes. One image taken in 1957 show Edward and younger brother Alfred in more grownup suit outfits. Edward was about 15 or 16 years old, but Alfred was only about 11. The boys wear white collars larger than their fathers, looking somewhatvlike the tight-fitting Eton collars that English boys were beginning to wear. The Queen and Prince Albert provided detailed advise to Edward on his dress. His Grandson David (Duke of Windsor/Edward VII) complains in his book Family Albumn of the relative independence his Grand Father had at that age. David describes a photograph showing his grandfather at the age of 12 dresses as a minature grown-up, clad in a black jacket, checked trousers and fancy waistcoat, but with one concession to childhood--a comfortable loose Byronic collar and a floppy cravat.

Clothing Advice

Letters and notes from Prince Albert and Victoria exist advising Berie how to dress. They do not provide specific advice on styles, bur rather basically advise the boy not to dress in flashy styles or comport himself so as not to attract untoward attention by "John Bull". One interesting aspect of the notes is the age at which Bertie achiebed some degree of financial independence. He was in fact quite youthful, much earrlier tan the case for his grandson, Edward VIII. We do not know what Bertie thought about such avise.


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Created: February 26, 1999
Last updated: 10:18 PM 10/28/2014