Boys Historical Clothing Essays: Political Conotations

Figure 1.--The British royals from Victoria's reign through Prince Charles and his brothers commonly wore kilts. It was a political statement to associate the nonarchy with its Scottish subjects. The modren royals William and Harry, however, refuse to wear them. This is an indication as to how in modern world that royals reflect fashion rather than are setting fashion trends.

One does not normally consider the political conotations of boys wear, but in fact the way some boys were dressed had definite political conotations. The ones that most prominently come to mind are the ways that royal youngsters were dressed. Their parents commonly used the children, especially the boys, to help improve the image of the ruling houses. There may be some non-royals as well, but none occur to HBC at this time.

Individual Boys

Here list a list of boys whose clothing had definite political conotations. Some of these boys, especially the future Edward VII, had a major impact on boys' clothing in additin to the political impact.

The Tzarevitch: Sailor Suits and Army Uniforms

The Russian Czarevitch Alexis almost always wore sailor suits as a boy. The image was a classic suit styled like the uniforms of an enlisted sailor. The idea that a Czarevitc would dress in a standard boys outfit and that of an enlisted seaman certainly helped give the monarchy a human face. HBC does not know, however, if this was a calcuated step, or that the Czarina just thought boys should wear sailor suits. A definitely calculated step was when, after World War I began, Alexis began wearing army uniforms to demonstrate the royal familys's total commitment to the Russian war effort.

The Dauphin (Louis XVII): Skeleton Suits

The Bourbons by the late 18th century had become extremely unpopular. The monarchy lived in unimaginable oppulance while the heavily taxed French peole struggkle to survive. I'm not sure whose idea it was, perhaps the Queen Marie Atonitte, but the Dauphin--the future Louis XVII was dressesd in an early long pants skelton suit. The skeleton suit had a very democratic look to it as increasingly the knee breeches worn by well to do men were associated with the airistocracy. The mobs that were to seize power in Paris and eventually the working class in general were to be called the sans cullotes (the peopke without knee breeches).

Edward VII: Kilts

The English monarchy brutally subjegated the Highland clans after the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The resulting brutal occupation made the monarchy very unpopular in Scotalnd. English monarchs in the 19th century began a charm campaign to gain the affecrtion of the Scotts. George IV traveled to Edinburg and appeared in a kilt. It was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that raused this effort to a fine art. Albert bought Victoria a Scottish estate--Balmoral. Victoria, who was truly enamored with Scotland, loved it. They decided to begin dressing the princes in kilts--a decission that was to have a major impact on boys' clothes. Bertie, the future Edward VII, was the first to be dressed in a kilt. HBC at this time does not have details on just how carefully considered this was. Many princes were similarly attired. Edward's son, Goerge V stated that kilts and sailor suits were the only garments suitable for boys. Times have changed. The current princes, William and Harry dislike kilts and never wear them.

Edward VII: Sailor Suits

Interestingly Edward VII helped establish an even more important boys' fashion--the sailor suit. The idea behind the sailor suit was to wrap the royal family in the single most respected institution in Britain--the Royal Navy. The choice of an enlisted uniform was to give the monarchy a democratic image in the 19th century as British constitutional monary was taking its modern shape. Again, HBC does not have historical details behind this decission. Only when George V's boys reached their teens did they stop wearing sailor suits. Then stiff white collars, Eton suits and tweeds became de rigeur. See the Duke of Windsor's memoir of childhood and the photograph of himself and Albert (later George VI) as young boys digging in a sandpit on a warm day wearing tightly buttoned tweed Norfolks and stiff Eton collars.

German Princes: Sailor Suits

Chancellor Bismark and the Kaiser Wilhelm I used the navy as the uniting military organization for the German Empire. Every German state had its own army. Of course the Prussian Army was the largest, but states like Bavaria had no iunconsequential armies. After unification, many Germans viewed the Prussians which dominated the new Imperial Army with mixed emotions. The new Imperial Navy, the Kriegsmarina was an institution of the new united Germany. One historian reports that Wilhelm I loved the Kriegsmarina for just this reason. As such, the sailor suit was viewed as a sign of German Nationality and pride. The German princes by the late 19th century were commonly dressed in sailor suits. This was especially true of the Kaiser's grandsons in the early 20th century. HBC is not sure if this was a conscious political decission or just reflected the Kaiser's pride in his new navy and a reflection of popular fashion. Nor do we know much yet about the roles pf the boys' mothers. Of course Wilhelm II's mother was an English princess, the Princess Royal--daughter of Prince Albert and Queen Elizabeth. However I believe that Wilhelm II as a boy did not wear sailor suits as much as his children and grandchildren. One HBC reader believes that these trends help explain why the sailor suit was so common in Germany.

Royal Pages

Be sure to have a look at the HBC royal pages for detailed information on how the royal princes in different countries were dressed. The HBRC Index will allow you to select the royal family in whatever country you would like to persue.

Role of the Modern Monarchy

The clothing reflects the gradual changes in the role of European monarchies, which in Europe over the past two centuries, certainly, has become subordination to popularly elected officials. The monarchy has passed, largely, from serious governmental responsibilities to ceremonial, symbolic duties. This observation is cast in general terms, because occasionally European monarchs must and do intervene in their country's political and economic systems.

Other Boys

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list. If you know of any additional boys which influenced boys' clothing styles and should be addressed here or in the main HBC site, please let HBC know. The examples that most prominently come to mind are the ways that royal princes were dressed. Their parents commonly used the children, especially the boys, to help improve the image of the ruling houses. There may be some non-royals as well, but none occur to HBC at this time.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 14, 2001
Last updated: February 19, 2001