Bows for Boys' Hair and Clothes

Figure 1.--This American boy in a photograph taken about 1890 wears an elaborate lace trimmed Fauntleroy blouse with an elegant white collar bow. Note that he also has small black bows at the hem of his kneepants. Also notice the white buttons at the hem of the pants. Most knee pants had only three, usually dark buttons.

Bows became enormously popular in the later half of the 19th Century. Bows are most associated of course with girls' clothing and hairstyles. Generally the largest, most prominent bows were used for girls. Bows were, however, also extensively used on boys, especially during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century as mother's sought to add a little flair to their sons' outfits. The largest and most prominent bows were collar bows used with boys Fauntleroys suits, some almost dwarfing the boy involved. Given the ingenuity of doting mothers, a wide variety of bows were also used with many other fashions, from shoulder ties on dresses for boys before breeching to decorative shoe bows.


I believe the use of bows developed primarily in the latter half of the 19th Century. Here there were variations bepending on the type of bows involved. Bows were popular as hair adornments. I believe the use of bows developed primarily in the latter half of the 19th Century. Ringlet curls were common even before the turn of the 19th Century. Bowes were, however, not commonly worn with ringlets and other hair styles until after mid-century. They continue popular for girls into the 1920s, but became much less common by the 1930s. Bows for boys generally followed the much more common pattern of the bows worn by girls. The fashion of using bows for little boys began at about the same time as those for girls. The fashion, however, ended somewhat earlier for boys than girls. Neckwear was anmother common use of bows. Boys in the early 19th century often wore open collars. Neckwear and collars tended to be rather limuted and plain. The simple stock was common at mid-century. We do not begin to notice bows being commonly worn until after mid-century. Bows are noticeable in the 1870s and begin to become quite large in the 1870s. Bows seem much more popular for boys than girls. They were worn with a variety of outfits. They are espercially associayed with Fauntleroy suits, but that was just one oif the outfits they were worn with. Boys might wear large floppys bows with fancy blouses to dress up during the warm summer weather. They continued to be worn in the 1900s, but began to decline in popularity in the 1910s.


We do not yey have detailed information on foreign laguage terms for bows. We do have the German terms. The basic word for bow is die Schleife/die Schleifen”. There are several related words for different kinds of bows. “Haarschleife” is a hairbow, “Zopfschleife” is a bow on a pigtail, a classic item for a German girl. “Halsschleife” is a bnow worn as neckwear, very common in the late 19th century. “Schuhbendelschleife” is a bnow worn on shoes. “Schleifchen” (diminishing of a “Schleife”) is a bow worn at the sleeve of a shirt/blouse/cloth/etc. I am not familiar with this.


Ribbons are narrow pieces of fabric, commonly silk, cotton, wool, or other material, commonly synthetics in the modern era. Ribbns are commonly woven with selvage edges. They are used for trimming clothing and millinery. Ribbons for hair adornment is another common usage. They are also used for tying and for badges and awards. For children they are most associated with girls, but have been worn by boys as well.

Colors and Patterns

Bow ribbons came any many different colors and patterns. White was a popular color. I do not have a good understanding as to other colors used, but believe blue and even red were used. I think yellow, orange, and green were less common. Many patterns were used. Polka dots and plaids were very especially common. Stripes were another popular pattern. HBC at this time does not know how these patterns varied over time and among countries. There may also been differences between genders, although floppy bows were more common for boys than girls.


Many different widths of ribbons were used for bows. This varied as to the use intended. Collar bow ribbon could be quite wide, although this varied over time. Hair bow ribbons could be quite thin. The whole topic of ribbons is an important one, but we have not yet found much information on this topic.

Types of Bows

Bows are an important decorative item. Children both boys and girls during the late 19th and early 20th Century wore a wide variety of bows. The most common were collar bows. And huge collar bows are a destinctive style of the late 19th century, especially for boys. Doting mothers, however, found a wide variety of other palces to adorn their sons with children with decoraribe bows, especially the boys. Bows appeared on boys from the top of their head to their shoesand secveral places in between. There are even bows afixed to boys that HBC can't quite figure out. Sometimes a boy in fact might wear multiple bows. The most that HBC has noted has been three boys, but it is quite possible that some boys may have even worn more.

Country Usage

The usage of bows in boys clothing has varied widely from country to country. The collar bows worn with Fauntleroy suits were enormously popular in the United States, but hair bows less so. The French also had large Fauntleroy collar bows and commonly used hair bows as well. I believe that the Italians commonly used collar bows on boys clothes in the 19th Century and continued this fashion into modern times by using them with school smocks. I have acquired less information on Germany and England. The English may be an exception. The practice of sending boys of about 8 years of age away to boarding preparatory schools with strict uniform requirements rather removed the mother from decesins about how her son was dressed after reaching that age. While it was the boys from affluent families that went to these preparatory schools, fashions trends for boys 8 and older were set by the clothes they wore.


Both boys and girls wore bow, especially in the late 19th-and early 20th centuries. There were substantial differences in how boys and girls wore boys. Of course the most statling use of bows were the huge collar bows boys wore. This was less common for girls. But girls wore huge hair bows which were much less common for boys. There were mzny other gender difference abd these varied over time. Generally usage was inverse. A factor here is that boys generally did not like dressng like girls. Thus when we see boys with huge cillar bows, we do not see girls with collar bows. Girls did wwear collar bows, but they were less common znd generally snaller. We see gie=rls wearing collar bows, shoulder bows, hair bows, shoe bows and other bows. Overall the bow is more associated with girls, but the huge bows worn by boys makes this general convention less pparent than it normally would be. We note variations in girls' use of bows affected by a range of factors, including age, chronology. country, social class, and other factors.


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Created: May 3, 1999
Last updated: 5:03 PM 9/14/2008