Boys' Overcoats

Figure 1.--The caption in a 1967 fashion magazine read, "Great new kind of look for a boy; double-breasted coat of navy-blue Moygashel linen, suspender short pants that match, white knee socks, and a white cotton-broadcloth shirt. By Rachel Lent, 3-7, $30, Bergdorf Goodman, NewYork; Goldwaters, Phoenix; Goodman, New York. Knee socks by LeRoi."

Boys from affluent familied used to have a formal overcoat to wear with their best dress outfits. One especially popular style was double breasted coats. Many of the better coats had velvet colar trin. The coats were often worn with with sailor hats, berets, or English style peaked caps. Today formal coats are less common and most boys wear more casual, colorful jackets during the winter. This is in line with the overall trend toward casual dress.


Well to do boys used to have a formal coat to wear with their best dress outfits. This was a look that came to be associated with wealthy boys, although boys from modest income families also wore them. The British royal family has helped set many of the fashion standards for boys' coats. Today formal coats are less common. In fact, few boys now have formal coats. Most boys now more commonly wear more casual, colorful jackets during the winter. This is in line with the overall trend toward casual dress. Boys nowless commonly wear suits, but even when they do, might wear it with a sporty looking jacket rather than an overcoat.


We do not yet know a great deal abouit the chrionology of boyus' overcoats, but we have begun to collect some basic information. What did well-dressed young boys wear outside in winter and cooler fall and spring during Victorian times? Relatively few old-time photos are available sowing cool weather outdoor clothes. This is primarily the photographs were mostly taken in studios and mothers wanted the boy to be photographed in his fancy suit rather thab a heavy overcoat. A HBC reader asks if boys who wore elegant Fauntleroy suits wear correspondingly stylish clothes outdoors in winter? Would they have worn velvet coats with flowing capes and tight-fitting leggings. HBC has not yet had the opportunity to address this topic, but plans to do so in the future. We note younger boys wearing a kind of classic cpat beginnining in the 1920s. I'm not sure what this coat was called, but we note both boys and girls wearing basically the same style. These coats were worn through the 1970s. Colors varied. We have noted bioys wearing blue and camel hair. Girls sometimes wore pink. Many had velvet as part of the lapels. Some of these coats had collars and others lapels.


The formal coats worn by boys included sveral different styles. The most common style of heavy coats , for a reason I do not fully understand, were double breasted styles. Many other styles were also worn. Almost all of the classic styles originated in England as coats for men. One of the most enduring coat styles were double-breasted coats. The style is adapted from reefer jackets amd eventually employed in different styles of coats. A handful of overcoats have survived as classic styles. The most formal style of overcoat is the chesterfield, named after the 19th Century Earl of Chesterfield. It was based on the style of the 19th Century frock coat, but not cut in at the waist. It was always worn as a formal coat in both single and double breasted styles. One of the most enduring coat styles were double-breasted coats. The style is adapted from reefer jackets amd eventually employed in different styles of coats. Sailor reefer jackets were very popular. They were not limited to boys wearing sailor suits. These were the least formal of the traditional ovrcoats. The duffle coat is a less formal style that is still worn by boys. The name is attributed to Duffel, a Belgian town. British school boys traditionally wore belted gaberdine raincoat or overcaot with their school uniforms. The gaberdine coats were often worn at slightly longer lengths than other overcoat styles worn by boys. For a period in the middle decades of the 20th century, the gaberdine school raincoat formed a distinctive part of British schoolboy clothing.


Double-breasted styling was very popular for overcoats. This seems to have had nothing to do with the suit worn with the coat. For some reason the double-breasted styling was especially popular for the overcoat. This is not to say that the overcoat was commonly an actual double-breasted coat. Usually what was done was to simply add a decorative column of buttons that had no real purpose.


One popular stylistic trim for the better formal coats had velvet colar trin. This was originally an English style for men's coats in the early 19th Century designed to show sympathy with those persecuted by the French Revolution. This was particularly popular on chesterfield coats and other coats made of cammelhair. It had a destincyly upper-class look. Boys formal overcoats were generaly wprn at knee length, unlike men's overcoats which were worn to below the knee length. Jackets were worn to shorter lengths.

Royal Influence

The British royals have had a great infuence in setting the styles for children's coats. Modern stules were well established by the 1930s and while formal coats are much less worn, styles have less changed very little. The preferred style has been the velvet-colared coat. Both boys and girls have worn them. The velvet on the girls' coats, however, are not always black. Younger royals have taditiinally worn their coats with colored one-bar strap shoes. Prince Charles was dressed quite inovatingly with colored coats rather than the muted colors formerly popular.



Most photographic portraits we have found were taken with children who had taken off their coats and other cold-weather outfits. Of course many portraits were taken during the summer when the children were not wearing coats. Many were, however, taken during the winter or cool weather. Mothers normally had the children take off their coats, scarves, and mittens. They of course wanted to show off these nice outfits that the children were wearing. We notice a few portraits with the children wearing their coats. We note an English boy, John Montagu Slopford, wearing his overcoat in 1871. We are not entirely sure why this was. There are several possibilities. Perhaps the mother didn't care. Maybe dad took the kids to the studio and was not as clued into fashion. The parents may have ordered a series of shots which included the child wearing his overcoat. Another possibility could be that the studio was not well heated. Early studios were consructed so as to let in sunlight which often meant windows or a sunlight. This would mean that the tudio was not very well insulated.


Some overcoats were known for the material in which they were made.



One classic overcoat was the tan cammelhair coat. Stylistic details varied, but they were often made with military styling like shoulder epeuletes and patch pockets. They were made in both single and double breasted styles, but the dounle breasted styles were most common for younger boys. They were often worn with Eton suits.


The gabarine overcoat was perhaps best known in England as a school coat, but we have notec it being worn in America, England, and France as a dress overcoat. Only in England was it commonly worn to school, most commonly at private schools. We ntice the gabardine overcoat after World War I and it was commonly worn through the 1950s. We rarely notice it after the 60s, exceptt private schools in England and Scotland. It was worn by both boys and girls, but was more common for boys. One advantahe was theoretically that it was water repelant and thus could double as a raincoat.



The coats were often worn with with sailor hats. Wide brimmed sailor hats or sailor caps were very commonly worn by boys with formal overcoats in the late-19th and early-20th Century. We note an English boy, John Montagu Slopford, wearing a Glengarry bonnet with an overcoat in 1871. Since the end of World War I (1918), berets or English-style peaked caps became increasingly common.


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Created: January 3, 1998
Last updated: 11:16 PM 2/5/2009