Ruffled Collars: Chronology

Figure 1.--This painting by Thomas Gainsburough was of his nephew, Edward Richard Gardiner. It was painted in the 1760s, but depicts 17th Century Cavalier dress. Reportedly he used his nephew to prepare for the famous "Blue Boy" painting. Edward wears the same costume as worn by the boy in "Blue Boy".

Boys have worn ruffled collars over a surprisingly long period. Ruffled collars were in fact an adult style as there were no specialized childrens' clothing styles in the 17th century. They no doubt reached their most elaborate form in the 17th century Cavalier era. Th reaction of the Puritans and Round Heads, bit to mention the French Revolution had made ruffles and lace much less prevalebnt by the urn of the 19th century. Expanding economic prosperity and disposable income by the mid 19th century afforded more people to devote more of their income to clothing. Many decided to express their new prosperity through more elaborate styles. This included children's clothing, The ruffled collar by this time had become a child's style--worn by both boys and girls. Rather modest ruffled collars were replaced by the 1880s and 1890s by huge collars which almost enveloped small boys. They remained popular in the 1900s, but fell in popularity during the 1920s, especially after World War I (1914-18). Ruffled collars were worn by younger boys in the 1920s, but by the 1930s had generally disappeared. The only exceptions were formal outfits for younger boys and specialized costumes such as ring bearers and choristers.

The 16th Century

The Cavalier Era (17th Century)

Men and boys in the 17th Century wore elaborate lace and ruffles. In England the Cavalier Era was interupted by the Civil War and the Roundheads (Parlimentarians) who wore large, but plain white collars. These outfits are best remembered by Van Dyk's paintaings. One of the most famous boys pictured in such outfits was the Caveller Boy being questiined by the Round Heads in ????'s When Did You Last See Your Father. The most famous painting was actually a 18th Century depiction, Gainsbourgh's Blue Boy. Interestingly, Gainsbourogh first painted his nephew in the blue Van Dyk suit.

Figure 2.--Classic skeleton suits at the turn of the century were commonly worn with large, open-necked ruffled collars. This 1805 painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence shows the Fluyden children. The pose suggests the child at the left is a girl, but boys of that age would be dressed identically with their sisters.

The 18th Century

Boys for much of the 18th Century, after breeching , continued to wear scaled-down versions of their fathers clothes. There were no specialized children's clothes for boys beyond the dresses they wore when little. Ruffled collars, however, were worn by boys throughout the century. As adult men often wore ruffled collars, boys after breeching would also wear them.

Early 19th Century (1800-40)

Ruffled collars were all the rage for men and boys at the turn og the 19th century. France had been the major arbriter for European fashions for two centurirs, but did not end the French influence. The French Revolutiin (1789) affected this. Ruffles were still widely used for boys in Regency (British) and Empire (French) fashions during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The style was also worn by American boys, particularly in the eastern cities. The style endured for a considerable period of time.

Figure 3.--This American boy wearing long pants is pictured here with his family in the 1850s. He has a modest ruffled collar with a rather plain, boyish looking suit.

Mid 19th Century (1840-1870)

Open ruffled collars generally became less common after the 1830s. In stead boys wore plainer collars. Some were wide collars, others were qite small. The boys still dressed in ruffled collars tended to have much smaller ones than in erlier decades. They were no longer worn open, but rather always closed. In addition, it became increasingly common to wear bows with the closed collars. Collars on boys' shirts and blouses in the 1840s became increasingly small and came to be mostly worn closed. The collars actually looked distinctly modern, although they did not have the pointed lapels of moden collars. They were usually worn closed and with a very small bow, bowtie, or sting tie. This new small collar size continued to be fashionable during the 1850s and 60s. It was not until the 1870s that boys collars again began to increase in size. Many boys in the early 1870s still wore small collars, but by the mid-1870s the trend toward larger collars was increasingly pronounced. Developing Victorian clothes increasingly involved closed collars which by the the 1880s became quite elaborate. The large Fauntleroy collars of the 1880s and 1890s often were lace collars, some with ruffles. The style looked much less comfortable for the boys so outfitted. Ruffled collars continued to be worn, but not as commonly and generally in a closed more formal style. Unlike lace collars which were growing in popularity during the 1860s and especially in the 1870s, ruffled collars were not generally worn with bows. Most ruffled collars, however, were worn with matching wrist ruffles.

Figure 6.--This American boy pictured with his siblings wear a huge ruffled collar with a small bow. His older brother wears a more adult looking suit.

Late 19th Century (1870-1900)

Ruffled collars for boys became much larger and more complicated after the mid-19th Century. Many mothers wanted lace rather than ruffled collars or at least some lace in the ruffles. Rather large ruffle and lace collars worn with elaborate bows were often part of Fauntleroy suits that were all the rage for younger boys and even a few older boys. At the turn of the century the Buster Brown outfit appeared which involved large plain white cloth collars. Older boys wore uncomfortable looking stiff Eton collars with their suits. The collars could be very large. Some covered the entire shoulder area of a boy's suit. They could be worn with quite large bows, although the size of the bow was variable. Most boys wore bows with their ruffled collars before the turn of the cetury. After the turn of the century it became more common to wear ruffled collars without a bow. Another feature of ruffled collars was the matching wrist ruffles. The size of the wrist ruffles usually matched the size and style of the collar ruffles. Boys weraring large ruffled collars, might have wrist ruffles extending about half way between the wrist and elbow. While most commonly worn with Fauntleroy suits, wrist ruffles could be worn with other styles as well.

Figure 8.--Belgian Princes and Princesses are pictured here in a 1911 photograph. The boys wear matching Fauntleroy suits with large ruffled white collars. Note the old-style knee pants, but cut above the knee. They were worn with three ornamental buttons.

Early 20th Century

The classic boy's Little Lord Fauntleroy suit required a lace collar worn closed at the neck and, in America, usually worn with a large neatlt tied bow. Lace could, however, be quite expensive. This would be particularly the case as the size of collars for boys dress party suits incrreased in the 1880s and 90s. The lace for a large collar and matching wrist trim could significantly increase the price of a suit. And boys being boys, one can only assume that a boy could and often did make a nmess of his collar and bow when the cake, ice cream, and lemonade was passed around. For the rich it perhaps made little difference, but middle class mothers may have looked at it quite differently.

Modern Era

Ruffled collars are no longer worn by boys, except as costuming for special occasions:

Ring bearers

Ring bearers and pages at formal weddings some times wear fancy costumes, harkening back to the imagined dress of the 19th century when the many of the customs for modern weddings were set. Some of the costumes for ring bearers and pages have fancy ruffled collars.

Figure 10.--Some boys choir perform in ruffled collars. This is the Anglican Liverpool Cathedral Choir in England.

Choral performances

Boy choirs at European and American cathedrals often perform in choir robes with ruffled collars. A few English choirs perform in Eton collars. Some of the boys complain about the ruffled collars even though the Eton collars are probably more uncomfortable. The English choirs continue to use traditional choir robes more than European choirs. This is primarily because the choirs are mostly supported by the Anglican Church for religious services. Many of the European choirs are today secular choirs.


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Created: March 12, 1998
Last updated: 5:59 PM 11/8/2014