Ruffled Collars

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".

Ruffled collars are today primarily associated with girls' and women's wear. For several centuaries, however, ruffled collars were commonly worn by boys and in previous centuries, even men. They were in fact an important part of the well-dressed man's wardrobe. At the time boys after breeching wore small-scale versions of the father's clothes. Ruffled collars were very commony in the early 19th century for boys with both tunics and skeleton suits. Their popularity wained in the 1880s as lace collars were generally worn with Fauntleroy suits during the classical period. After the turn of the century, Fauuntleroy suits continued to be worn until the early 1920s, but increasingly with ruffled rather than lace collars. Since the 1920s, boys have no longer worn ruffled collars, except for special costumes like wedding ring bearers or choral performances.


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 turn-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 christers.


There are several different styles of ruffled collars. HBC has collected a range of images on these different types, but does not yet know the formal name for them or the contemporary termnsxused. This is an area that HBC hopes to address un more detail. One complication in assessing types of ruffled collars is that many ruffled collars incorporated lace in them and thus there is no easy way of strictly differentiating lace and ruffled collars. The two basic types are variations on sizes and shapes. We note ruffled collars of all sizes. Very small ruffled collaras were popular in the mid-19th century. They are somewhat difficult to ases because usually all we see is a lkittle fabriuc peeking out at the collar as boys commonly wore jackets in the 1860s which is when really large numbers of images become available through the appearance of the popular CDV format. A reader tells us thst these small collars are sometimes called 'pie crust' collars because they resembed the crimped edges of a pie crust. [Street] This appears to be a modern Amerian term. At the time they may have been called 'frills', but we are not yet positive about this. A good example is an unidentified American boy, we believe in the 1840s. Another example is Eddie O'Kane in 1865, but he seems to have frills sewn on to the collar of his dress rather than wearing a shirt waist wais with ruffle on it. Because all we can us usually see is the collar, we are not entirely sure what the complete garment was. But we believes tht these pie crust collars were sewed on to shirt waists. One of the few examples of the complete garment is the small ruffled collar worn by a German boy about 1862. We see much larger collars by the 1890s. These were often collars attached to blouses. The shapes included rounded, "V"-shaped, back flaps and other shapes. Many were done as part of Fauntleroy blouses.


No information avaialble on the material used for ruffled collars yet.


The ages of boys wearing ruffled collars has varied oiver time. In fact untill the early 19th centurt, men might wear ruffled collars. The period in which boiys are pergaps best known for wearing ruffled collars was the 1890s and 1900s as well as the early 1910s. We note boys up to the teen years wearing them. This vasried from family to family. They were most common for boys up to about 10 years of age wearing them, but we also see boys of 11 and 12 years of age wearing them. It is likely that 13 year olds may have worn them, but it is unlikely that 14 years old who were either entering high school or beginning to work would have worn ruffled collars. Assessing ages is diificult because so many available portraits are unidentified. Store catalogs also provide some useful information.

National Trends

The ruffeled collar was worn by boys in many different countries. HBC does not yet have detailed information on variations in country styles. There seem to be substantial similarity in many countries concerning the use of ruffles. Certainly the French were a major influence in popularizing the use of ruffles and lace in the 17th century. I'm, less sure about the country differences in the use of ruffles and lace for children's clothing in the 19th century. We see many boys in America and European countries with small ruffled collars during the mid-19th century. Ruffled trim was used with collar-buttoning suits. We see many examples in our substantial Amerucan photographic record. We also see Canadian example, like John Coll in 1860. We know that Mrs. Burnett was influenced by French styles. They seem more common in America than any other country because of the emense popularity of the Funtleroy craze. We see American boys wearing huge ruffled collars priuarily during the 1890s and 1900s. We see German boys wearing small ruffled collars in the mid-19th century. A good exampe is a Poznan boy in the 1860s. Another German example is two unidentified brothers wearing large ruffeled collars in 1864.

Specialized Ruffled Collars

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 what look like ruffled collars. These more accurately would be call ruffs. 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.


Boys wore ruffled collars with varius garments. We see boys during the mid-19th century wearing ruffled collars with dresses. A good example is an unidentified American boy in the 1850s. Another example American boy in 1865. We also see small ruffled collars worn with jackets. No garment is more associated with the ruffled collar than Fauntleroy suits. Fautleroy suits were worn with various collars. Fashions historians often link the lace collar with Fauntleroy suits. Actually boys often wore less expensive, but much larger ruffled collars with Fauntleroy suits. This was especially true in America. While less associated with ruffled collars, nany other suits were worn with them. This is because turn-of-the-20th century mothers added ruffled collars to virtually any outfit they desired. Here sailor suits and sack suits were the most common. These outfits were often worn for more than a year. Ofren the first year they might be worn with the ruffled collar and or a large floppy bow. Then when the boy was aittle older he might wear the suit without the ruffled collar. A good example is Sammie Tate Brewers about 1905.

Coordinated Sibling Outfits

The primary ruffled collar garment that boys wore was Fauntleroy blouses, especially American boys. They were done with both lace and ruffled collars for a relatively short period, about 1885-1905. We also see some tunic suits done with ruffles. They were used on many other garments--most garments and some younger boys wore. We see ruffles used on blouses, dresses and pinafores. Outfitting the family children in identical or coordinated outfits was a popular idea for quite a number of parents, we think mostly mothers. Ruffles were stylistic device that fashion conscious mothers could use to outfit all her children in coordinated outfits. As ruffled blouses were worn by some boys into their early school years. It was a device that could be used for boys up to about 8 years of age or even a little older. This was thus a style that could be used for several children even of different genders over a substantial age range. It was not a common device for coordinating the dress of siblings, but we do see examples of it in the phtographic record. Most of our example are American, perhaps because of our larger American archive, but the popularity of Fauntleroy styling was we think a another factor. The ruffled collar served as a coordinating device even when the children were wearindifferent garments incluing blouses, dresses, pinafores, suits, tunic, and other outfits. We believe this type of family stylistic coordination also occurred in Europe, but we can not yet confirm this. We know that ruffles were used in European clothing so we think that there were examples of this family coordination in Europe as well as America, perhaps not as many, but sure there were examples.


Street, Pat. E-mail message, August 17, 2012.


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Created: March 12, 1998
Last updated: 4:26 PM 11/27/2015