** boys' shirts and blouses

Boys' Shirts

Figure 1.--This Dagerotype probably taken in the 1850s shows a boy in a plaid shirt. Notice the small white collar and bow. Also notice the double part hair style.

HBC still has limited information about boys' shirts, but we have begun to collect pertinent information about men's shirts which provide considerable background information. Actually "shirt" is a fairly recent term which has evolved out of a variety of shirt-like garments. These included blouses, waists, and shirt waists--the latter the term fom which the modern shirt has evolved. Shirts are mostly garments which have included collars, but from the mi-19th through the early 20th cenbtury, many shirts were made wihout collars and worn with detachable collars. Other variations have included collar styles, colors, patterns, sleeve length, front opening, materal, tails, and otherelements.

Shirt-like Garments

HBC has noted a variety of shirt-like garments. The term "shirt" is a realtively recent term. It only became widely used in the 20th century. In the 19th century, the term "waist" was commonly used to describe what we now call shirts. The term blouse was also used. While it had several meanings, the shirt-like garment was more for children and women than adults.


Boys have worn both blouses and shirts. A blouse was most common for boys as it did not have shirt tails. These were considred unecessary, especially for younger boys. Only as they grew older did boys get shirts with tails.


The term "waist" which is no longer a term commonly used in the sence of a garment. HBC notes that "waist" in the late 19th and early 20th century was used to mean a blouse or shirt. The modern term blouse probably captures the sence best as it was a shirt without tails. HBC has generally considered a "waist" to be a garment or part of a garment covering the body from the neck or shoulders to the waistline, which was commonly used in womens' and childrens' clothing. We have discovered, however, that "waist" was also used to mean a child's undergarment to which other items of apparel were attached by buttons or clasps. This appears to be a term also used for stocking supporters. Sometimes mothers used pins to attach stockings to regular underwear rather than a specialized waist.


Developing a chronolgy of boys' shirts is a little complicated, especially for the 19th century. This is in part because boys generally wore jackets, As a result, it is often not possible to see the shirts that they are wearing, even if images are available. Often all we can see is the collar and sometimes the sleeve cuff. We note large collars in the early 19th century. Some were worn closed and others open. The Eton collar appeared in England and eventually became a major style. Boys seem to have worn plain shirts for dress occasions during the mid-19th century. A variety of shirts were worn. Plaid seems to have been popular. Most mothers, however, insisted on adding a white collar and bow. The development of the detachable collar mean that increasing attention was paid to collars.At mid-century these collars and bows were quite small. Later in the century they got much larger. The sailor blouse alsi became widely popular. It was still not common to dress up without a suit jacket--except during the summer when fancy blouses could be worn. Much more information is available on the 20th century. There were major changes, especially after World War I. Clothing became increasingly casual. Increasingly boys wore shirts without jackets. And we see the development of not only casual collared shrts like the polo shirt, but also shirts without collars like "T"-shirts and the tank top.


We have fewer cuountry pages for shirt-like garments than for many other garments, but HBC is constantly expanding. Our initial assessment is that there were fewer country differences than was the case for many other garments. We are unable to make assessments for the 19th century as boys wear jackets and vests in most of the available images. Here often all we can see is the collars. Here the most notable collar is the Eton collar created in England and adopted in many other countries. But no where was the Eton collar as popular as in England. The Fauntleroy collar is also notble and could be quite large and was especially popular in America. After the turn-of- the 20th century, especially after World War I we see much more of the shirts. Blouses were still popular in the early-20th century. French boys commonly wore blouses and Peter Pan collars. We note American boys wearing Western-styled shirts in the mid-20th century. Button-down shirts seem more popular in America than other countries. And America help popularize the 'T' shirt. We mote German boys wearing plaid shirts after World War II. In the late-20th century we see a kind of Pan-European styles erasing any country differences.


This is a garment that we had only vaguely heard of before, a tucker. I'm not sure quite how to archive this. I thought perhaps neckwear, but believe that the collar section may be the more appropriate section. This was a garment made from a fine cloth or lace worn over the neck and shoulders. It was primarily a garment for girls and women, but was also worn by younger boys not yet breached. It seems to be a garment that appeared in the 18th century. It may have been the precursor of the pinafore. I have not noted a lot of boys wearing these, but I did not quite understand just what this was and therefore may not have noticed them. It came to be used in the expression "best bib and tucker", meaning one's best clothes.


The key feature of a shirt appears to be the collar--especially as it has concerned boys' fashions. Both men and boys have worn a wide variety of collars, some part of the shirt and others detachable or an entirely sepatate garment. The most elaborate collar was the ruffs worn my men and boys as well as women in the 16th century. Detachable collars appeared in the mid-19th century. Boys as late as the late 19th and early 20th century have worn quite fancy collars--the lace collars which made up part of the Little Lord Fauntleroy look. The starched Eton collar as for years a fashion staple for boys. Younger boys wore Peter Pan collars. Today there are a variety of collars. The most popular is the plain pointed collar in different lengths dependening on fasgion trends. The button-dowm collar also remains popular with many.


The shirt industry in the 19th Century the shirt industry was not particularly sophisticated. As Apparel Arts noted in 1931, "A square of cloth gathered into a yoke at the shoulder, with shapeless sleeves and a hole for the neck, was called a shirt. Neckbands had but three sizes: fourteen, fifteen and sixteen inches." Even worse to some clients, shirt sleeves had only a single size: long, to accommodate any length arm. Your shirt didn't fit you so much as you fit your shirt, and if you didn't well, that was just too bad. Did you ever wonder why so many old time photographs show men wearing arm bands. It is quite simple. Shirt sleeves at the time simply didn't fit very well.

Measured lengths

It wasn't until the 1910s that measured sleeves lengths replaced the arm band as the method of setting one's cuffs correctly, and this, not coincidentally, occurred about the same time that soft cuffs were being introduced on shirts. After a prolonged absence, comfort was finally making a comeback.


Shirts now come in long, half, and short lengths. The shorter lengths are a relatively recent development. I am not sure just when they first appeared, but I believe the 1920s. Certainly by the 1940s it was a well established convention. Long sleeves for the fall and winter and short sleeves for the spring, once the weather had turned warmer, and the summer. The modern convention for shirt sleeve shirts is the half length coming just to above the elbow. One HBC contributor remarks, "I remember when the sleeves on short sleeve shirts varied more in length, with a higher proportion of them having shorter sleeves of lengths approximately half way between the shoulder and the elbow. I noticed this particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. Sitcoms and movies shot during that time such as Leave it to Beaver, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, etc. show boys wearing shirts with shorter sleeves. Most boys in the late 1990s wear shirts with sleeves that go down to the elbows, even T-Shirts. HBC is not sure of the reason fgor this trend. Presumably it was a conscious decision on the part of clothing manufacturer. We are not sure, however, what prompted this change. Perhaps boys prefer the longer sleeves and the industry was respnding to their preferences. Perhaps it did not really matter to them and there were other reasons for the change.


Usually, but not always, the cuff was coordinated with the collar. Almost all long sleeved shirts had sleeve cuffs. Most cuffs were button cuffs, but some knit shirts had a knitted closure. Long sleeve "t" shirts commonly had that style. Cuffs varied from the plinest buttom style with a double lawyer of material to fancy Fauntleroy ruffled orceven lace cuffs.


Changes appear to have come very slowly in the shirt industry. One source indicates that it wasn't until the late 19th Century, for instance, that color was finally introduced into shirts. THe use of patterned material appears to have been an earlier inovation because images of boys in plaid shirts exist from the mid-19th Century. Since the 1950s, while manufacturers' changes have been few, styles have changed radically. Paralleling the excesses of the Peacock Revolution, shirt collars grew to disproportionate lengths while colors took on the nightmarish hues of Day-Glo paints and subway graffiti. Today, the palette has sobered and the collar styles have returned to more traditional proportions that are more in keeping with the current conservative mood of the country.

Laundering and Sanforizing (1928- )

Manufacturers in thevlate 19th Century found that if they laundered the shirts before offering them for sale, they had a much better appearance on store sjelves. They thus appealed more to the prospective shopper's eye and, as a result, sold better.

The Cluett Peabody & Co. in 1928 invented the Sanforizing process, which prevented the shirt from shrinking when it was laundered.



Cotton has since the early 19th Century been the shirting fabric of the well-dressed man. Cotton purists, even today, insist that fine-quality dress shirts should be made of 100 percent cotton. Naturally, they cost more than polyester blends. More important to many is that the cotton shirt had to be ironed. Cooton advoacates, however, insist that what you pay for is unrivaled comfort and a look that bespeaks luxury and tradition. As a natural fiber, cotton respects the natural needs of the body. It breathes, allowing the body to cool itself when necessary, and its absorbs moisture when the body perspires. As the article of clothing most in contact with the body, the shirt needs to act almost as a second skin. Cotton performs this function best. Beyond comfort, finely combed cotton shirtings look better because of the density of their weave as well as because of cotton's ability to take color, thus giving a truer response to dyes. There is a clarity and richness to their color which simply cannot be duplicated with blended fabrics. The natural sheen of fine cotton shirting is warm and subtle, not at all like the harshness of pure polyester.

Synthetic fibers (1950s- )

Brooks Brothers became the first store in the 1950s offered a polyester-blend dress shirt, a move that, up until the oil crisis of the late 1970s, kept the cost of shirts down and unfortunately had the effect of sanctioning the use of synthetic fibers in the industry. Most dress shirts are now made out of cotton polyester blends. Some expensise chirts are pure cotton, but these are for people willing to pat more for their shorts and do not do their own laundry as the cotton ] shirts have to be ironed.


There was during the 1920s, when, perhaps due to the influence of those like the fictional Jay Gatsby (Sinclair Lewis' The Great Gatsby, there was a brief flirtation with silk shirts.

Figure 2.--Checkered shirts have been an enduring style popular with many boys.

Pattern and Colors

There have also been a varirty of styles and patterns used in boys' shirts. Plaid, checkered, and stripped shirts are perenial favorites. Some of the most popular shirts in the modern era have been casual shirts like t-shirts and polo shirts.


The major different types of shirts are casaual and dress shirts. Once boys wear shirt waists and mothers varied the collar for diffrent occassions. After World War I (1914-18) shirts with attached soft collars became more common. Generally a boy would have a white dress shirt for special occasions. A wider variety of dress shirts in different styles annd colors appeared in the 1970s. Boys have worn a much greater varkiety of casual shirts. Some casual shirts were made in the smae basic style as fres shirts, but in different materials and colors.

Collar styles

One of the most destinctive element of a shirt is the collar. Collars have come in a wide variety of styles which have changed significantly over time. Boys' collars have varied from the elegant Fauntleroy lace collars of the 1880s to the preppy button down collars of the 1980s. These collar stles are mentioned above.


Boys have worn a variety of shirt styles. Some of these styles relate to the collar of the shirt. These have varried from the different styling such as western, Rugby, school, and a wide variety of other styles. Some styles like bush shirts are associated with specific countries like Australian. Other relates to the use of buttons and the existence of tails. One popular syule for younger boys was button-on shirts. There have also beem variations in usage, such as the development of important casual styles. Many of the different styles relate to the collars on the shirts, but the colars were not the only stylistic element. Some of these styles like the "buton-down" have endured over decades while others like the "shirt-jac" only lasted a season or two.

Button-on shirts

Some shirts for boys in the first half of the 20th century were made in the button-on style. This mean that the shirts relatively largecbutton sewn at the waistline. These buttons could thn be buttoned onto the boys pants, usually short pants, making a belt unecessary. This style was considered practical for younger boys. The button on-shorts were generally made in sizes up to about 10 years of age, occasionally for larger sizes.

Rugby shirts

Rugby shirts are shirts where the front buttons only go half way down the front of the shirt. The grey school shirts worn by English boys during the 1950s included some with Rugby styling. They were a popular school uniform shirt in Eglandf andf commnly worn with ties like other grey shirts for everyday school wear. (White shirts with normal styling were for special occasions.) Repton and Litchfield shirts were similar. (Repton is another English Public school.) While these shirts went out of fashion in England during the 1960s, they are still regular wear at New Zealand schools. Casual shirts with Rugby styling were also worn for football in the school colors. For actual Rugby matches they were worn with short grey flannel short pants. These shirts with the horizonal-striped "T" shirts in bold colors with a white collar and partial front buttons became very popular in America during the 1970s-80s. They became a popular casual style for American boys during the 1970s.


Some designers marketed a shirt without tais that did not need to be tucked in. One company called it the Shirt Jac. One HBC contributor reports, "Several boys I went to school with told me teachers (especially gym teachers) insisted that the shirt jacs be tucked in just like shirts with tails. They evidently found the look too sloppy. Possibly some parents felt the same way. It wasn't a very commom look." Shirt Jacs weren't well received, but how often did one hear a mom or teacher tell a boy "Tuck in your shirt!" during the 1950s and 60s. It was fine to leave your shirt tail out (if you were one of the boys), but wear a shirt jac? No.

Casual shirts

A variety of casually styled shirts have become fashion mainstays for the modern boy. There are two basic stylesm bith collared and collarless versions. Shirt styles such as "T"-shirts and polo shirts appeared in the mid-20th century and now have become favorires among boys. We start to notice some of these casual styled shirts in the 1930s, but they become much more common in the 1940s after World War II. "T"-shirts in particular now dominate boys' casual wear. An inovation in the 1970s was "T"-shirts with logos and messages. Another very popular causual shirt type is the knit shirt. A HBC reader reports that the HBC coverage of knit shirts is indeed sketchy. Considering what a dominant role they have come to play in a boy's wardrobe, this is indeed a glaring omission. HBC hopes to rectify this and would be very interested in reader comments on knit shirts.


An important new style which appeared in the mid-20th century was the sweatshirt. HBC has not yet developed information on this imprtant garment. We believe it has American oigins. I can rember sweatshirts from the 1950s and even more commoinly in the the 60s. I suspect it may have been college athletic wear to begin with--but this is just a guess at this stage. Grey sweat shirts were at first very common. Then colored sweatshirts appeared with college and franterity logos. Later spprt team logos became very popular. Categorizing the sweatshirt is complicated. It is esentially a heavy "T"-shirt. It was at first worn for sports, but now more like a pullover sweater. We note that some English schools have substituted the school jumper with sweatshirts.

Figure 3.--Some boys in the 1950s and 60s wore their collar buttons closed. Some mothers saw it as proper to do so. Also notice the btton-down collar on the boy at the left.

Collar Buttons

Boys began the 19th century with comfortable looking open collars on their skeleton suits. Gradually as the century progressed, skeleton suits with buttoned collars, often high collars became popular. When skeleton suits went out of style. boys were wearing shirts and blouses, often with button collars. HBC is unsure as to how commonly boys wore their shirt collars buttoned. Certainly for any occasion requiring boys to dress up, a occasions we now consider informal were considered formal at the time, the collar would be buttoned. Boys attending school, for example, would usually button their collars. In part this was a function of the increasing popularity for boys to wear collar bows. To wear a bow, of course, the collar had to be buttoned. Bows were commonly worn by boys until the early 20th century. They were repaced by ruffled collars worn without bows and ties--in both cases again worn with buttoned collars. It was not until the 1920s that large numbers of boys began wearing unbottened collars. Many boys buttoned theor collars when attending school, even without ties. There were probably difference among countries, but HBC has not yet assessed this question. Gradually as the decades passed, more and more boys wore their collar unbuttoned. HBC has noted boys with buttoned collars in the 1960s and 70s, but this had largely disappeared by the 1980s. The major exception to this was the shirts worn without ties by Iranians which considered ties a Western affectation. This style has appeared in the west during the 1990s, but not commonly worn by boys.


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Created: May 31, 1999
Last updated: 3:48 AM 10/26/2017