Boys' Plaid Dresses

Figure 1.--Plaid was a popular material for boys' dresses during the second half of the 19th Century. Most were worn with white, usually lace collars. Note the rounded style of the collar.

Young boys wore dresses throughout the 19th Century. During the first half of the 19th Century there was little difference between boys and girls dresses. Distinctive dress styles for boys emerged during the latter part of the century. One of the popular materials for boys were plaid dresses. I assume this was not only because Queen Victoria help popularlize Scotland and Scotish styles, but because a tartan dress looked more like Scotish kilt, a man's garment, than other dresses. Plaid was not used exclusively for boys, but it was especially populkar for them.


The popularity of plaid for boys' dreeses is perhaps because of the connection with Scotland and the kilt. Queen Victoria and Scottish writers helped to popularize all things Scottish in the 19th century. helped to As the kilt was a skirted outfit for men, it was a logical material for a boy's dress. These dresses were worn in the late 19th Century when plaid had gone out of style for girls. This was the same time when special dress styles for boys appeared.


We are just beginning to piece the chronolgy of plaid dresses together. As far as we know, it was not a pattern commonly worn in the 18th century. This appears to have changes with the popularity of Scotland as the result of the Scottish revival begun by authors like Robert Burns (1759-96) in Scotland. We believe that plaid became popular for childrens dresses in the 1840s, especially after Queen Victoria began dressing the princes in plaid. The young Quen was enamored with Scotland, primarily because od reading Scottish aithors. She played a huge role un making plaid popular. Both boys and girls wore plaid dresses. We see many boys at mid-century with plaid dresses, although many of ther portraits are not dated. A good example is a New York City child that we believe is a boy, probably in the 1840s. We note an unidentified American boy wearing a plaid dress, probanly in the 1850s. The fashion for girls plaid dresses passed out of fashion by the 1870s, but boys continued wearing them even in the 1890s. We note an unidentified American boy in the 1880s. Another good example is Maurice Terrillon, a French boy in 1894.

Figure 2.--This boy pictured with his parents wears a plaid dress with a scalloped lace collar. The boy looks to be 6 or 7 years old and will probably be breeched soon.


I do not yet have enough information on plaid dress styles to properly detail them. Generally speaking dresses for boys were plain. This depended largely on the mother. e have seen some very fancy dresses. The information I do have includes:


A variety of collars were used on these dresses, but the most common was lace collars.
Lace collars: Beginning in the 1880s, plaid dresses appeared with the popular lace collars. The white of the collar contrasted with the colored plaid. Often they were plain dresses with few other stylistic details. The collars varied greatly in size and the quality of the lace. Often lace collars for boys had vaiated edges rather than plain rounded collars, but this was not always the case.
Plain collars: The dresses were also made with collars out of the same material as the dress itself.
Ruffled collars: We note ome plaid dresses with the same uffled collars that boys wore with Fauntleroy suits. These collars are almost always white. We have noted, however, some lightly striped collars.


S ome boys wore their plaid dresses with large floppy bows. This was particularly common in the 1880s. The bows might be worn with both the lace collar and plain collar dresses. We also note boys with bows on the shoulders of their dresses. A exanole is an unidentifoed American boy, probably in the 1850s. Mote his older sister also has shoulder boys. These bow may symbolize leading strings.


Long sleeves were commonly employed in these dresses. I have not seen short sleeved plaid dresses.

Figure 3.--This Nebraska boy wears wears a plaid dress with a floppy bow, probably in the 1880s. Notice the front buttons.

Wrist trim

Some of these dresses had wrist trim matching the collar, commonly lace work matching the collars. In some cases it was quite small. Other dresses had no trim at the wrists.


Plaid dresses for boys sometimes had front buttons as part of the styling. This differentuated them from girls' dresses which commonly had buttons at the back. This was not always the case, especially before the 1880s when boy-styled dresses were not yet available. Other complications included mothers who did not bother with such distinctions and boys wearing hand-me-downs from older sisters.


Belts were another common stylistic device for boys' dresses in the late 19th Century.


I have no material yet on the material used in these dresses.


We have noted several boys wearing plaid, or material meant to look like plaid in several countries, although our archive is still limited. Most of the boys we have noted are America and Britain. This may in part because our archive is fairly excyensive for both coubtries. This appears to have been a popular pattern for boys dresses--presumbably bcause there was some connection with kilts. I suspect that some mother may have told their sons that their plaid dresses were kilts and that boys in Scotland wore kilts, but have no actual confirmation of this. We note boys wearing plaid dresses in the 1860s-80s, but this is just a preliminary assessment at this time. We are unsure as to the extent plaid dresses were popular in other countries. We do note a French boy, Maurice Terrillon in 1894.


Plaid was a popular pattern for both boys and girls. It was especilly popular for boys' dresses because of the association with Scottish kilts worn by men. But girls also liked plaid. We think the chronology for girls' plaid dresses is the same as that for the boys, but we can not yet confirm that. We do not know about the early 19th century. Buy beginning with the tome photography appeared (1840s), we see girls wearing plaid dresses. So it is not a gender indicator. We also see plenty of images of girls wearing wearing plaid dresses in the early-20th century, although plaid skirts gradually emerged as the most common plaid garment for girls. Eventually a plaid skirt in the 20th century would become a staple in girl's fashion and especially popular for school wear.


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Created: March 15, 1999
Last updated: 6:58 AM 12/26/2017