Boys Dress Styles

Figure 1.--We have found many dresses worn by boys that we are not sure just how to classify. Hopefully readers will have some insights as to dress styles.

HBC has noted a number of specific styles or types of dresses worn by boys. Much of this information relates to the 19th century. Earlier boys, like their sisters, generally wore just smaller versions of their maothers' dresses. We note quite a number of different dress styles. Some are easy to classify, such as sailor and Fauntleroy dresses. Other styles are more difficult to classify, in part because our knowledge of dress styles is rather limited. The popularity of the different styles of course varied over time. We see special boy dressing appearing in the late 19th century. These dresses coild be worn by girls as well, but by the late-q19th century we see fewer boys wearing the fancier styles. This was basically iup to the mother o we see considerable variety. Some of the nbames for these styles are modern terns.

A-frame Dresses

Bustle Dresses

Double-breasted Dresses

We are not sure when double-breasted styling for children first appeared or who initially conceived of the idea. Double-breasted garments for children must have been inspired by the dashing military uniforms of the early 19th Century. This may explain why double-breasted styling was mostly commonly use on dresses for boys. Double-breasted styles were used in military uniforms well into the 2Oth Century. As is so often the case, the inspiration for many boys' fashions was the military. The first boys' garments to use the double-breasted style was the skeleton suit, but many other garments were subsequently styled in the double-breasted fashion--including children's dresses.

Empire Dresses

Fancy Dress

A variety of dresses in fancy dress style were made for boys and girls in the late 19th Century. While boys and girls dress styles were virtually identical at the beginning of the 19th century, by the end of the century distinctive, plainer dresses for boys had become more common. There were dresses marked as boys and girls dresses, but many were marked as children's dresses, leaving it up to the mother to decide. The identification of the dressessm, however, did not prevent a stylish mother, from ignoring the developing convention and buying a fancy style for her son as well as her daughter.


Boys after the mid-19th Century, with some exceptions, would wear dresses with defined waists ot with belts or front buttons as part of the styling of the dresses. While girls might wear frock dresses which fell straight from where the sleeves joined the bodice, this smock-like style was much less common for boys.

Fauntleroy Dresses

Some mothers in the late 19th Century were so enamored of the Little Lord Fauntleroy suits with lace collars that they couldn't wait to adopt the style even though their sons had not yet been breeched. Thus some boys were outfitted in dresses with lace collars or fitted with a Fauntleroy blouse and jacket with a kilt-skirt rather than kneepants.

Hoop Dresses

The hoop skirt dress is one of the most destinctive dress styles. Not all women wore hoopdresses even when they were theheughtbof fashion, we bekieve in the 1850s and 60s. The hoop was a fashion item and very impractical. They were worn with fashionable dresses. Women did not wear them for everyday where unless they were high society ladies that could afford sevants to do all their work. Women would certainly wear hoop skirts to paties. Working women were less likely to wear hoop dresses, especially occupations requiring unrestructed movement. Women were restrictedcin job opportunities at the time, but most Americans lived on farms and the hoop skirt was certainly not suitable for farm work. Cooks could not wear hoop skirts because of the danger of fabric catching fire. The fashion at the time was for full skirts. Women tried to achieve this by adding extra petticoats. This coukd become quite bulky. The hoop avoided this problem. With a hoop only two petticoats might be required. Hoops were shapped with boning a term derivedcfrom the whale bone (baleen) used, but oither materials might be used as well, including watch-spring steel, steel bands. or rattan for lower-cost hoops. One petticoat was worn underneath the hoop for modesty ake as hoops might rise up when the indivual sat down or bent over. The scond petticoat was worn over the hoop to hide the boning and provide a smooth line to the skirt. Actually the hoop dress was not an easy dress to wear. Women and girls in particulsar had to practice. Girls wre less likely than women to wear hoop dresses. They would bot have wirn them to school, but many girls did not go to school in the mid-19th century. Girls from affluent families might wear hoop skirts for special occassions. I'm not sure at what age a girl might begin wearing a hoop skirt. While younger boys at the time commonly wore dresses, as far as we know, they did not wear hoop dresses.

Irish Flannel Dresses

Irish mothers fearing the faries would steal their wee boys, commonly dressed their boys up to 12 in long flannel dresses so they would look like girls. I'm not sure when this practice began, but it was common in the rural, Gaelic speaking areas of Ireland through the early 20th Century.

Jumpers/Gym Slip Dresses

Americans called these dresses jumoers. The British called them gym slips. They were commonly used for school uniforms. They were worn with blouses.

Kilt Suit Dresses

Some dresses were made to look rather like a kilt suit. These were one piece garments rather than the two- or three- piece kilt suits. These were generally worn by younger boys, although there was some overlap. At times it is not always possible to destinguish kilt-suit drssses from actual kilt suits. Gender is also a factor here. Whikle girls did not normally wear kilt suits, they might wear kilt-suit dresses. We are not entirely sure why a mother would choose a dress that looked like a kilr suit rather than a kilt suit itself. I supose a one-piece garment is easier to put on, simplifying the dressing operaion in the morning. Presumably there are other reasons as well. One aspect of kilt suit dresses is that girls some times sore them while it was relatively rare to see girls wearing actual kilt suits.

Maarken Island Dresses

Some Dutch mothers in the 19th Century dressed their sons in dressed for much the same reason as Irish mothers, to protect the boys from the farries. This was a custom in more isolated areas. The fashion persisted into the 20th Century on Maanken Island, and isolated fishing village.

Figure 2.--We are not entirely sure how to classify this dress. Perhaps our readers will have a suggestion. Plaid dresses were popular for boys. This is a print or paterned dress, but it is not a plaid..

Patterened/Print Dresses

Print dresses or dresses made with patterened material werev popular. We see a varietyb of different patterns.

Peasant Dresses

Pinafore Dresses

The pinafore is sometimes used as a jumper in Britain. Pinafore dresses, however, are commomly syuled with more ruffles and fanct detailing than a jumper or gym slip.

Figure 2.-- Plaid dresses were popular for boys. They were made in many different styles. This boy was E.W. Spencer. He was from Lodi, California.

Plaid Dresses

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.

Plain Dresses

Plain dresses is a very general category. This might inclide simple, utilitarian shifts made for younger children. This was proavly a popular choice for working-class families. They would have been inexpemsive and easy to make. They might also be a styling device for boys' and here they do not necesarikly need to be inexpensive. We note some boys wearing very plain dresses with almost no stylistic detailing or decoration. The buttons might even be in the back leaving a very plain bodice. Some of these plain dresses might have lace collars and matching wrist cuff trim. We almost notice these plain garments being worn with pinafores. A example is the American Gulick brothers, probably in the 1880s.

Pleated Dress

An American reader tells us that a box pleat dress with a belt was a popular style for school. She recalls wearing such a dress with a plain sleeveless pinafore that had two small box pleats at the bottom of the dress.

Purse Dress


Skirts were not dresses, but they were a major garment for girls. Modern girls wear skirts very commonly, perhaps even more than dresses. In the 19th century, however, dresses were more common. And we have noted some girls wearing them. A skirt differes from a dress in that it did not have a bodess. Some skirts for younger children were made with support bodices worn under a blouse or shirt.

Smocked Dresses

Figure 3.-- Many dresses had plain skirts, sometimes with colored bands. Other dresses had ruffles, in some cases very extensive ruffles. This was a popular decortive element. This portrait looks to be taken in the late-1870s.

Ruffled Skirt Dresses

Many dresses had plain skirts, sometimes with colored bands. Other dresses had ruffles, in some cases very extensive ruffles. This was a popular decortive element. We tend to note ruffled dresses in the 1880s. We see fewer boys wearing them in the 1890s as dresses for boys became more plainly styld.n n

Russian Dress

Russian dresses based on the popular Russian blouse was one of the plainer dress styles which by the end of the 19th century had become popular for boys. They could be weorn by boys or girls, but were especially popular for boys. They werecoften quite similar to Russian tunics slightly older boys wore.

Sailor Dresses

Sailor suits were one of the most enduring styles for boys. Mothers could often not wait to dresses their sons in the charming nautical style. Thus many dresses incorporated features of the middy blouse as did the tunics which became popular at the turn of the century. Some of the sailor dresses has standard "V" front and box back sailor collars. Othes were made in a variety of imaginative styles, including very un-sailor fashions with lace and ruffles. Dresses were done with varying degrees of sailor styling. A good example of a sailor dress is one worn by a Canadian boy, J. Skioch in 1887.


The shift is a a straight dress with no waist shaping or seam.

Shirtwaist Dress

Smock Dress

Sun Dress

Sun dresses were popular styles for girls. By the time they became popular, boys were no longer wearing dresses. We note French rompers, however, stuled like sun dresses.

Tent Dress

Tunic Dresses

Figure 4.--We note many boys wearing white dresses. It was a very popular color for younger boys. I am not entirely sure how to descrobe this one, but we do note some sailor-style elements.

White Dresses

White dresses have been particularly popular for children, although the popularity has varied over time. We note many different syles of white dresses, including both plain and fancy ones. Mothers have often selected white dresses with their symbolism of innosence and purity.They are particularly popular for younger children, but older boys were also dressed in them. As white dresses were difficult to keep clean, they were often party dresses or worn with pinafores or smocks.


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Created: 5:43 AM 1/25/2008
Last updated: 1:17 AM 7/26/2014