Pantalettes or pantalets/pantaloons are esentially long drawers worn to modesestly cover the legs. They were made in both plain and fancy styles with a lace frill, ruffles, or other finish at the bottom of each leg. They were widely worn by women and children (boys and girls) during the first half of the 19th century. The pantaletts extended below the hem of the dresses worn by boys and girls and the ankle and calf-length trousers worn by boys. In the mid-19th century it was not considered proper for even small children to have bare legs. In fact the word leg was not used in polite company, rather the acceptable term was limbs. The lacey pantaletts covered the legs to the ankles. One author suggest that some Victorians even put pantaletes on table and piano legs, I'm not sure if this is true. As the century progressed, it became more acceptable for younger toddler-age children to appear with bare legs, but older girls and boys still wearing dresses as late as the 1840s and even 1850s were expected to cover their legs with pantalettes reaching below the knee. Thus there are paintings from the first half of the 19th century of a younger sister wearing a dress with bare legs while her older brother wears a dress with lacey pantalettes covering his legs below the knee.
We do not fully understand the chronology of pantalettes at this time. We do not believe they were worn commonly in the early 19th century. Dress styles were quite long and boy wore long-pants skeleton suits, thus there would seem to be very little need for fancy pantalettes. Even so girls wore them. They seem to have become more common in the 1830s or perhaps the 1840s. Here we are not yet sure. Pantalettes are often associated with Victorian prudishness. We see them being worn during the Regency, well before the Victorian era. Both boys and girls wore pantalettes, but they were more common for girls, thus the chronology is largely based on girls wearing pabntalettes.
The Victorian era begam officially with Queen Victoria's accession (1837). Of cporse many of the fashion and moral conventions we associate with the Victorians began before the Queen'a accession. The early 19th century had been a period or Regency had been a period of moral licentitiousness. Victoria and Albert had a very different outlook than George IV and William IV, but changing values were not entirely dictated by the monarchy. The rise of the middle-class was another major development and this did not behin in 1837. Thus we are not sure how to date the prudishness associated with the leg-limb terminology and other values associated with the Victorians such as family values. One reader writes, "The leg-limb thing didn't take hold for several years after Victoria became Queen. Remember, Victoria herself and her own contemporaries had been raised in the riotous Regency. They raised their children prudishly in reaction, and the kids took things farther than their parents had. I don't have time to go find a source to quote, but I'd be surprised if leg=limb was the rule before 1850, and 1870 seems more likely. Most of the excesses we attribute to "the Victorians" were in vogue only from 1870 to 1890." We are not sure that the chronology suggested here is entirely correct. Is it true that the Regencey was a period of licentious conduct. But we believe that this was primarily associated with the monarchy and aristocracy. The middle-class had a more staid value system. Victoria and Albert in a sence did not create what we see today as Victorian values, but eather brought the monarchy and thus aristocratic values into conformity with all ready developed middle-class values.
There is a tendency of the modern reader to view pantalettes as underwear. This would not be an accurate desciption of the garment. Pantalettes were not designed to be worn under clothes. In fact some were very decorative with ribbons and fancy lace. They were designed to be seen as part of the person's normal clothes and to cover the portions of the leg not covered by a woman or child's (both boys' and girls') dresses or a boys' pantaloons or knee pants. Pantalettes were initially quite long as it was not considered proper for even the legs of young children to be seen. As this became more aceeptable, pantalettes were made in shorter lengths. Some observers descriminate between plain drawers and pantalettes. Drawers were likely to be knee length. Pantalettes were longer and more likely to be decorated. This varied, however, as some worn by boys were plainer than those worn by girls. A better way of differentiating between the two is whether they were made to be seen or not. Pantalettes were decorated at the hem as they were made to be seen.
Pantalettes were worn by women, girls, and young boys in Britain and the Continent. They were also worn in America, but not as commonly. One American visitor to England wrote in Punch during 1850, "... the children look really punchy. It strikes me the young ones are dressed more boyishly than in America. Quite large children, of both sexes, are dressed exactly alike, and whether girls or boys (they look between both), you cannot guess-girls with fur hats, such as full-grown men wear, and boys in short dresses and pantalettes.
Pantalettes were primarily worn with a range of skirted garments. They seem most commn with dresses because almost all girls wore them in the early-19th century. And boys not yet breeched wore them. A factor here is that in theearly- and mid-19th century when pantalettes were most common, dresses were the primary skirted garment. Thus the fashiojn trends such as when other skirted agerments were popular was a factor. We also see them being worn with kilt suits and tunics. They were worn with kilt suits in America, although the prevalence is hard to assess as the kilt-skirts worn with likt suits were commonly rather long below the knee. Pantallettes were also worn with tunics, but mostly by younger boys in the early- and mid-19th century. A good example is the boy in a painting by Rebecca Solomon depicting an idealized Victorian family in the early-1850s. The boy looks tonbe about 6-years old. Pantalettes were not worn with Highland kilts at least as far as we can tell. We have less information on smocks, but smocks were a garment worn over other garments.
Beginning about the 1840s it became more acceptable for younger boys and girls to wear shorter dresses. As the century progressed, children continued to wear pantaletts, but the length was shortened to mid-calf and then to just below the hem of the dress. As it was not considered proper for even young children to have bare legs, both biys and girls commonly wore long white stockings-- often with strap shoes. It was not until the 1860s that young children began to appear with bare legs, often with pantalettes at the hem of their dresses. Older girls continued to wear longer pantalettes. The style continued in vogue through the 1860s, but gradually disappeared after the 1870s. Some particularly elaborate Fauntleroy suits had pantalette-like lace trim and ruffles at the hem of the velvet kneepants.
Pantalettes varied greatly in decoration. In fact some would descrinate between pantalettes and drawers by the vel of decoration. Drawers were plain and pantalttes heavily decotated. This is not entirely accurate as boys pantalettes could be quite plain. Pantalettes were decorated, some heavily, with tucks and flounces. We note an American boy, Roy LaFolyette, with pedal-like decoration on his pantalettes.
HBc at this time has limited information on these garments, including the comstruction. Much of our information comes from available images with kust shows the hem of the garment. HBC has received some inquiries about pantalettes that we cannot answer at this time. One reader writes, "We are re-creating a child's Oneida pantalette outfit for a fourth-grade hands-on program. The women's Oneida pantalettes were modeled after the children's clothing. The pantalettes were two tubes of fabric, matching a short dress, which tied on above the knee or buttoned to the "underdrawers". We have a few examples of outfits in our collections which show button holes at the top of the pantalettes, and even "drawers" in the form of two tubes which perhaps buttoned under the pantalettes on cold days. However, I can't find any "underdrawers" with buttons, and I'm not sure if the drawers would be a chemise-like or a slip-like garment. I would like to get our recreation as accurate
as possible. The Oneida reform dress was an important symbol and a very practical aspect of the community's alternative lifestyle."
The pantalettes worn in the early 19th century were quite long and worn at ankle length. This was because dresses at the time were quite long. Also boys commonly wore long pants--commonly skeleton suits. For the flounces and frills of pantalettes were to be seen, the garments had to be quite long. By the 1830s dresses had become shoter. At first boys and girls continued wearing the long patalettes with the shorter dresses. Gradually by mid-century the pantalettes appeared in shorter lengths as well. Pantalettes continued to be worn by boys wearing dresses in the late 19th century. It is difficult to determine how common this was because by the late 19th century they were being worn at lengths shorter than the kilt or dress skirt. Sometimes they were worn with petticoats as well. We do not know how common this was or if it varried for boys and girls.
Most patalettes we have noted were white. We are not sure of other colors. We see some made in the same material as the dress or skirt that the child was wearing. An examplev is an American boy, Roy LaFolyette, who wears checked pantalettes that mstch his kilt suit.
Pantalettes were usually made with silk or linen. Some may have also bee made of cotton. The silk pantalettes were more common foe women. Children's pantalettes were more commonly made with linnen. Drawers might be made in other fabrics, but pantalettes were almost always silk, linnen, or cotton. We note some boys wearing pantalettes that seem to be made out of the same material as the dress. A good example is an American boy in 1865. We notice boys wearing plaid dresses or kilt suits with pants made as the same material vas the suit. A good example is Willie Beacon, an American boy about 1890. We are not ebtirely sure as to whether these should be classified as pantalettes or knee pants.
Pantalettes of course are most associated with girls. Much of the literature of the 19th mentions them for girls and women. The most important fashion news of the age was the introduction of pantalettes, although they did not become widely worn untill after the Regency. They were accepted in the British royal circles by 1811 and in fashion journals since 1805. Pantalettes were usually trimmed with expensive lace and hung slightly below one's dress. Very little consideration was given to pantalettes for boys. This was to a large extent decided on by a boys' mother who used the styles available. As a result, some consideration of the styles of pantalettes for girls is needed to understand the styles worn by boys.The fashion magazines of the era commonly showed girls wearing pantalettes. They were mostly worn by younger girls, but by the 1840s older girls were also wearing them. The increasingly popular Fashion magazines described the patterns and materials in detail. The discusion focused on women and girls. However the pantalettes worn by boys were similar to those worn by girls. Thus the informtion available on women's and girl's pantalettes offer some insights for our web page.
Pantalettes were also commonly worn by younger boys, especially boys that had not yet been breeched and still wearing dresses. After kilts appeared as a fashionable boys wear in the 1840s, they were sometimes worn with kilts as well. This may have been more common in America as the kilt in Britain was more commonly worn as a Highlands outfit. Pantalettes are most associated with girls, but boys also wore them, especially in the mid-19th Century. Boys and girls generally wore different style pantalettes, but pantalettes were not made and sold as gender specific garments. It was up to mother to decide who wore what style. Some limited information is available on the pantalettes worn by boys. They were most commonly worn in the early 19th Century, but did not entirely disappear until the turn of the 20th Century. Styles varied over time. There were differences between countries over pantalettes.
We believe the style of having boys in dresses and tunics wear pantalettes was a fashion throughout Western Europe, Britain, and America in the 19th Century, especially the first half of the 19th Century. I have not yet noted pantalettes in the 18th Century, but the style probably did appear in the 1790s. Clearly pantalettes were widely worn in Britain, France, and America. The number of images suggest that pantalettes were most common in America and England. However I believe that this is just a function of the fact that America and British images are most accessible to HBC. I have little information, however, on other countries. Hopefully some HBC visitors from other European countries can provide some insights on this. The fashion trends for pantalettes are probably primarily French and passed to America primarily through England. The fact that HBC has a number of American images is probably a function of the HBC's greater access to American images rather than a reflection of the relative popularity of the style in America. I have not yet been able to discern stylistic differences between the various countries or changes in those countries over time. The information I have at present is currently limited making it difficult to discern country trends and stylistic differences. There appear to have differences in social class affecting who wore pantalettes. Boys from affluent families were the most likely to wear them. Class differences appear to have been less in America, but still important. One of our difficulties here is establidhing gender in unidentified images.
We note children wearing pantalettes with both long stockings and socks. Socks were quite common in Europe. American boys mostly wore them with long stockings.
Pantalettes were a standard item of dress for children for most of the 19th century. They were so important that we even see mock pantalettes. This is frilly white fabric added on to hems to emulate pantalettes. This was as best we can tell only for boys. An example is a German boy in the 1860s.
Dixon, Meredith. E-mail message, September 10, 2004.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main trouser page]
[Return to the Main underwear garment page]
[Return to the Main skirted garment page]
[Return to the Main dress page]
[Return to the Main tunic page]
[Return to the Main kilt page]
[Return to the Main Fauntleroy page]
[Return to the Main skeleton suit page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]