*** boys' skirted garments types

Boys' Skirted Garments: Types

We have collected information on the various skirted garments commonly worn by boys. Dresses are of course commonly associated with girls, but until the 20th century were commonly worn by younger boys. Dresses are, however, only one of the skirted garments that boys have worn over time. The kilt was a boy's garment as were tunics, although there were differences among countries. Smocks were worn by both boys and girls. Pinafores are mostly associated with girls, but boys did wear them. Tunics were a skirted garment that boys commonly wore. We also notice boys wearing skirts which can be difficult to desriminate with the kilt-skirts worn with kilt suits.


bodice is the portion of the dress above the waist. The term bodice also was formerly used to mean a stiffened garment with stays like a corset (16th century). We also notice the term being used for a woman cross-laceing sleeveless jacket-like garment. It was a kind of peasant garment. While the principal use of the term was the upper portion of the dress, the term bodice had a specific usage in children clothing. One problem associated with younger children is how to support skirts and pants because their waists are so slender. Both boys and girls might be dressed in these garments during the 19th Century. Victorian children might wear stays, corsets, or stiff child's waist or bodices. The bodice, however, was notv a posture control device. A bodice is the portion of the dress above the waist. It was the upper portion of other garments as well, including several garments worn by children. of the dress and worn as outer clothes. There were, however, other garments made with bodices. This includes both skirted garments and pants. The skirted garments incude skirts, kilt suit skirts, and Highland kilts. There were also pants made with bodices, especially bloomer knickers. On these grments the top of the bodice was an undergarment. The child would commonly wear a blouse ot tunic over it so it could not be seen.

boy dresses
Figure 1.--This boy who we believe is America, wears a white dress, probably in the 1900s.

Dresses and Frocks

Europeans for centuries dressed little children, both boys and girls in the same styles of dresses, often referred to as petticoats. For most of this time, no special clothing existed for childrn, boys or girls. Boys when they were 'breeched', were simplly dressed in smaller versions of the knee breeches and other clothes worn by their fathers. Special clothes for children appeared in the late 18th centuty with distinctive styles for boys and girls. Even so, many mothers continued to dress small boys in dresses for more than a century. This fashion also became common in America and persisted well into the 20th century. Information is available on the dresses worn by boys since the 1500s. The fashion of dressing small boys in dresses appeared at about the mid 16th century. At first the tops were more like their fathers, but by the end of the century the dresses were indistinguishable from those worn by girls. There were no specialized children's clothing at the time. And this practice continued through the late 18th Century when specialized childrens' clothes developed. Little boys continued to wear girls dresses in the varying fashion of the day. Mothers were advised to give more consideration to comfort in their children's dresses. The dresses often had low necklines and were ankle length at the beginning of the century. This fashion is not well documented in the historical record. Much of the available information on fashion concerns adults, especially women.Details such as the age boys were "breeched"--allowed to wear mens' knee breeches, is often unclear and has to be decuced from paintings of the day. The age at which this occurred varried greatly from family to family and was up to the disgression of the mother. This appears to have been generally about 4-5 years of age. The more detailed information available on the late 19th century, shows that some boys wore dresses beyond that age, although other boys got knee pants at an earlier age. The fashion of dresses for young boys appears to have been a widespread practice throughout Europe, but have little information on many countries. A dress has several different contruction elements. These include among others the neckline, collar, sleeves, yoke, bodice, waitline, and skirt. The style of these various elements might be adopted for gender differences, although boys also wore the same dresses as their sisters. This caried from family to family and chronologically. We will attempt to assess the various construction elements to determine gender-based differences if any.

boy Highlnd dresses
Figure 2.-- While the Highland kilt was not widely worn by bous outside of Scotkand, the kiltsuit was very commonly worn, especially in America.


The kilt is a knee-length skirt-like garment tarditionally worn by men and boys. The kilt as we know it today has ancient origins. It is generally associated today with Scotland or the Gaelic peoples of the British Isles and Normandy, however it has been worn in other countries as well. The kilt became so associated with Scottish naltiinalism that the English prohibited it for a time. A kilt is a type of skirt. A skirt is a garment worn suspended from the the waist and worn open without being joined in any way between the legs. Unlike a dress there is no bodice, although younger children might wear skirts with bodicies. The bottom part of a dress is sometines referred to as the skirt. Skirts are primarily worn by women and girls, although younger boys also wore them in the 19th century. They can be pleated or not pleated, worn at various lengths, and made out of various materials and patterns.The kilts use as a style of boys' clothing is much more recent in origin. The Higland kilt is simply a skirt, but younger boys might wear bodice kilts. A much more limited kilt-like garment was the kilt suit. This was kilt worn by small boys with matching jacket and skirt which as popular in America during the late 19th century. Today the kilt is primarily worn at ethnic celebrations and at Gaelic dancing competitions, but it is also worn for Scouting and formal events such as weddings.


Pinafores were essentially abbreviated smocks worn over other clothes for meals and play. I'm not positive when the pinafore first appeared. It appears to have appeared in the late 18th Century, but it is clearly a widely worn garment by the early 19th Century. I am also unsure as to which country or countries it first appeared. Based upon available images, the pinafore was particularly popular in England and France, but this may be just a function of the greater availability of images from those two countries. There may have been a variety of different styles, but by the mid-19th Century back buttoning pinafores seem to have been most common. Pinafore lengths seemed to have been largely determined by the lengths of the dresses in style during any given period. After the turn of the 20th Century pinafores were not commonly worn by boys, although they were worn by French boys after the style had passed out of fashion for boys in England. Pinafores for girls in the 20th Century became very fancy, stylish garments and not the utilitarian garments of the 19th Century.


Both men and women in the medieval era wore long robes. They are variously described by modern writers as dresses, gowns, robes, and tunics. The men's robes varied in length. Both fashion and age were factors here. Women normally wore long robes. One has to look carefully at medieval paintings to ascertain gender. Ofteb one has to check the headwear, hair, or other aspects to tell for sure. The medieval era streached over about 1,000 years and as a result fashion varies, albeit slowly. We are not entirely sure about children's dress, but for the most part it seems to have primarily been smaller renditions of the parents attire. Modern dresses and trousers began to become more defined in the Renaissance, but the time lin here varied from country to country.

boy skirts
Figure 3.--This American boy wears a blouse with a skirt or kilt-skirt. It is difficult to tell from this image. The photograph looks to have been taken about the turn of the 20th century.


Little American boys until well after the turn of the 20th Century wore dresses and other skirted garments like kilt suits. Other skirted garments include smocks and pinafores. American boys rarely wore actual Highland regalia with bright plaids. One skirted garment we know less about are actual skirts. We have noted skirts being worn both with and without jackets. Like kilts uits, the jackets matched the skirts. We have noted these skirt suits at least by the 1850s and they appear to have been precursors to kilt suits. Unlike kilts suits they were not pleated and did not have closed jackets. HBC speculates that skirts worn without jackets may have been primarily a summer warm weather fashion. The boys wearing skirts seem to all wear them with longsleeved shirts, but this is becausde shorts sdleeved shirts had not yet been developed in the late 19th century. Our knowledge of skirts worn by boys in different counties is incomplete at this time. We have a good bit of information on America. Much of our information on skirts is based on America because so many of our resources are American. We note quite a number of American boys wearing skirts. What we are not sure about is if skirts were actually purchased as separate garments for American boys or if we are just see the skirts worn as part of kilt suits. Notably we see boys American wearing skirts with no indication of kilt styling. Our more limited European archive means that we do not het have details about the skirts worn in Europe.

boy dresses and smocks
Figure 4.--The children in this family see to be wearing skirted garmens including dresses and smocks.


Smocks are a loose, lightweight over garment worn to protect the clothing while working. Initially the smock was a garment for adult workers, especially farm workers. Eventually mothers faced with the need of protecting expensive garments from the hard wear associated with children began dressing their children in smocks. The smock by the late 19th century had become primarily a child's garment, although it was also wrn by shop workers, artists, and other adults. The smock was essentially a large shirt or overgarment with the fullness controlled by the smocking (embroidery on pleats). The use of smocking (the decorative embroidery can be easily traced to the 15th century). Albrecht Durer's Self Portrait (German) shows a smocked shirt, and the Mona Lisa (Italian) has a smocked chemise. The use of needlework to control fullness is a very old technique and became known as smocking. Smocking needle work continues today and is a popular addition to fancy collars as well as garments for younger children.


Tunics were one of the more enduring 19th century styles for boys. As the 19th Century progressed, another garment was added to the small boy's wardrobe--a smock-like tunic. The tunic suit was a form of jacket, close-fitting to the waist, with a gathered or pleated skirt below the waist. It was often the first boyish garment purchased for a boy after he was breehed and allowed to stop wearing dresses. Some tunics look like simple dresses. At first gance it is sometimes difficult to distinguish tunics from dresses. The tunic is very plain, often the same cloth--in many cases of a dark or muted color. Tunics are generally styled very simply. Some did have dress liked puffed sleeves. The major distinguishing feature is that tunics in the late 19th Century were worn with knicker-type pants just as they has een worn with pantallets earlier in the decade. Girls who wore dresses would never wear them with knickers.


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Created: 12:24 AM 4/25/2007
Last updated: 12:24 AM 4/25/2007