Buster Brown suits were popular for younger children in the early 20th Century. I'm not sure who introduced the style or precisely when. I'm not sure if it was a style picked up by the Buster Brown comic strip or an entirely new style created by the cartoonist. It does appear, however, to have been most popular after the turn of the century. Toddlers at that time often wore dresses or smocks. One of a boy's first suits was often a Buster Brown suit. Buster Brown suits were worn by boys from about 5 to 8 years of age, but some mothers dressed older boys in them for a few additional years.
Tunic outfits were commonly worn both in America and Europe. The Buster Brown tunic with the destinctive wide white collar was an especially popular American style. The term Buster Brown suit was only used in America. This is due to the fact that Buster Brown was an American cartoon and noit circulated in Europe. European boys may have worn similat tunic outfits, but no where in Europe were they as opopular as in America.
We do not yet have enough Buster Brown suits arcived on HBC to build a chronology. This sas a style as best we can tel that was worn in the 1900s and 1910s. They may have been worn in the late 1890s, but we have noy yet found examples. We note an unidentified boy in 1907.
A Buster Brown suit was a smock-like suit, which hung below the waist, usually to just above the knees. This was shorter than an actual smock and was designed to show bloomer pants worn above the knee. It was worn with either long over the knee stockings or three-quarter length socks. I'm not sure what colors were most popular for Buster Brown suits. Boys' clothes at the time were not colorful like modern clothes. Some of the cartoons of Buster Brown show red suits. I'm not sure, however, if such bright colors were generally worn. The placement of the buttons on a Buster Brown suit varied. Side buttons were common. Few of the suits had back buttons, unlike the smocks that some of the boys of the same age also wore.
The classic Buster Brown suits wore worn with a broad white collar. This white collar is one of the most important characteristic feature of a Buster Brown suit. The white collar worn with a Buster Brown suit was always a wide white one. The size of the collars varied, but some were quite large. The style of the collar varied. The two most populsr styles were the Peter Pan and the Eton style. Given the large bows worn with these collars, it is not always possible to determine what style of collar was being worn. It was never, however, a lace or ruffled collar. Some boyswore tunic suits with ruffled and lace trim, but this was not a style of detailing worn with Buster Brown suits. Some Buster Brown suits had sailor collars rather than the classic wide white collar (figure 1). The sailor collars while common, were not the classic style. Bows were always added with the wide white collars.
A large floppy bow was also a required part of a Buster Brown suit. I think the bows were usually colored. Sometimes they matched the suit and other times contrasted with it. Red and blue bows appears to have been most common. I don't think black bows were as common as before the turn of the century. The bows were rarely white, the darker colors were preferred to contrast with the wide white collar.
Most Buster Brown suits came with belts. The belts were primarily a decorative item. They drew in the tunic at the waist, but did not hold up anything as they were worn over the tunic and not on the bloomer pants.
A boy always had a hat or cap to wear with his Buster Brown suit. The headgear worn with the suits varied, but were almost always styles of sailor hat and caps. The two most common were broad-brimmed sailor hats and flat topped cloth sailor caps, both worn with dangling ribbons. The soft cloth caps, often in colors matching the boy's suit were the most popular.
Also associated with the suits were longish hair. Somertimes we see curls, but much more prevalent was Dutch Boy bangs maning not only bangs, but long hair at the sides over the ears. This was a very importabt part of the Buster Brown look. Buster in the comix strip featured variations in his outfit, but always had the same Dutch boy bangs, unlike his friends. Sometimes the boy only had bangs, but the added hair at the side suggests that the mother was after the Buster Brown look. The association between the tunic suit and the Dutch boys bangs was made in the Buster Brown comic strip. Buster Brown was pictured wearing longish Dutch boy bangs. Notably the boys wearing Buster Brown suits rarely wore ringlet curls. Ringlet curls after the turn of the century were becoming less common. In addition, I think a Buster Brown suit was generally considered a more overtly boyish suit than a Fauntleroy suit. In addition, the comic strip character was a bit mischievous, not quite appropriate for a well-behaved boy wearing ringlet curls.
We are not sure just how popular Buster Brown suits were. They are certainly one of the most recognizable styles of turn of the century America. This may, however, been more the result of the popular comic strip than the actual popularity of the outfit. Surprisingly HBC has been unable to find many photographic images of boys in Buster Brown suits, meaning outfits like Buster in the comic strip, in the photographic record. There are many images of boys in in tunic suits, especially sailor styled tunic suits. Images of boys in the complete Buster Brown outfit with Dutch Boy bangs, however, are relatively rare. Of course prevalence of images is an imperfect measure of contemprary fashiom, but it is certainly an indicator. And by the early-20th century we have not only portraits, but family snapshots as well, meaning that we have both formal and casual platwear depicted. Interetingly, there are many drawings of Buster Brown suits, but relatively few actual photographic images of boys in Buster Brown outfits are even outfits with many bof the Buster Briwn features. In particular, we often note the white socks and stockings are missing and the tunic suits is not red.
Buster Brown suits are modeled on the outfits worn by the boy in a popular comic strip which appeared in the early 1900s. The strip originally appeared in the Sunday comic pages during the Spring of 1902 and ran until the 1920's. Movies, comic books, hardcover books, shoes, etc., were all spinoffs ultimately from the 1904 licensing at the St. Louis World's Fair. The shoes are still being made! There are LOTS of Buster Brown collectibles--a listing of some of the books is in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide that you can read at most bookstores.
It's interesting to note that Buster Brown shoes have consistently used the Buster Brown character in their advertising--without changing a single thing from the original drawing and the distinctive outfit. Certainly the boys now wearing Buster Brown would view the outfit as unsuitable for modern wear. Thus the company's policy is unlike that of most company's with recognizable most advertising figures. Other company's take great care to updated and modernize their images over time.
Interview with Stan Lair (1902-1987) by Seventh Graders Missy Maciel and Kathy Young: 17 Jan 1980
Have the kids' dressing styles changed a lot?
Oh, yeah, sure. We used to wear... boys your age now would be wearing what we call "knickers," just below the knee, with long black cotton stockings, and then way before that they used something they called "Buster Brown suits," which were long frock-like things. I used to... I had one of those when I was a kid. (Laughs.)
Did the girls all wear dresses?
Yeah, they all had dresses, yep. Every one of them. And most of them had hair ribbons. The style then - they had braided hair, you know, they had hair ribbons tied in their hair, that sort of thing. (Laughs.)
The Buster Brown suit was a boys' outfit. Note the interview of Stan Lair above. The boys wore Buster Brown suits and the girls wore dresses. HBC believes, however, that some girls did wear tunic suits, but we are just beginning to work on gender conventions.
Movies often depicted boys in Buster Brown suits, especially the silent movies made before the 1930s. There was even a series of Buster Brown movies made in the late 1920s. The Buster Brown series had Buster costumed in a classic Buster Brown suit.
The kids in the Our Gang and Little Rascals shows, especially in the 1920s showed the continuing influences of the popular Buster Brown suits.
A reader writes, "This brought back some memories from back when I was a little kid in the early 1940s. Probably the most well known brand of kids' shoes in the
United States, was "Buster Brown Shoes". The Brown Shoe Company had based
the name of their line of kids' shoes on the famous "Buster Brown" comic
strip and Buster Brown Shoes were quite well known to millions of Americans.
By the 1940s, there was also a Buster Brown radio program, and the short subject at the Saturday afternoon matinee would often be a Buster Brown cartoon.
There were a couple of actors who played Buster Brown, but the one that was
probably the best known was Jerry Maren and his dog Tige, who happed to also be "Pete the Pup" in the Our Gang comedies. Tige was an American Pitbull Terrior. Jerry Maren, was actually not a child actor, but was a "little person". He was
the Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz, who gave Dorothy the lollipop. The radio shows were great. They were on every Saturday morning, and they
were sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes. I can still remember the
introduction: "Hi there, my name's Buster Brown. I live in a shoe. That's
my dog Tige. He lives in there too"
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