* boys' suits chronology

Boys' Suits: Chronology

Figure 1.--This portrait of an American boy looks to have been done in the 1870s. He wears a kneepants suit. Notice the embroidery on the kneepants and the stripped long stockings. Also note the lace collar rather than neckwear.

The first suits specifically by boys was the skeleton suit. More modern looking suits began to appear in the mid-19th century. We note that suits for younger boys were often heavily detailed, often with embroidery, much more so than adult suits. Younger boys commonly wore kneepants or bloomer knickers as well as kilt suits. Until the 1870s long pants were still common, especially for school age boys. About this time the heavily emroidered suits became less common. Boys by the turn of the 20th century commonly wore kneepants or knickers suits--even older boys. Here social class and regional trend patterns were significant. Eton suits became very popular in the late 19th century. We notice both modern looking suits with lapels as well as suit jackets that buttoned all the way up at the collar. Norfolk styling became quite popular at the turn of the 20th century. Both single and double vreasted jackets were worn, but gradually after World War I single breasted suits became increasingly popular. Blazers also became popular for boys, an influence from English schools.

The 18th Century

Boys in the 18th century for the nost part wore the same suts worn by their fathers, only smaller versions. Suits had long jackets and matching knee breeches. They were done in a wide range of colors. Skeletons suits appeared in the 12870s. They were th first dedicated garment for children, in this case boys. The early skeleton suits were made with knee breeches, but gradually long trousers became standard.

The 19th Century

We notice a wide range of suits worn by boys during the 19th century. Young boys commonly wore dresses. Boys after breeching in the eatly 19th century might wear tunics or skeleton suits. The skeleton suit was the first specifically child's outfit and they were worn through the 1830s. The skeleton suit was extremely popular throughout Europe and commonly worn with long trousers at a tme when most men wore knee breeches. We notice a range of fancy suits being worn by younger boys in the mid-19th century. A common style had a cut-away jacket and were often worn with bloomer knickers. The British royal family introduced the sailor suit as boys wear in the 1840s, but it took a cople decades for it to become popular with the general public. Boys common wore sack suits by the 1860s, commonly with long pants, although long kneepants were worn by younger boys. We note kilt suits becoming popular in the 1870s. We also note fancy velvet suits in the 1870s which evolved into the Fauntleroy suit in the 1880s. These suits were commonly made with kneepants in Ameria and bloomer knickers in Europe. They were worn with large collars and floppy bows. Many boys in the late 19th century wore suit jackets that buttoned at the collar rather than having a "V"-front and lapels.

The 20th Century

Boys by the turn of the 20th century commonly wore kneepants or knickers suits--even older boys. Here social class and regional trend patterns were significant. Norfolk suits were very popular in the 1910s. Knickers became increasingly popular in America, kargely replacing kneepants. The process was a little different in Europe where short pants became more common than knickers. Gradually it became less common for boys to wear suits. This can be observed in the 1920s, but was much more apparent by the 1930s. This can be observed in schoolwear. Many boys wore suits to school before World War I, but after the War in the q1920s, suits gradually became less common. This was at first observeable in orimary schools, but even in econdary schools by the 1930s. After World War II, American boys boys begn wearing mostly long pants suits. The same pattern occurred in Europe, but somewhat later. The pattern is often not easily observeable because boys were wearing suits less and less. Many boys only wore suits for formal occassions and some boys did not even have suits. A blazer and slacks became a casual alternative to a suit. The school blazer became standard schoolwear in Britain during the early 20th century, at first in private schools. This style was adopted by American boys, although not for school wear. It became a part of the preppy look in the 1950s and has since been a boy's standard.

The 21st Century

The 2000s

A HBC reader writes, "Where HBC site mentions that boys in the 2000s are unlikely to own a suit, the site might mention that a parallel development among adults is that in many businesses where men would wear a suit to work every day 15 years ago, the combination of practices like casual Fridays and casual summers in the 1990s has resulted in the men now rarely wearing a tie to work and usually wearing business casual slacks and a dress shirt or a business casual shirt to work each day rather than a suit."

Country Trends

Suit fashions and chronologies varied ffrom country to country. There is of course considerable similarity between manu countries, but also important country differences. We are developing chronologies for boys' suits in several different countries. We have a chronology page for American boy's suits.


We are developing chronologies for several important suit styles.


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Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[Early 19th century] [Mid-19th century] [The 1860s] [The 1870s] [The 1880s]
[The 1890s] [The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s]
[The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Skeleton suits] [Eton suits] [Norfolk jackets] [Kilts] [Knicker suits]
[Blazers] [Short pants suits] [Long pants suits]

Created: 4:39 AM 6/16/2004
Last updated: 1:56 AM 1/27/2008