Cut-away Jackets: Origins

Figure 1.--Although a bit faded with time, the portrait of these two boys, obviously brothers, are dressed alike in Zouave-style cut-away outfits. The CDV is undated, but we believe was taken in the 1860s. Unfortunately there is no backmark or photographer’s info and no other identifying inscription.

We are not entirely sure about the oruigins of this style. The small cut-away jackets worn by French Zouaves may have been the inspiration for these jackets. The soldiers and their destinctive uniforms were created in the 1830s and received a great deal pf publicity through the 1850s. The actual origins would have thus been Middle Eastern as the French created these uniforms for locally recruited troops in North Africa. They were meant to look Algerian and thus used local styles of Middle Eastern origins. The exploits of the Zouaves gradually begame legend in Europe as were well known by the 1850s. Thus the timing is approximately correct for a boy's fashion style. We see American boys beginning in the 1860s wearing these jackets. They may have appeared earlier in France. American awareness of the Zouaves appears to have followed the Crimean War (1854-56) in which France participated. Improving lithographic technology meant that images could be more easily reporduced in magazines and newspapers, although photographic images had to have engravings made. Reporting on the War included reports an images about the Zouaves which appears to have attracted considerable interest in America. We see cut-away jackets styled very plainly as well as elaborately detailed ones, clearly showing the Zouave influence. The Zouave jackets obvioulsy were inspired by the Zouaves. The relationship of the plain jackets is not as obvious, but given the time line, seems to have the same origins. At the same time the cut-away jacket appeared for boys, we note both Federal and Confederate Zouave units being formed in the Civil War. We can not, hosever, yet confirm this through period fashion magazines. One HBC cobntributor is convincd that the Zouaves were the inspiration for the boy's cut-away jackets that became popular. We note that they were commonly worn with bloomer knickers which may have also been been inspired by the Zouave uniforms.


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Created: 5:20 AM 2/6/2008
Last updated: 5:21 AM 2/6/2008