* fancy boys' suits: Zouave suits

Boys' Fancy Styles: Zouave Suits

Figure 1.--This is a an example of the fancy suit styles worn in the late 1860s and 1870s. This portrait was probably taken in the 70s. HBC refers to the jacket as a cut away, a popular style duting the 1850s-70s. It has some of the attributes of a Zouave suit, but the colors and pants are not quite right. Notice his cap on the table.

France annexed Algeria in the early 19th century as part of European 19th century rush to colonize Africa. Military units were formed from Algeians sympathetic to the French. Later units were formed with French soldiers, but their uniforms were Algeian -- baggy pants styling. These units and the styling was called Zouave. It became a popular style for French boys. After American Civil War units adopted the Zouave styling, we see the style being worn by American boys. We see a lot of portraits of boys wearing cut-away jackets, but fewer in full Zouave suits. Wevhavevfound a number ofAmerican Zouave portraits. That reflects both the popularity of Zouave styling and the wb=normous size of the American photographic record, comparable to all of Europe combined. The Zouave military uniform was only used in America during the Civil War, but France continued to have Zouaves into the 20th century. Their colorful uniforms were wisely discontinued during World War I. And we see boys wearing Zouave unifirms, but mostly in commercial photograpohy and not actual family portraits. While the U.S. military discontinued Zouaves, we continue to see American portaits of boys in Zouave uniforms through the rest of the 19th century.

Historical Background

The popular Zouave style originated in Algeria. Two battalions of troops were formed in 1830 by General Bertrand Clausel as part of the French military occupation of Algeria. The troops were from a tribe of Kabyles dwelling in Algeria. The name of the tribe was Zouaoua, which in France gave rise to the term, "zouave". The organization of these tribesmen as part of the French army was designed to establish a bond between them an the French occupation forces. They came to serve as mercinaries in the French army. French officers were put in charge and a certain number of French soldiers incorporated within their ranks. The mingling of French and natives did not prove satisfactory, and after 1839, none of the natives were recruited, although regiments of Algerian tirailleurs were subsequently formed. The Moorish-styled costume originally adopted for the Kabyles recruits was retained even after the resruitment of the Algerin natives ended. The French zouaves were recruited from veterans of exceptional physique and courage. They achieved a notable reputation, serving not only in Africa, but also in the Crimea, Italy, Mexico, Tunis, and Tonking (Indo-China/Vietnam). One observer writes, "These units quickly became the �elite forces� of the French Army and during the Crimean War, their heroic efforts and brave actions brought them to public notice, not only in France, but all over the world." [Harriman] Zouave units served with destinction through Word War I, although their distinctive uniforms were discarded during the fightening because of its conspicousness. Because of the reputation of the Zouaves, some Ameican Civil War (1861-65) volunteer units adopted the colorful costumes and styled themselves "zouaves". They were mostly northern units, but there were also southern zouaves. We note Thomas Camp, a drummer boy from the 11th Wisonsin--a Zouave unit.


Boys clothing in the baggy pants Zouave style begame quite popular in the 1840s and 50s. It firs appeared in France, but by the 1840s English and American boys were also wearing it. As with many boys' style, the military is often a powerful inluence. The zouave style was gicen added popularity in America during the 1860s after zouave units were formed. The style gradually declined in popularity as boys' wear during the 1870s.


The characteristics of the Zouave style were colorful small jackets worn with baggy trousers. This coresponded to the cut-away jackets that were already popular for younger boys. The jackets generally were heavilly embroidered. The trousers boys wore were generally cut short at mid-calf lebgth.


Zouave jackets had braid trimming and elborate embroidery and aplique (frogs).


The French Zouave uniform had a blue jacket with red trim and red baggy trousers. This was also the same color scheme used by Northern or Federal Zouave units. We suspect that the same color scheme was followed for boys' Zouave suits, at least in the North. There were both Dederal and Confederate Zouave units, but the northern Zouaves are better known. There may have been different color combinations. in America. his may have particulsarly been the case in the Southern United States where blue jackets looked too much like Northern or Federal uniforms. There may have also been grey jackets. While the color of the jackets may have varied, but the cap and bloomers we believe were very commonly red. The elaborate embroidery and aplique used on these suits was commonly, but not always done in contrasting colors. There of course was no color photography at the time. There are, however, several sources of information on color, including vintage garments, period color illustrations, paintings, and colorized photographs. The most valid information is the actual garments.

Country Trends

We are not entirely sure about Zouave suit country trends at this time. One might expect that they would have been most popular in France. Our archive of French images, howeer, is not large enough to substabntiate this, especially 19th century images. We do note commercia post cards from the early 20th century showing French boys wearing Zouave uniforms. This is not, however, a good indicator of actual usage. Zouave styles were also popular in America, especially when military units were organized with Zouave uniforms. HBC is unsure at this time as to what other countries Zouave uniforms were worn. An observer reads, "Boy�s clothing of the Moorish-styled Zouave pantaloons and jackets first appeared in France in the 1840�s and 50�s, but rapidly migrated to England and America. With the rise of Elmer Ellsworth�s Zouave Cadet Units, in America, in the late 1850�s, the desire for Zouave styled clothing also rose. Throughout the war years, Zouave jackets were worn as a show of patriotism. Boys wanted to wear military styled clothing and the stories of bravery and heroism that were printed about the Zouave units added to the popularity. Illustrations appeared in the many of the publications of the day showing young lads dressed in these uniforms, much like this one from La Mode Illustree in 1861." [Harriman] A good example are two American boys, Charles and Harland Russell, during the 1860s. As might be expected, they do not seem to have been very common in England and Germany, although unadorned cut-away jackers were commonly worn. .


We have few details about the age of boys wearing Zouave suits. All of our information at this time is limited to America and based primarily on the photographic record. We note boys wearing Zouave suits from about age 2-8 years, but that is only a rough estimate because of the small number of available images in our archive. That is riughly the same age as the boys wearing regular cut-away jackets. The younger boys wore skirted bottoms and boys after about 4-5 years mostly wore baggy pantaloons or knee pants. The actual Zouaves wore pantalooms. Boys wore both pantaloons and wide-cut knee pants, often heavily embroidered. A fill Zouave outfit would hve the pantaloon, but we find reltively few examples in the photographic record. An observer writes, "Very young boys wore the jackets in combination with a skirt. When the lad was �breeched� the jackets were worn with knickers or trousers, both short and long, depending on the affluence of the family and the area of the country in which they lived. The age at which a boy went from skirts to pants was left to the discretion of the mother, and as a result varied widely, depending upon the circumstances." [Harriman]


The Zouave suit generally consisted of a small, heavily enbroidered jacket and variety of pants. Boomer knickers seem the most common.--usually cut in a baggy style. Many outfits also included fancy headwear. The jacket and pants were the key elements of the suits. There were other items. Most were otional. The most importsant of these accessory items was the headwear. Fezes were especally popular.


Many boys' outfits were done with Zouave styling. Less common was an actual Zouave uniform done for boys. As unlikely as it may seemat first glance, American Civi War units were outfitted in the Zouave outfits. Of course this was much more common in France. And as a result, outfits were made for boys with the Zouave styling. We do not think this was very common in America, based on their relative rarity in the photographic record. But we do see occassional examples. We suspect most of these would have been made during the Civil War (1861-65). The Zouave styling continued for a while, but the actual uniform outfits seem most likely to have been taken during the War, at least in America.


Zouave-styled clothing was not just worn by girls. We also note girls and young women wearing a range of Zouave-styled garments. A good example is two American sisters. They are wearing matching white dresses with embroidered Zouave jackets in the late 1860s.


HBC has no information on how popular Zouave suits were with boys. Ss it was based on a military style, perhaps it appealed to boys. HBC has no personal accounts at this time to draw any judgements on this.

Vintage Suits

Vintage garments are very useful in obtaining information that are not possible to ascertain through photographs. We have been able to achive a few vintage Zouave uniforms.

Individual Boys

Some information is available on individual boys who wore Zouave-styled clothing. In some cases the name of the boy is unavialble and the information has to be surmised from available photography.

American boy (1860s)

Available images show an American boy from the 1860s. His mother apparently liked the Zouave style. She dressed him in a dress with Zouave styling before breeching, and a kneepants Zouave suit after breeching. She did not, however, cut his curls.


Harriman, Lynne. Timeless Stitches. E-Mail message, January 31, 2006.


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Created: May 20, 2000
Last updated: 6:51 PM 7/29/2020