Boys Costumes Depicted in Television Shows: 1900 House

Figure 1.--This photograph shows the family that kived in the 1900 house. The 8-year old son, Joe, wears his knicker suit for the photograph.

This show depicts a modern family that spent several weeks living like a family of 1900. The son appeared once in a sailor suit and straw hat. He only appeared in the saior suit once. Boys did wear long pants sailor suits in the 1900s, but HBC believes that kneepanrs suits were more common. This was the only time he appeared in the sailor suit. Most of the footage concentrated on the boy's precocious older sisters who appeared to enjoy wearing their elaborate Edwardian costumes. Their brother, on the other hand, seemed to be a rather unhappy Edwardian. In the picture he is accompanying his mother on a shopping expedition. The time depicted was the same time that the future George V's children were widely photograhed. They almost always wore either sailor suits or kilts. They wore both kneepants and long pants sailor suits.

The House

The family found that the 1900 house was not eactly what Currier & Ives depicted. They spent 3 months in the house living with 1900 technology--in essence a middle class turn of the century life. Their homer was a late Victorian house renovated to the last detail like a house at the turn of the century. All lavatories, electrical wiring and kitchen renovations were removed. The fireplaces were unearthed from the walls. The show provides a lot of interesting details about what a 1900 house was like and the appliances and products that would be found in it. It stresses in particular that the stove was the key appliance, both for cooking and heating as well as producing hot water.

The show very effectively protrayed what life was like for the women that stayed home and kept the house. The amount of labor involved was increbible--especially the weekly laundry. The show suggested that many mothers, unless they were well enough off to afford help, would have had to keep the girls home from school to help with the laundry.


The family had to agree to a strict set of consitions, including wearing period clothing and confining themselves to foods and products that would have been available to them in 1900. They spent seberal days with experts from the Museum of Domestic Culture learning how to use kitchen and other utensils including laundry and personal hygiene items that have since past from use.

The mother donned 1900 attire and took a leave of absence from her job to run the house. She found the corset especially hard to take. The father, a Royal Marine, continued working--but reported to work in the ornate uniform of the turn of the century. The children were allowed to wear contemporary clothes to school, but had to change to Victorian clothes when they returned home. They had to do their homework by gas light and spare time was devoted to turn of the century passtimes--home made plays, publications, and difficult chores.

Family Reaction

The family found some enjoyable aspects to 1900 lige. Local merchants delivered fresh meat and baked goods as was thde custom at the time. The "post" (mail) arrived three times a day. Evenings were spent around the parlor fire playing simple games and having cozy conversations. Life in 1900, however, proved far from idelic. They found a harsh worls of chamber pots and outhouses, a home lacking electricity and all that it powered such as refrigeration as well as central heating. They faced the relentless grime generated by a coal fired range and they for enviromental reasons had to burn "clean" coal, grinding exhaustion, and madening boredom. It was the boredom more than anything else that got to the children--althouh the show focused more than the other children on the oldest daughter. She was constantly complaning. Very little attentiin was given to the boy, except that he was a fussy eater. Given that his mother was a vegetarian and served up some rather disgusting fare--that was understandable.

Figure 2.--Joseph wore a heavy kneepants wool suit with long stockings and a blue long pants sailor suit.


The show did not dwell very much on 9-year old Joseph. PBS summarized his experience, "Joseph, 9, was at quite a loss in THE 1900 HOUSE, which was ill-equipped to satisfy his interests in computers, television, and collecting War Hammer figures. He also hated the food. But he was a good sport throughout and did develop a great fondness for the toy lead soldiers he would have played with as a real 1900 boy." The program did not indicate what Joseph felt about 1900 clothing.


Considerable attention was given to clothing during the program. Almost all of it was devoted to the mothers' clothing--especially the corset which she despised. One interesting point was just how much clothing they wore. At the end when they changed back into their 1999 clothes they compared the weight and were amazed at just how much difference there was. The show devoted so little time to Joe that it is no clear just what he wore and what he thought about his 1900 clothes. HBC based on short glimpses has compiled the following assessment.

Sailor suit

There was one short scene with Joe dressed in a dark long pants sailor suit and straw sailor hat leaving the house with his mother to go shopping. The hat had a narrow brim, but I could not tell if there was a streamer. Joe never appeared in the sailor suit again. HBC can only guess that he objected to the suit. Notably he was pictured leaving the house and not actually shopping in it with his mother. The daughters are pictured repeately shopping with their mother. Joe was probably convinced to be photographed discretely leaving the house, but did not actually have to walk arund in it. Although there is no information to go on, Joe may have objected to the hat more than the suit.


Joe wore a heavy grey knickers suit for the formal family portrait.

Short pants

Some shots around the house show Joe wearing long cut grey short pants. Joe seemed quite comfortable wearing these shorts. Around the house, however, he did not commonly wear a jacket. I m not sure how common short pants were in Britain at the time. In America, biys would have been much more likely to wear knee pants. Short pants were adopted by Baden Powell's Scouts in 1906, but I am not sure how common they were for boys at the time.


Joe wore kneesocks with the short pants. Presumably he also wore them with his knickers. In America, boys would have more likely wore long over the knee stockings held up with hose supporters. I'm not sure how common this was in England at the time. One scene in the movie showed Joe;s mother smelling his socks and telling him that he could wear them again. She was doing her best to keep down thevamount of laudry. The socks looked longer than kneesocks.

The Children

The mother looking back does not believe the program gave adequate attention to the children. There were three daughters and a boy. The mother thought the children, especially her twin daughters, proved much more level headed than she was on occasions. She did not mention her son.

Other Media Recreations

1900 House was the first of several recreations of homes set in various historical periods. These programs contain a great deal of inforation about clothing as well as life style which HBC readers may find of interest.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: April 28, 2000
Last updated: Aprik 26, 2002