Army Influences on Boys' Clothes

Figure 1.--Some continental boy choirs before World War I wore army-style uniforms. The sailor suits worn by the boys was not adopted until after the War.

Army uniforms have had much less influence on boys' clothing styles than has been the case for navy uniforms. I'm not sure why sailor suits were considered acceptable boys wear, but not army uniforms. Victoria did not dress the princes in army uniforms, but more than that must be involved. Cerainly army uniforms did not the romance and adventure that sailor suits projected, but in fact it is not precisely clear to me why the influence of army and navy uniforms has been so different.

Actual Uniforms

Military schools

Boys have not commonly worn actual army uniforms like they have worn sailor suits. A small number of boys did wear army uniforms at military schools and academies, mostly in Germany, Austria, and America.


Choir groups like the Vienna Choir Boys wore army uniforms before World War I. I am not sure how common this was. Boy choirs except in England appear to have disappeared from most European countries. So the Vienna Boys' Choir may have been the only one to have worn army uniforms.

Choir boys wearing army uniforms seems rather strange to us today as German and Austrian boy choirs are now so identfied with the sailor suit. I am not entirely sure why this change took place, but asssume it was part of a general public revulsion to militarism following World War I. Somehow the public did not reject the equally military sailor suit, perhaps because it was so identified with children's fashions.

Figure 2.--This boy wears a suit modeled on the uniforms of Zouave units in the Civil War. The zouave uniform was based on a French-inspied uniform and had much of the appeal that the French Foreign Legin has to more modern readers. Instead of the billowy pants worn by the soldiers, he wears a skirt. Many military styles for boys employ a blouse or jacket similar to soldiers, but pants or skirts commonly worn by contemporary boys.

Fashion Impact

Army uniforms have had some impact on boys' fashions. Fancy dressoutfits have sometimes used military themes. After the Civil War, brightly colored Zouave outfits with billowing bloomer pants or skirts for younger boys were very popular. But clearly army uniforms had much less impact than naval uniforms.

Figure 3.--This 1850s photograph taken before the Civil War shows a boy wearing a jacket with a row of military looking buttons.

Some elements of uniforms, such as sashes have appeared on boys' outfits such as Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. Some boys outfits also employed military-style buttons. The buttons worn on jacket sleeves have military origins, although naval. Apparently Lord Nelson did not like young midshiomen whiping their noses on their jacket sleaves. Thus he ordered buttons sewed on to discourage this practice. Epelettes and a variety of other military-inspired fshion elements have also been emoloyed on boys' clothes.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 4, 1998
Last updated: September 5, 1999