Boy's 1860s Fashions

by Joanne Haug



Boys Clothing


The 1860s offered a variety of outfits designed for the growing boy. Each style had its purpose and a specific age requirement.

During the nineteenth century, both boys and girls wore dresses for the first few years. Before toddler boys graduated to tunics or trousers they wore full skirted frocks over-starched petticoats and drawers until they were about three years old. To differentiate a boy from a girl, often a front buttoned fastening rather than the usual back closing was designated for boys in addition to diagonal trimming and pleats. In the summer, materials such poplin or challis in large patterns were used. Boys in winter wore dresses of velvet and woolen materials.


Boys continued to wear dresses and skirts up to their third or fourth year. During the 1860s bolero suits consisting of a jacket and skirt were in vogue for little boys up to the age of five. The short jacket, falling open from a single fastening at the neck was worn over a box pleated skirt. Applied twisted braid was popular for embellishing the ensemble. Typically the trim edged the collar and cuffs of the jacket with a matching design following the hemline of the skirt.

For boys too mature to wear toddler dresses yet too young for suits, a transitional play costume was a front buttoned blouse and loose trousers. Variations of this outfit were worn for everyday wear in rural areas and cities during the mid-nineteenth century. Both women's and men's fashions were reflected in this apparel. The blouse had the same drop shoulder found in women's dresses while the trousers were loose and ankle length like men's. Practical fabrics such as calico or gingham were used for summer. A winter version would be made of wool. The shirt often had buttons sewn along the waistband to attach to the trousers. The buttons were lowered as the young boy grew. The trousers would have either the old-fashioned side button panel or the new front button fly.


By the 1860s, older boys were sporting a new style of trousers just for boys called knickerbockers. These wide leg pants fastened below the knee and oftentimes were worn with a matching vest and jacket. The jacket had a cutaway front with a single fastening at the neck, exposing the buttoned vest beneath. When this outfit was trimmed with contrasting braid and buttons it was described as a "Zouave" suit. This form of military embellishment was influenced by the Algerian volunteer regimental uniforms used on the side of the French in the Crimean War in the mid-1850s and later adopted by the American militia during the Civil War. This form of military embellishment remained in fashion until the mid-1880s.

Ultimately the growing boy would enter into the masculine world wearing a vested suit and frock coat resembling his father's. A costume suitable for a boy of ten or eleven years of age would consist of long  trousers and a jacket open at the waist to show a vest.

IMAGES: From the Currier & Ives print "Butterick & Co.'s Semi-Annual Report of New York Fashions for Spring and Summer 1868" - courtesy of Joanne Haug.



The Sailor Theme in Boy's Fashions of the 1890s