Jim Harmon is a retired Missoula News broadcaster who writes a weekly Missoula Current history column. You can contact Jim at [email protected]
Five hundred boys’ school suits have just arrived at the clothing department of E. H. Ahrens in Neihart, Montana. “We can show you a nice two-piece reefer suit, all wool, sizes 4 to 12, at $1.75, $2 and $2.75.”
Are you wearing a Reefer suit That led me to the dictionary.
I’ll be darned. It seems even I wore it back in the 1960s. “reefer” coat, but I just didn’t know it by that name – they just called it a pea coat in the Navy. Evidently, aReefer is an alternative to the traditional oil. “any short coat or jacket of thick cloth.”
Return to our story.
It’s fall, the late 1890s – time for kids to get the latest in fall school fashionThe reefer suit was apparently all the rage among school boys.
Boys’ fashion, circa 1890s
It was able to push aside the traditional “Little Lord Fauntleroy”Suit of the 1880s with its “velvet tunic and knickerbockers, flounced shirt, and a wide lace collar.” The Oscar Wilde look was gone and even the marketing of boys’ clothes changed.
Gans & Klein, Helena clothiers, marketed their back-to-school boys’ clothing not as “fashion”Items are not intended to be used as a means of improving self-esteem.
“Send your boy to school well dressed. Good clothes are as important in the world for children as they are in the world for men. If you give the boy every opportunity to develop self-respect, he will become a better man.
“No need for extravagance, though – the clothes we sell are made for wear – the kind of wear school boys give – they’re made of the best material – but they are not expensive.”
As examples, they offered boys’ suits with two pairs of pants for $3 and “good quality stitched cloth” hats for 35-cents.”
Then, there were “Jaeger Sanitary Wool Underwear.” Apparently they were referring to air flow, but I don’t really want to know, thank you.
School girl in dress, Big Timber Pioneer, July 14, 1898
As you might expect, school girls had many more options. The Townsend Star newspaper announced that fashion pages were available. “Gingham is reveling in a return to popular favor.” “A child’s dress of striped blue gingham may be made quite dressy with the aid of embroidery.”
The percale dress was another style. “covered with a pinafore.”According to the Washington D.C. StarNewspaper “a cute little waist”And was “almost too pretty for everyday wear.”
The bonnet-and–cape and military-style dresses were among the newer styles of the period.
The military style dress “now so popular,”They came in “victor blue cloth trimmed with a gilt braid. This stylish little garment,”The Washington star was written by “may be worn by girls from five to sixteen years.”
Pinafore dress. It’s almost too beautiful to wear every day. Washington D.C. Star 1898.
The dress was closed “diagonally at the left side by gilt buttons placed in groups of three.”
The other new dress featured “a comfortable little cape is cut perfectly square with the corners falling gracefully over the shoulders and down the back and front. Around the edge of the cape is gathered a ruffle of gray silk, above the ruffle two rows of the velvet ribbon are stitched. The same trimming is attractively carried out in the box-pleated skirt. The cape is closed by three cut-steel clasps.”
“A Quaker bonnet is worn with it of fancy gray straw with white silk shirred facing and ties. The crown is composed of a large puff of gray silk, the same quality as the ruffle of the cape.”
Today’s teens, of course, are not cut from the same cloth as the 1890s.
I have heard that girls are wearing over-sized pantsuits, Bermudas and minis, as well as prints, funky boots, and tie-dyed everything.
For school girls, a military style dress
The bold are inclined to leopard print pants and dresses as well as buckle boots and leather.
Boys seem tame by comparison – polo shirts, jeans, joggers, Chinos, Khakis, tees and oversized sweatshirts
Now, the question is: Are your daring enough? fashionReport with your grandkids and kids.
The reactions may be worth it.
Now, open the books!
Jim Harmon is a retired Missoula News broadcaster who writes a weekly Missoula Current history column. You can contact Jim at [email protected] His new book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is now available at harmonshistories.com.