Did you ever wonder where your favorite baby clothing designer got their inspiration from? In many cases, it could be something from their past. It’s no secret that modern fashion gets much of its inspiration from the past. Most of us think about this factoid when it comes to women’s clothing, sure, but baby clothes?
Yep. It’s more likely than you think.
Much like with adult clothing, baby clothing has its own evolution. This is even true when it comes to children’s sweaters. They have and still do evolve! Don’t believe it? Take a look at baby boy clothes from the past 100 years.
Prior To 1900s
During the 19th century, baby boys were not actually dressed in sweaters and cardigans. Or rather, they weren’t sweaters like what we have. Instead, they were put in dresses. This made changing diapers easier and honestly, it was probably easier to sew.
In many parts of Europe and the United States, this trend continued for decades—especially for nightwear. Nightgowns weren’t just a girl thing. They were a boy thing, too. The concept of boys wearing pants exclusively wasn’t around for as long as you would think it was.
During this decade, it was still fairly common to see baby boys in smock-like dresses, but things started to change. Babies that had more formal places to go started to wear sweaters and cardigans that were inspired by military uniforms and adult clothing.
If you have ever seen a cartoon showing “old timey” clothes that involved boys wearing sailor jackets, then you have seen what it was like to wear baby boy cardigans from the turn of the century. During this time period, the sweaters you saw weren’t cotton, but rather, wool.
Cotton was being rationed and was still a somewhat rare commodity. So, those sweaters were thick and itchy.
By this decade, the need to conserve cotton was starting to wane. As a result, baby boy clothing was lighter and more comfortable. Cotton was the new go-to, though wool sweaters were still common during the winter.
The 1920s saw clothing that became notably more modern. Shirts started to have cleaner lines with more flowy fabric. Most sweaters were more like baggy shirts than they were sweaters. A good way to explain it is that cardigans from the 1920s started to look like formal shirts of today.
The 1920s also started to see baby boy nightgowns and dresses vanish.
During the 30s, collegiate fashion started to take hold in the upper crust of society—despite the crash of the stock market. Sweaters were still made of wool during the winter, and cotton linens during the summer—though children were increasingly seen in short sleeves throughout the decade.
In a lot of cases, you would see a monogram on sweaters or a small carefully placed design near the collar. If you were to see one of these sweaters today, you’d just think they were from a preppy designer.
Though they were not as common, sailor suits were still fairly popular for baby boy sweaters and cardigans. Due to the Great Depression, people who were in dire straits also used potato sacks to make sweaters and clothes for children.
The 1940s were known for World War II, and fashion became a lot more clean-cut and modern. Knit sweaters with stripes, plaid sweaters, and plain single-color sweaters started to become more popular.
Like the 1930s, the 40s were more modern. It’s possible to find sweaters that look retro that would have fit in perfectly during this era. In upscale circles, having a navy blue cardigan that sat over a white shirt became the new “sailor suit.”
The 40s also saw a lot of sweaters and cardigans that had suit-like appearances thanks to their popped collars and shirt pockets.
The 1950s were a simple time with knit sweaters and cardigans—often in the same single-color stylings of the 40s and the 30s. Like the 40s, we started to see a lot more sweaters that had a “business suit” look, especially among the wealthy.
Children who had more middle class leanings often had mass-produced sweaters that were simple, single color, and with rounded collars. These aren’t unlike the baby boy sweatshirts that we see today.
By the 1960s, we start to see more sweatshirts and sweaters with patterns. Bold patterns became de rigeur among all walks of life. This was a decade where sweaters and cardigans for baby boys started to have flowers, bold stripes, and colors that didn’t always stick to “business casual.”
It wasn’t unusual to see a lot of the colors that became part of home decor to also get used in baby clothes. Browns, oranges, harvest gold, and green were all quite common. Contrary to popular belief, tie dye kids clothing wasn’t really common during the 60s. It was considered to be too counterculture.
Most people are well-aware of 70s bell bottoms, but kids’ clothing was a bit different. Both baby boy clothing and baby girl clothing was brightly colored with bolder, darker colors. Pastels were out, primary colors were in.
Patterns, printed items, and cute fabrics took center stage. You might notice a lot of elements from brands like Aviator Nation and California Vintage in this decade. That’s because this was the decade that sporty wear took center stage.
By this time, boys looked like the models that we think of when we think of vintage wear. It was a wholesome, colorful, and all-American look. The resurgence of “formal chic” also became popular in mainstream America.
The 1980s retained a lot of the same bold colorations of the 70s, but with a cool twist. This is the decade where we finally started to see graphic sweaters, graphic tees, and other similar patterns on shirts.
Unlike the decades before, there was an introduction of adding sweaters with favorite cartoon characters and Disney apparel. Sweaters were often spotted in pastels, neon colors, and simple cuts. This was also an era of knit cardigans with cute patterns.
By the 1980s, tie dye stopped being a stigmatized style. People started to tie dye their children’s sweaters on their own, or even get sweatshirts with the dye pre-stained on it. It still wasn’t completely common, but it was mainstream enough to be within the norm.
The final decade of the 20th century was one that was marked by a lot of different trends featuring pop culture. Sweaters, cardigans, and sweatshirts with printed cartoon characters on them were increasingly popular. Smiley faces, too, were popular during the mid-90s.
During the early 90s, there were still a lot of vintage-looking baby boy sweaters and cardigans. For boys, tie dye sweaters weren’t really common. They tended to be clean cut. However, by the late 90s, things became more sporty.
The 2000s saw a larger rise in discount baby clothing as people began to clamor for affordable clothing. Clothes for baby boys weren’t really seen as a “designer” or “couture” thing unless it was for a special occasion.
You could find designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior that had children’s clothing, including baby clothes. However, there weren’t really many major fashion houses that made clothes specifically for kids. Some of those fashion houses started making upscale kids’ clothes as early as the 1980s.
Moreover, many of the clothes made by these designers weren’t really made to last. They often were impractical and would be meant for special occasions like baptisms or formal portraits. As a result, they were more on the outskirts of society—even when it came to upscale families.
Last decade turned into the decade where people really started to see the value in high quality kids’ clothing once more. New design houses started to pop up specifically dedicated to creating luxurious, stylish clothing for baby boys and girls.
The idea of spending a serious amount of money on a cardigan stopped being a fringe act. In fact, luxury baby clothes became a staple among upper middle class parents. More importantly, baby clothes became more noted for being ethically made.
This decade was the first to truly focus on sustainable clothing for all ages. Many fashion houses also started to encourage their wearers to recycle clothes, reuse them, and donate them.
Aesthetically speaking, this became the moment when Instagram started to dictate major trends. The most notable ones include sports-centric urban wear for babies and “traditional” sweaters for baby boys in pale neutral tones.
Many designers also started to notice that people in subcultures were starting to have kids. As a result, baby goth and baby rave clothing started to take hold in certain scenes.
Why does the history of fashion matter today?
Fashion history doesn’t just tell you a cool story about what your grandparents wore when they were kids. It doesn’t even tell you how people lived—or, it does. However, the past isn’t always what we need to look toward.
The big reason why every parent should check out children’s fashion history deals with the inspiration you can get from past trends. We all love a little nostalgia. Many of us also enjoy a little traditionalism or a little nod to the things that made our society feel so cozy.
How can you channel nostalgia into your baby boy’s clothing choices?
The best thing about having a baby boy is that you get to enjoy picking out the cutest outfits for him. It’s one of the perks of the “baby” part of a child’s growth. Here’s how you can jazz him up like it’s 1969!
Need some modern retro clothing?
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Our goal is to help parents find that perfect outfit for their little one—the outfit that inspires others. We want your little one to be the center of attention, and we know how much clothing can make the person.