Prior to about 1900, a rite of passage for boys was called “breeching”. As babies, both boys and girls wore dresses or smocks primarily for practical reasons such as toilet training. The point at which a boy began to wear pants or breeches was an important milestone in his life. It signaled that babyhood was over. By the mid-nineteenth century, dresses gave way to shorts first, then to full length trousers. Indeed, in England and some other countries, many school uniforms mandated shorts for boys until ages 9 or 10.
At what age did breeching occur? This was somewhat arbitrary, varied by era and was mostly determined by the mother. Usually breeching occurred by age seven. It was often marked by an elaborate ceremony with gifts of money for the newly breeched boy who looked forward to it with excitement. It also marked the point at which fathers became more involved in the raising of their sons. In working class families, it marked the beginning of working life.Today, when a boy puts on a pair of shorts he is sending a different message: it’s hot outside!
For references or additional reading, click the Extras tab.