A boy's age and class distinction often dictated his clothing style in the 1860s. Ruffled collars of the 1850s had disappeared and clothing styles had taken on a more practical look. Wealthy boys were forced to wear what was in fashion, whether they wanted to or not. It was an outward sign of wealth and family prestige. Less wealthy boys wore what would last as long as possible.
Little boys' clothing styles in the 1860s were simple. Little boys under the age of 6 wore dresses and skirts. The difference between the boys' and the girls' skirts was the amount of decoration on the hemline. Boys' skirts were less decorated. Boys often wore skirts similar to kilts. Boys wore loose undershirts that buttoned to the waistband of skirts.
Young boys wore Victorian sailor suits and simple garments made of wool, linen or cotton. The fabrics were plain so they would match other items easier. All shirts had long sleeves and all collars were narrow. Young boys wore short pants and frocks, since they remained indoors most of the time, and they often went barefoot. When they did wear shoes, the style of the time was boots that laced up to the ankle.
Boys from wealthy families were dressed according to class distinction. How long a young boy remained in a dress was decided by the mother. Often, the wealthier a family, the longer the boy remained in the dress.
Knickerbockers entered the scene in 1860 for older boys. These were wide-legged pants that were worn with a matching vest and jacket. Pantalettes were worn by wealthy boys, more so in England than in America. A wealthy boy had many coats in various styles and colors, with hats to match. Vests were common for wealthy boys, and they came in various patterned fabrics, including paisley. Shirts with plaid and widow-paned fabric styles were worn.
Boys from poor families wore many hand-me-downs and items that had little or no decoration. Vests were constructed of plain fabrics, and most boys had only one coat of a plain color, such as gray, blue or black. Hats were often passed down from father to son. Boys from working-class families rolled up their shirt sleeves when they played to prevent wear to the elbows of their shirts. Jackets were styled as sack cloths, loosely, to accomodate for growth. Trousers were button-fly, and boys usually wore cotton underpants, mainly only for comfort to keep skin from chafing against the wool. Many boys saved their shoes for church attendance and went barefoot the rest of the week.