Boys' Clothes for Outings to the Park: Victorian Era (1830-1901)

Figure 1.--"Harpers" pictured this 1889 park outing for an American boy and his sister. Note the rather formal clothes.

Park Outings

An important event in the daily life of nursery-bound children were daily outings to the parks which were created in important European and American cities. Many autobiographies of British, European, and American cities recall outings to Hyde and St. James Parks (London) and Central Park (New York) and a long list of smaller parks. Some of the first European zoos were attractiins built in these parks. Many property owners maintained private parks in cul de sacs in their own neighborhoods.

Visits to these parks were often the most exciting event of the day for the children. I believe it was generally the nanny's duty to take the children. I believe it was rather rare for the affluent Victorian and Edwardian mother to supervise the children on these outings, but more common for middle-class parents. I also think it was not the job of the governess who was primarily responsible for instruction, although she may have been involved with the outings of the older children. There may have well been some differences between countries. French and Italian mothers, for example, may have been more involved in raising the children as they do not seem to have insisted on confining the children so strictly to the nursery as the English. Please have a look at the Renoir family page where there is another an interesting image of his family visting the park. The Renoir painting on this page and on the Renoir family page show the mother taking the children on outings to the park. Many British and some American mothers turned the children over to nannies and governesses to be raised in the nursery and school room. Outings such as to the park were usually the responsibility of the nanny, yet in the Renoir painting we see that the mother is taking her son and a nephew for an outing herself.


Even though park visits were esentially play outings, the Victorian child was often outfitted in rather formal clothes for these outings. Unfortunately, the photographic record offers few insights into clothing styles for park outings for most of the 19th century. Drawings and paintings offer some insights as do memoirs of the era. As the turn of the century approached as photography moved out of the studio and began supplying outdoor images.

The Renoir painting on this and the Renoir family page probably represent a representative look at the atire of a rising middle-class French children out on park outings during the 1890s.

Figure 2.--Two French children are pictured on an outing to the park at the turn of the century in this wonderful 1890 Renoir painting. Note the dress Renoir's 5-year old son Pierre is wearing and the smock his 6-year old nephew Edward wears.
The Apple Seller: This painting shows how middle class French children were dressed for an outing to the park in 1890. The painting is of Aline (Mrs. Renoir), Renoir's nephew Eduard (who is 6 years old born 1884), and his son Pierre (who is 5 years born in 1885), and an unidentified French peasant woman who is pictured selling apples to them, representing a middle class family. At the time of the painting, Renoir was still stablishing his reputation and working himself into the middle class from a humble beginning. Some of Renoir's critics charge that the painting was a personal statement rather than an work of art, meant to emphasize his recent success. This painting shows the latitude mothers exercised in clothing French boys in the 1890s. The older boy, Eduard is dressed in typical little boy fashions of the day in a
red dress, long stockings (probable silk), matching red strap shoes. His uncurled red hair is nearly waist length and tied with a matching hair ribbon. In contrast the younger boy, Pierre, appears to be wearing a smock, shorts, dark socks, plain shoes, shoulder-length long curly hair, and a straw hat with a ribbon band. These outfits show some differences between French and Anglo-American clothing styles. Many British and American mothers, but not all, at age 5 and 6 years would have begun to breech their boys. American and British mothers who were still keeping their boys in dresses probably would not have chosen a bright red dress, but a muted, drab color considered more appropriate for boys. Boys would probably not have been taken to the park in a smock, as in America and Britain this seems to

Figure 3.--This boy looks to be about 6 or 7 years old. He wears a Fauntleroy jacket, lace collar and pleated kilt worn with pantalettes. The photographappears to date to about the 1880s. The tricycle suggests
have been regarded, at least for boys, as an informal garment for the nursery or play in the family yard or garden.
Other painting: Another Renoir painting shows two of his children. The older boy wears a smart sailor suit and cap. (View this painting by clicking on the thumbnail on the Renoir page. The younger boy wears a dress. A third child dresses in a broad-brimmed sailor hat and smock is more ambiguous. Since this child is playing with a ball, he is likely a boy. This suggests that smocks may have been considered approprite by the French for park outings. The older boy publically embracing his mother suggests a different family situation than may have prevailed in England. A boy of his age probably was no longer wearing sailor suits and in stead would be away at boarding school. In additiion, it would have probably been the nanny taking the children to the park. Hopefully visitors to this web site can provide some insights on these and other national differences.

Figure 4.--This younger boy of about 5 wears a more boyish Fauntleroy suit. As the studio photograph was taken with the boy on a tricycle, this may have been the type of clothes he would wear to the park. The boy looks to be about 6 or 7 years old. . The photographappears to date to about the 1890s.

While I know of no photographs of park outings until the 1890s, some earlier Victorian images are available of children on their tricycles and bicycles. Although taken in the studio, they offer some clues as to how a boy might be dressed for a park outing. While the outfits may have been idealized, these photographs combined with available drawings and paintings do give a good general idea about the clothes worn for park visits. They show boys in very formal kilt and Fauntleroy outfits, hardly what the modern child would view as suitable for play.

One interesting question is how commonly smocks were worn by the Victorian child. I can not substantiate this, but I believe smocks in England and America were primarly worn in the nursery and for play around the home. I think the smock was considered to be much to informal a garment to be worn for outings to the park which was considered to require more formal atire. Smocks seem to have been, as discussed above, considered more acceptable wear for outings in other countries such as France. Might preliminary thoughts on this issue, however, are based on a very small number of images and personal accounts. Thus I'd be interested in any comments visitors to this site might have.


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Created: July 10, 1998
Last updated: July 10, 1998