United States Boys' Clothes: The Mid-19th Century--The 1840s


Figure 1.--Most Daguerreotypes are undated. They were largely taken un the 1840s and 50s with a few in the early-60s. This looks to us like a 1840s Dag. The simple frame and the clothing suggest the 1840s. The Dag was invented in France, but it was in the United states that the photographic industry grew like wildfire. As a result most surviving Dags, especially cased Dags, from the 1840s are American.

Photography was still very limited in 1840s thus limiting the availability of images to illustrate fashion. Even so, Daguerreotype portrait provude a much larger number of images that artists had ever managed to profuce. We see a range of hasts, including straw hats and militarry-sdtyled caps. Younger American boys by the 1840s wore dresses. A good example is Thomas Hardwick about 1840. Note his tasseled Tam o'Shanter. School age boys were no longer wearing skeleton suits and tunics were becoming less common. The ruffled collars still seen as late as the 1830s were being replaced by plainer white collars which still could be quite large. The long trousers enspired by the skeleton suit were now commonly worn by boys after breeching. Kneepants were no widely worn even by quite young boysm but were ot yet very common. We see a lot of boys wearing shirts wih long trousers hekd up by suspenders. America was still quite rural and inexpensive readymade clotthes not available. Boys in the city dressed much smarter with jackets. They were more likely to wear shoes.

Daguerreotype Portraits

Photograhy was essentially invented with the Daguerreotype in 1839. Thus we have photographs for the first time in this decade, almost all studio portraits. Photography was still very limited in 1840s thus limiting the availability of images to illustrate fashion. Even so, Daguerreotype portrait provude a much larger number of images that artists had ever managed to produce. And even though discovered in Europe, it was in America that the photographic industry spread like wildfire. Most of the surviving Dags from the 1840s are Amnericans.

Garments

Thanks to the appearance of photography, almost entiresly Dags, we know mucj more about garments boys wore in the 1840s than any other previous decade. We see a range of headwear, including straw hats, rounded-crown hats, and military-styled peaked caps. Younger American boys by the 1840s wore dresses. A good example is Thomas Hardwick about 1840. Note his tasseled Tam o'Shanter. School age boys were no longer wearing skeleton suits and tunics were becoming less common. The ruffled collars still seen as late as the 1830s were being replaced by plainer white collars which still could be quite large. We note quite a number of boys wearing tunics, mostly pre-school boys, but some older boys as well. The long trousers enspired by the skeleton suit were now commonly worn by boys after breeching. Knee pants were not widely worn even by quite young boys, but were not yet very common. We see a lot of boys wearing shirts wih long trousers held up by suspenders or button-on arrangements. America was still quite rural and inexpensive readymade clothes not available. Boys in the city dressed much smarter with jackets. They were more likely to wear shoes.

Schools

We have been able to find few school portraits from the 1840s. Photographs were Dagurreotypes and these were mostly taken in studios. This meant that not many school portraits were made. There may be a few, but we suspect they were very rare. We would be very interested in any such images readers may know about. We note boys wearing jackets and long pants. Younger boys wore tunics. We see girls weating dresses with pinafores and pantalettes. This is an especially interesting period, because it is the decade in with Mark Twain's classic Tom Sawyer is set. Unfortunatelythere are not many photographic images.

Armerica's Rise

America at the beginning of the 19th century was a rural country with a small population. Most people still clung to the Eastern Seaboard. European diplomats who were posted in Washington condidered it a hardship post. European navies (especially Britain and France) stopped American shippoig with impunity and impressed American sailors. American institutions such as universities, institutes, and academies were rudimrntary as was the financial system. America did not even have a national currency. Yet by the end of the decade, America haf become an industrial titan, surpassing European countries in poplations and productivity, both agricutural and industrial. Americ had a sophisticated financial system and one of the hardest currencies in the world. And unlike European counries, income was destibuted across a wide social spectrum. American workers had astanbdard of living unknown in Europe, measured not only in dollars, but key indicators like diet and residential living space. A key question economists and historians must ask is how all this occur. There are of course ,any important factors. Abundant natural resources, profuctive land, and the open frontier are of course factors. Other key factors are political democracy, free market capitalism, and a legal systemm based on English common law which protected property and rewarded innovation. Political stability and a system which rewarded investment attracted European capital to America, an especially important factor in developing an critical rail network. America also had a small goverment and military, both which to consume a substantial part of national income in Europe, retarding economic growth.

Families

Photographic studios began to open in America during 1840 and spread very quickly, much more quickly than in Europe. Thus we have many more American Dags than European Dags. The first commercially viable photographic process was the Daguerreotype. We have a few family images which we believe to be from the 1840s. This is difficult to determine because most Daguerreotypes are not dated. The number of 1840s Daguerreotypes was still limited and the cost still relatively high. Thus images from the 1840s are relatively rare. Many are individual portraits of wealthy or important individuals. There are realtively few family portraits. Even so there are more Daguerreotypes than painted portraits which were even more expensive. Thus while 1840s Daguerreotypes are relatively rare, we have more images from the 1840s than the earlier decades of the 19th century. Unfortunately most Daguerreotypes are not dated and we find it extremely difficult to destinguish between 1840s and 1850s Dags. Very early-1840s Dags are rare, but by the end of the decade with the spread of the industry, quite a fews Dags exist.








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Created: 11:35 AM 3/29/2010
Last updated: 6:50 PM 10/6/2017