United States Boys' Clothes: 19th Century Families

We have collected a range of American families images during the 19th century. They provide a range of insights on fashions, family relationshiops, size, social class, The number of images are rather limited for the early-19th century, toys, and home furnishings. Images of early-19th century American families are mostly affluent families swhich could afford to have a portrait painted. There were not very many trained artists in America so the impages we have are mostly nive art. Some are very detailed and not only provide color, but were for the most part done in the home and thus privide fascinating home views. With the development of photography in the 180s, we begin to see many more images of American families by the mid-19th century. Unfortunately we lose color and home vies because photigraohic studios were generally done in studios. Photogography greatly expanded the societal view. They enabled even humble families to have their portraits taken. Most 19th century images, however are very formal views of the American family. Snap shots begin to appear in the 1890s, but amateur photography was still relatively complicated and expensive and early informal snapshots are generally of affluent families.

The 1800s


The 1810s

As the 19th century progresed we get steadily more images of the American family as a result of the steady growth of the economy and the associated expansion of Americans with technical and artistic skills. Of course the arrival of European immigrants was another factor. Some of the best images of American family life durng the early-19th century are the work of German-American artist John Lewis Krimmel. He became the first american genre artist. Among his genre homages to the young American republic are in affition to elections and the 4th f July are many scenes in and around the home. And as an nother homage to Ameican democracy, he focused on modest middle-class families. Almost of his work was done in the 1810s.

The 1820s



Figure 4.--One of the important early American portratists was Oliver Tarbell Eddy (1799-1868). A lot of his work was done in New Jersey, especially Newark during the 1830s. Thus they are an important source of information about clothing and families in the period just before the invention of photography. Eddy was a portraitist and he did both individual and family group portraits. We note the older Alling children. Their father was Stephen Ball Alling (180861). He was a partner in the prosperous New Jersey jewelry firm of Alling, Hall, and Dodd, and Jane H. Weir (181189). The children from left to to right are Stephen Ball (183539), Mary Wilder (1836-??), Cornelia Meigs (1833-??), and Emma (1831-??). The apparent ages of the children date the work to around 1839. Stephen is the only boy.

The 1830s

We have several Qmerican family portraits from the 1830s. As photography did not exist, they are mostly from fashionable, prosperous city families. We di bot see rural families which were still the bulk of the population, Nor do se see frontier families which were still east of the Mississippi Fiver. Many for some reason just include the children. We see quite a number of large families. There woukd gave probably been more large fmilies if the available images included more farm families. Boys had short hair and girls long hair, sometimes curled, but we see boys with longish hair and girls with short hair. More important than length was the placement of the part. Younger boys wore dresses that looked just like their sisters, although some mother changed colors. We do not yet see boy-styled dresses, although we do see plaid dresses. Panteletts were still widely worn. The pantalettes were often a little fancier for the girls. Some jackets were done rather like tunics. They tended to be longer than what became standard styles later in the century. Best were very populsr and often highly decirative and contrasting with the jackets. Long pants were still firky standard, even for younger boys.

The 1840s

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. One image is a mother and son Saran L. and William Chifa. Unfortunately we have no information about the family. We note another unidentified family with eight children.

The 1850s

The 1850s was the first decade in which large numbers of photographs are available. Many more portraits appear in the 1850s. More photographic studios openened as the more individuals developed the needed skills and photography becanme increasingly excepted. More people began to want both individual and family portraits. Prices declined, but were still relatively expensive, limiting the number of portraits made. New less-expensive formats including Ambrotypes and tin-types added to the growrg of the industrty. Boys tend to have short hair, but it is often down to their ears and sometimes covering their ears. Younger boys might have ringlets. We see tunics and tunic-like shirts. Jackets often buttoned to the neck. Collars were generally small. Most boys wore long pants. Dresses mostly had high neck lines, commoming buttoning at the collar. Also all the images are formal studio portraits so we tend to only see families dressed up in their best

The 1860s

We know much more about the 1860s because photography became much more widespread. New photographic procecesses reduced the price of a photographic portrait to the point that a wide cross-section of the population could afford one. And the new negative process used for CDVs and cabinent cards meant that multiple copies could be made for friends and family. Many of the portraits we have found are no identified, but they provide wonderful views of families in the 1860s. For some reason, individualm portarits seem more popular than family poses. We are not sure why. This was a continuation of Dag and Ambro conventios from the first decades of photography. Perhaps the problem of posing large goups mitigated against full family portraits. The sheer number of CDVs in the 1860s, however, mean that there are quite a number of family images available. Gradually we see more family portraits, but individual or small group potratits were still the most common in the 1860s. Most Americans still lived on farms at the time and large families were common. Industrialization had begun, but was still at an early stage. We do not, however, have many portraits of thee of these latrge families because of the bias for single or small group portraits.

The 1870s

The United States before the Civil War (1861-65) was still a largely agricultural country. America's exports were diminated by cotton. After the War America emerged as an industrial dynamo. That change began to be felt in the 1870s as American industry began to create wealth that would have been unimaginable before the War. This affected the life styles and the clothing of the expanding American middleclass. Younger boys still wore dresses. We note kilt suits were also very common. We also begin to see sailor suits. The knee pants suits we note in the 1860s become incrwasingly popular in the 1870s, although long pants are still common.


Figure 9.--This unidentifued family, perhaps grandparents with a little boy looks to have been taken in the 1880s. The boy's name was apparently Daniel. The photograph was taken at the Eagle Stidio in Des Moines, Iowa.

The 1880s

We have archived several images of American families in the 1880s. They include both rural and urban families of various levels of affluence, although poor families were unlikely to have portraits made. Families dressed very formally in the 1880s. America at the time was becoming a new world industrial power. The wealth and affluence is clearly reflected in how families dressed. There was a conspicious display of fashion. Younger boys still commonly wore dresses. Kilt suits were also popular for boys. This was the decade in which the Fautleroy suit appeared, often worn with lace collars and large floppy bows. We begin seeing sailor syits. Kneepants were becoming more common, but many boys outside the major urban areas wore long pants. Girls always wore dresses. Plain white dresses were popular for the summer. We note dresses made with jacket-like tops. High-top shoes were common for both boys and girls. Long stockings were commonly wirn, including stripped stockings. Children in rural areas went barefoot, especially the boys. Hair styles varied. Younger boys might have elaborate ringlet curls.


Figure 10.--This unidentified cabinet card shows young parents with thiur first child, a boy wearing a sailor dress. The portrait is undated, but the mount style and woman's dress suggests the early 1890s. The studio was Gardner and Philbucks in Biddleford, Maine.

The 1890s

We see a range of 1890s outfits in family portraits archived on HBC. Many mothers used age grading on outfits. Younger boys wore dresses. Some were done in boy styles. Plaid was popular for boys' dresses. After breeching boys might wear Fauntlroy suits, sometimes with ringlet curls. Boys very commonly wore sailor suits. There were a range of different suit styles. Boys often wore suit jackets that buttoned at the collar rather than more adult sack suits with lapels. Boys might just wear blouses during the summer. It was common to add lace or ruffled collars. The ruffled collars gradually replaced the lace collars as the decade progressed. Some mothers added large floppy bows. Kneepants became almost universal for boys and by the end of the decade quite old boys were wearing them. Boys commonly wire long stockings, alothough rural boys would go barefoot during the summer.A popular convention was to dress all the children alire or to coordinate their outfits. There were importnt regionzal and class differences.







HBC






Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the U.S. family chronology page]
[Return to the Main U.S. family page]
[Return to the Main family page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Essays] [Girls]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[ Boys' Clothing Home]




Created: March 12, 1998
Last updated: 2:50 AM 11/15/2014