We have a good deal of information about how the children of King George and Queen Mary were dressed. The King liked to dress the children all alike in sailor suits. This was, however, not feasible because of the age differences. Thus many family portraits show the children dressed somewhat differently, depending primarily on age and of course the fact that Princess Mary was a girl. The clothes the children war seems realtively simple. The younger children wore white dresses. When they were beeched they wore sailor suits and Highland kilts for special occassions. By the time they were teen agers they wore Cadet Uniforms (those that went to the Royal Navy Academy) and Eton suits as well as Highland kilts. The fact that there are group portraits show what the children wore at different ages. We don't think there were major stylistic changes to the children's clothes.
The royal princes and princes wore a variety of different clothes. As younger children they wore dresses. I'm not sure about smocks.
Queen Mary outfitted the boys in dresses until about 5 years of age. This shows that the practice of dressing little boys in dresses was quite common right up to World War I. Several portraits exist of Prince John wearing dresses. We also see the other princes wearing dresses when they were quite young. As far as we can tell, the boys only wore white dresses. At least we have not seen the boys wearing colored dresses. The dresses were usually long, worn well below the knees, a least for the younger boys. Prince John seems to have worn shorter dresses. I'm not sure if his dresses were actually different than those of the other boys or we just have more photographs of him wearing dresses. For some reason the other boys do not seem to have been so commonly photpgraphed in dresses. It is also seems that Prince John was breeched later than the other boys. We are not sure why that was.
The boys while still in the nursery were dressed in tussore smocks before being breeched. Tussore smocks were smocks made from a rough silk from India, commonly woven in its natuaral, undyed tan color. We have not noticed photographs of the boys wearing smocks, probably because most of the portraits we have found of the children are rther formal ones. We have not yet found photographs from the nursery.
I know very little about the boys' hair styles as little children. Victorians differed on this. Some believed that a boys curls should be cut before breeching, while others believed in doing it at the time of or after breeching. George V's boys all had their curls cut before breeching, unlike his owb experience of having his curls cut after
breeching. Now I'm just making assumptions, but I would say that it was likely that George V himself insisted that his sons curls be cut BEFORE breeching so that when they began wearing pants they would have a greater appearence of masculinity. (In a Victorian family, it was usually the mother who deferred cutting her son's curls and the father who wanted them cut sooner. Many fathers let the mothers decide such matters, but some fathers intervened, especially if the mother delayed cutting a boys' curls.) There can be no doubt that the King's natural instinct was to emphasize the contrast between the boys and girls rather than to choose garments like smocks worn by both. But then, this was the natural instinct of the vast majority of the men, but not the women, of his generation.
I do not know yet how breeching the boys was handled, but I assume that it was done on a birthday to accord a sense of special importance to the gesture, to give them a special feeling of being older. Judging from the pictures I have seen, the breeching of the boys seems to have occured around their 4th birthdays. It looks like Prince John, however, may have been breeched later than the other boys. He looks to be about 5 years old in some of the portraits we have seen. We are not sure yet why this may have been, perhaps related to his condition.
After breaching, as far as King George was concerned, all that was necessary were sailor suits and kilts. As a result, Queen Mary almost always dressed the boys in sailor suits. They also wore kilts, especially on trips to Scotland, but sailor suits were the normal everyday wear for the boys and sometimes even for Princess Mary. The sailor suit was worn just when the boys were younger. The kilt on the other hand was worn at various ages, although the collar and neckwear changed when they got older.
King George before and after the boys were breeched appears to have been particularly partial to sailor suits, first with kilt skirts and then as the boys got older, knee pants. At a fairly young age, about 7 or 8 years they were wearing their sailor suits with long pants. As younger boys they mostly wore sailor suits. I am not sure if Queen Mary shared the King's passion for sailor suits--at least in such a single-headed fashion. As in all matters, however, she dutifully deferred to her husband's judgement on all such matter. Note that the boys wore white sailor suits with a strip on the sleeve. I do not note this stripe on the sleeves of the two oldest boyswhen they wore sailor suits, bit it does appear on the suits of the three youngest boys. We see princes Henry and Geoorge wearing these strips (figure 3). Later Prince John wore sailor suits with a similar strip. We are not sure what that stripe meant, but we note the older boy seems to wear the stripe on his right arm and the younger on his left arm. An English reader familiar with portraits of royals writes, "Amazing, I had not spotted this and have no idea of the reason behind it. Looking through the rest of my postcards of these children in sailor suits I notice that there does not seem to be a fiixed pattern for this, there are images of the boys with and without these stripes. Even their navy sailor suits have stripes on the sleeve Prince Edward on the right, Prince Albert on the left."
As the boys got older, King George would increasingly have them outfitted them in kilts and leave very careful instructions about which kilt they should wear for different occassions and activities. Again I am not sure what Queen Mary thought of this. The Tecks were a German family, but Queen Mary grew up in England and was throughly English. Thus the styles the children wore were throughly familiar to her. She seems to have deferred to the King's wishes on such matters. The boys always wore kilts while on trips to Scotland, but there were occasiond for kilts in England as well. While both older and younger boys wore kilts, there were subtle differences. As younger boys they wore Eton collars and military-style jackets. Unlike their other outfits, Highland kilts were outfits the boys continued to wear even after they got older.
After sailor suits the boys wore Eton suits. This was especially trure of Prince Henry whom was not judged healthy enough tom attend Naval Cadet school. Instead Prince Henry attended a prepartory school (with Prince George) and then Eton College. Thus there are mant portraits of him earing an Eton suit.
The Victorians very commonly made small distinctions in the boys' clothes to reflect the age of the older boys. Princess Mary also wore sailor suits, but usually appeared in smocks and dresses. Many of her dresses had sailor motiffs. Such distinctions sometimes were barely noticeable, but no doubt important to the children.
The children's clothing were not, as was he case in many Victorian families, a matter left to the mother. George V in his letters to his children about what they should wear and hen. He also cautioned them on the need to care for their clothes. The King appears to have discussed clothes and proper dress with is sons, at some length. Or more accurately stated, lectured them at length. His older son David (Edward) recalls,
.... Now that I come to think of it, clothes were always a favourite topic of his conversation. With my father, it was not so much a discussion as to who he considered to be well or badly dressed; it was more usually a diatribe against anyone who dressed differently from himself. Those who did he called 'cads'. Unfortunately the 'cads' were the majority of my generation, by the time I grew up, and I was, of course, one of them. B eing my father's eldest son, I bore the brunt of his criticism.
I'm not sure what the younger and older boys thought about these difference or whether they discussed them with each other, their parents, or their governesses. The fact that there clothing was closely ordered by age means that the issue must have been picked up on
by the boys. I don't really know what the boys thought of their clothes. I have little information on their thoughts on the matter. The Duke of Windsor complained of the formality of their clothes. He also complained of wearing long stockings with sailor suits rather than kneesocks. The Eton collars worn with his kilts were another complaint.
The formality in their relationship probably meant it was difficult for the boys to raise the issue with their parents. The did, however, almost certainly have raised it with their nannies and governesses. Presumably the issue was then raised by the nannies and governesses when discussing the boys with their parents.
Many images of King George V's children show the royal family following Edwardian customs in dressung children and it making age-based destibctioins on how the boys were dressed. The younger boys wore dresses and then after breaching sailor suits. They then progressed to Naval Cadet uniforms. This was a little different for Prince Henry and George who attended a prep school. Prince Henry then went to Eton. They are thus seen in Eton suits. Prince John who has serious medical problems was eventually separted from the family. Afrer breaching he mostly wore sailor suits. Kilts were a little different as once pasr a certain age, all the boys wore similar kilt outfits regardless of age. These conventions was followed (or to some extent set) by the Royal Family. A 1911 postcard of the children taken about 1911 neatly illustrates this point.
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