French Rompers


Figure 1.--This French boy was probably painted in the 1970s, however, it is dated 10 I 32. I assume that means 1932. Notice the colored scalloped collar.

Rompers or "barboteuse" were a popular style in France. France appears to be one of the countries in which rompers were especially popular. HBC still does not yet know, however, just where rompers originated. I do not yet have enough information to develop a time line for French rompers. They appear to have appeared about the turn of the 20th century, but became more common in the 1920s after World War I (1914-18). They were primarily a play suit, but dressy versions also appeared. They were mostly worn by pre-school age boys to about 6 years, althogh boys as old as about 7 might alsdo have worn them for formal dress occasions. They were still being worn by pre-school boys in the 1950s, although by younger boys to about age 3 years. By about the 1960s, however, they became increasingly less common, except for infants and toddlers. Rompers were initially a boys garments, but today both boy and girl infants wear them.

Definition

The principal French word for rompers is "barboteuse" which was widely used by mothers and children. There were, however, some other words used. We notice the French using the term for puffed pants outfits for younger boys. We also notice the term being used for little boy outfits with regular short pants. This was especially true until the late 1930s. See for example a romper outfit with regular short pants in a 1935 catalog. HBC has noted several other terms used for rompers. HBC has also noted the descriptive term "culotte bouffante" (puffed short pants) used to mean rompers. This was not widely used, by the public, but was used in fashion and sewing magazines. We note that the writers in French fashion magazines offten used words not commonly used by ordinary people to describe clothes or sometimes even foreign words.

Popularity

Rompers or "barboteuse" were a popular style in France. France appears to be one of the countries in which rompers were especially popular. In fact, France and Italy are the two countries in which rompers were the most popular, although they were worn in many other countries as well. Rompers wre very popular in France from the mid-1930s through the 1960s. Almost all French boys wire them. They wore commonly wore by pre-school boys age 2-4 years old and many 5 year olds as well. They were less common for 6 year old which began school, but some boys still wore them for dressing up at 7 years of age.

Origins

HBC still does not yet know, however, just where rompers originated. It may have been France and Italy given how popular rompers were in those countries, but HBC just does not know at this time. We note American boys wearing rompers in the 1910s. We do not yet have any indication that French boys were wearing rompers in the 1910s. If not this would suggest an American origin.

Chronology

This is an important topic because the puffed-pants rompers were such a popular style during the 1940s and 50s. A French reader tells us that rompers first appeared in 1905. We have, however, no information about early French rompers at this time. They do not appear to have been as popular as in Amrerica during the early 20th century. We note rompers in a 1922 ladies' fashion magazine, but they do not appear to have been aajor style in the ealy 1920s. They seem to have gradually grown in popularity during the 1920s. Rompers throuhout the 1920s and early 30s were worn by babies and very young boys. They were exclusively a garment for very young boys. Older French boys, at least older pre-school French boys, began wearing rompers about 1936. This changes took place throughout France. In France was according "Congès payés" rompers were used primarily as a play suit for boys. ["Congés payés" means paid vacations. Guess here it could mean: With introduction in France of paid vacations and resulting extended free time for whole family, rompers were used primarily as play suit for boys.] A new more "puffed" style appeared in 1937, offen buttoned at the crotch. The classic romper appeared in 1938.

Types

French boys have worn several different types of rompers. The principal types are the full romper one-piece suit, the bib-front romper, and the romper bottom worn with a blouse or other shirt. A French reader tells that the one-piece suits were the most common. Bib-front rompers are also commonly called sunsuits. Both play and dressrompers can be found in these basic types, although the bib-front romper is primarily a play style. The legs of the rompers were elasticized bubble style and normally very short. The rompers bottoms also varied greatly in how full they blouced out. The chronology of these different types is each different. The original rompers were the one-piece suit type. The blouses worn with the rompers were usually button style, but suspender rompers were also worn. The blouses varied widely in style and included Peter Pan collars and puff sleeves. Some of the blouses were smocked. There are many variations on both the one-piece-suit rompers and the blouses as to how the garments buttoned.

Styling

One of the major sytlistic element of French rompers is the pronounced bloomer of puffing effect of the bottom or pants part of the rompers. This style appears to have developed sometime after 1935/36. Before this time, the traditional puffed romper that became so popular in France didn't realy exist. French rompers in the 1920s and early 30s were more were more staight (less puffed or bloomered). They were mostly worn for play or at home or on holiday excursions and not for dressing up boys for formal occassions. A French contributor phrases it as dressing boys up for "beautifull circumstances". For this reason rompers are not normally pictured in all the postcards of beautifully dressed children that were so popular in France. After 1938, some postcards appear of boys in the puffed or bloomered rompers. By this time, however, the fashion of sending such cards had declined in popularity and thus not so many exist. While there was may stylistic variations, there was only one basic model concerning the cut of the romper pants (bottoms). They were always vcut very short with elastic leg openings and buttuning crotch closures. Boys put their romper on by steping into them and they were then buttoned at the back. The classic one-piece French romper suit also extend waist bands that tied in a bow at the back. The separate romper pants worn with dressy boes, however, did not have these back tieing bows.

Sewing

Many mothers sewed the rompers for their children. French magazines are full of such patterns. HBC has noted rompers patterns for boys from about 2-7 years of age. Most of the patterns were, however, for pre-school boys up to about 5 years of age. The instructions provide detailed instructions on how to sew or knit the garment and how to get the bloomer effect on the romper bottoms. The instructions were for mant different materials, including wool. These sewing patterns were available for quite a wide range of romper styles. Some of the patterns appeared in fashion magazines as well as sewing magazines. The pattrns wrefor both play and dressy garments.

Purchases Sizes

HBC is not sure as the the sizes of rompers mothers purchased or sewed. Often thrifty mothers purchasing clothing for their children might buy a large size to leave room for growth. A French reader reports that some mothers moved the buttons at the croch when sewing a romper suit to provide more length. Patterns placed the buttons slightly inside. Mothers might sew them almost at the edge.

Smocking and Embroidery

Rompers are on of the garments on which both smocking and are embridery are used for trim or decoration. The other garments are blouses, smocks, and dresses. Emroidery and or smocking can be used on both one piece rompers and the blouses worn with romper botyom bottonms, such as sduspender rompers and button-on rompers. Somocking and emroidery can be inncomination or separately. The smocking is generally used on the upper front of the garment. Embroidery can be used in many different places.

Material

HBC at this time has very little information concerning the material used for rompers. Play rompers were commonly made of gingham (vichy cloth). We are less sure about dressy rompers for formal occassions. Some especially dressy suspender rompers were made of velvet. Some rompers for winter wear were made of wool, especially knit rompers. Corduroy ("velour millerais") corduroy was also popular for winter rompers. After World War II, cloth fabric to make clothes was both expensive and difficult to obtain. So many mothers and grandmothers knitted rompers with any knitting wool they could obtain. This is when many of the rompers made in the Winter style began to appear. Wool rompers for babies were sold in market and in boutiques. The rompers for older boys in larger sizes were usually knitted by family members. One could find pattern everywhere (magazines, pattern companies, school sewing classes, ect). Often the rompers in the stores usually only went up to sge 4-5 years, buth this varied oiver time.

Pom-poms

A French reader reports, "I just heard a famous person on television speaking about his two pompoms placed at the side of his romper. ( Normaly they were at the left. )"

Dressing

All the French one-piece romper outfits always slipped on by the head. Practicly all the two-pieces model also had crotch buttonning. A French reader remembers how he was dressed in romper suits.

Colors and Patterns

HBC has noted rompers in a wide range of colors. Both white and many shades of blue were very popular colors for rompers. By far the most common color for solid colored rompers was blue. A French reader reports that "blue was preferred by most mothers". We have also noted bright colors such as red and yellow. Many rompers were mase in solid colors. There were also some patterened rompers. The most common pattern was gingham ("vichy" in French). There were some other patterns, mostly material selected by mothers who made their children's clothes. We do not yet have any information on the extent to which the popularity of different colors and patterns varried over time. Many of the same colors and patterns used for smocks were also used for rompers.

Trim

One of the most popular ways of triming rompers and smocks for younger children in France was the use of "croquets". This trim was commonly used to edge the collars or other points such as pockers and cuffs. "Croquets" came in a variety of styles and color. It could be use to edge collars in a corordinated or contrasting color. They were also used for edging in romper suits and dresses, depending on the mother's sewing ability. The purpose according to one French reader was to give a "chic" look to the garments. These "croquets" were also commonly used on smocks and rompers in Belgium and the Netherlands

Colors

The lighter color pastel shades and patterns used for school smocks were also used for rompers as well as shirts. The darker colors like black and dark blue, however, were never used for rompers. Rompers were, however, made in white which was not used for school smocks. A French reader tell us, "I wore rompers as a boy in the late 1940s. I had both summer and winter rompers. Some had separate blouses. The one-piece ones had buttons at the back and a bow. The colors I most remember were light blue (sky) and yellow."

Conventions

Rompers were primarily a play suit, but dressy or formal wear versions also appeared. Play rompers might be worn at home or in trips to the park or beach. In the 1940s and early 50s it was common to see pre-school boys in rompers tagging after their older brothers who were usually wearing short pants. Dressy rompers might be worn to a party. Boys did not wear rompers to school. Once school started boys would normally stop wearing rompers. Boys being home schooled might wear romers longer than those going to school. Some boys for a year or so after they began school might wear rompers after school for play or for dressy occasions, but this was not common. At this time we do not have details on the styles of rompers involved. The colors we have noted all tend to be light colors--especially light blue.

Ages

The age at which boys have worn rompers have varied over time. A French reader tells us that rompers were typical for boys 6 months to 6 years from the mid 1930s through the mid 1950s. Catalogs in the late 1950s were showing rompers for boys up to 4 years. By the late 1950s into the 1960s they were worn by little boys no more 3 years. They were basically a pre-school garment which is why they were not commonly worn after age 6 years. A HBC reader indicates that his brother wore romers to age 5 and he wore them to age 6 years. Occasionallty boys as old as about 7 might also have worn them for formal dress occasions. One sewing garment showed a 5-6 years old boying playing at home in a rimper bottom outfit that had an elastic waist band. After the 1960s, however, they became increasingly less common and were mostly worn by infants anf toddlers.

Gender

Rompers were initially a boys garments. We have never seen any images of girls wearing rompers in the eralier years. Catalogs also clearly showed rompers as a boys garment. Even as late as the 1950s in France, only boys were wearing rompers. Images from the 1950s show little boys wearing rompers and little girls of the same age wearing dresses. This was quite different from America. Girls even until after World War II in France almost always wore dresses. Now both boy and girl infants wear them rompers and they are seen as suitable for both.

Seasonality

Rompers would seem to be a seasonal garment for warm weather summer wear. They were most commonly warm in the summer, especially of course the romper sunsuits. They were not, however, only worn in the summer. While rompers were often worn as a play garment, they were also considered dress wear for a mall boy. As a result boys worn them for dress occasuons year roun--even in the winter. Rompes were made in many different materials. Some were made in light materials or warm-weaher. Winter rompers might be made in wool and worn with knee socks. Suspender rompers for dress wear might be mad in velvet. Of course many boys did not have a large wardrobe of rompers outfits so they might wear a light-weight rompr suit for a formal occassion in the winter.

Matching Outfits

French mothers as mothers in other countries liked to dress their children in matching outfits. In the case of rompers this was usually brothers. HBC has not noted brothers and dressed in matching rompers, although that does not mean it was never done. This was somewhat different than smocks in which all the children could be dressed alike. Dressing brothers in matching rompers would mean that children of sometimes substantial age differemces could be dressed alike. White only a few years apart, there are substantial differences between younger boys.

Schoowear

French boys did not commonly wear rompers to school. It was, however, not forbidden. You occassionally see very young children wearing them to nursery school, but I have not noted them in school portraits once the children began primary school. An excepption here is the end of year special school occassion for which children often dressed up. There are numerous photographs from nursery school showing a few boys wearing romper dsuits during the 1940s and 50s. One complication here is that many French children at this time wore smocks to school. Most boys wore short pants under their smocks, but surely a few boys wore rompers, especially in nursery school. During the school party some younger boys came dressed in rompers.

Demographics

We have begun to work on demographic trends associated with rompers. One might think that rompers were a style mostly worn by boys in the fashionable big cities. Stylish clothes were as always most notable in the cities. And this may be the case for dressy rompers, this we are still not sure of you. It seems likely that stylish clothes, especially fancy clothes, like stylish clothes in general were less common in villages and rural areas. We do, however, see boys in rural areas wearing rompers. So far the ones we have found are play rompers. Here our archive is somewhat limited so the availability of images may not be an accurate indivator of actual trends. Our initial assessment, however, is thst the popularity of rompers was very widespread throughout France including rural areas during the period in which rompers were especially popular (1930s-60s).

Social Class


Individual Accounts

Here we are archiving accounts from French readers about their personal experiences concerning rompers. As boys normally wore rompers as pre-schoolers, often French readers do not recall wearing rompers as well as many other boyhood clothes. A few French readers, however, do recall wearing rompers. French mothers presumably recall more, but we do not yet have any accounts from mothers about rompers. Hopefully French readers will provide us more details here.

Post Cards

We notice French post cards during the first half of the 20th century. In Britain th term 'French postcards' became aterm meaning naughty images. In fact there were all kinds of French post cards, it was a big industry. We note humerous cards, ethnographic Empire cards, tourist cards, greeting cards, and much more. One popular type of card was sentimaental images of well dressed children. These are of course useful for HBC. Rompers were one of the garments we see in some of these cards. A French reader tells us about one of the postcards we found. It is a French card, although mailed from Belgium. He tells us, "These two little boys aren't Belgian but French. This colorised postcard was published by A Noyer. It was made in Paris duringh 1949 or 1950. The boy on right named Jacques lived in Paris Boulevard de Strasbourg. He did several pastcards. On this photo, in fact both boys wore white blouses. The rompers have been colorized. The bib-front rompers and short pant was made in Boussac material and was fashionable in the 1950s. This Boussac material was easily available from 1948. I have found another postcard made from the same shoot."

Reader Comments

A French reader writes, "A French internet Museum site explains a bit about historic children's fashions and their explanations conform with those of HBC, but unfortunatly are less details about boys. Before 1960, French mothers had as much tender feelings for thier boys as for girls in the area of clothing. In my opinion , the HBC files on the French barboteuse are precious. Nobody in France has made such a study. Most of the new French generation knows very little about historic fashions. When they look at their parents' old photo, they can guess all the details, they know well that we had a juvenile look with some bows here and there as well as our short pants. The seniors remember well how they were dressed, although some modern women believe that the barboteuse was worn by girl. It would be for us as if a boy was wearing a dress! In the late 1950s, some mothers dressed their little girls in rompers. I personaly never saw this. I think this idea was never very popular.







HBC





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Created: July 10, 1998
Last updated: 8:23 PM 5/24/2008