Blouses




Figure 1.--Adoring American mothers loved to dress their sons in elaborate Fauntleroy blouses. Here Jonathan Singer Sargent painted Mrs. Knowles and her two lively sons in a life-like scene during 1902. Despite its elegantl arrangement, the unstudied, intimate quality of "Mrs. Knowles and Her Children" contrast sharply with the photographic record of the period. It is not a stiff, ceremonial Grand Manner portrait, but instead shows a mother and her two sons in an informal family setting. Sargent captures the viewer's interest through acute attention to detail. The barefoot child's playful pose and his toy horse in the foreground contribute to the seemingly effortless realism of the scene.

A blouse is a top orshirt-like garment meant to be worn alone (as versus the chemise), or as a layer. As the name implies, the sleeves are loose, can be short or long, and the overall cut is usually generous, perfectly suited for a small child. Waist lines akso might blouse out. And blouses did not have shirt tails like shirts. Blouses can have various neckline styles, with or without collars. The materials are commonly cottons, linens, synthetics, satins, and silks. Fancier blouses can be made of velvets, velveteen, and valoure (sp?)--essentially, anything of a middleweight material. A bouse can be tightly fitted or drape loose from the body. The blouse has become the essential staple article of women's dresswear. Girls once wore blouses instead of shirts, althiugh in recent years tgey often weae more shirt-like garnments. Boys commonly wore blouses in the 19th century as well as shirts abd shirt waisrs. After World War I blouses began tio be less common for boys and shirt becanme tge standard top.

Terminology

The word blouse is a French term. One source suggests it first appeared during the French Revolution. It may be named after Pelusium in Egypt where blue smocks were produced during the crusades. It appears to have developed from the French word "bliaut" or Old French "blialt" a long shirt-smock like over clothing or dress, that was worn during the Middle ages until the 13th century in France. "Blouse" is a word that has several different meanings in different languages. It is also used as a verb in the sence The verb means to billow or "hang or make so as to hang in full loose folds". This may explain the use of the term in Russian blouses as related to Cossack blouses. For HBC, we call them tunics, but the term Russian blouse was widely used. It also may explain the use of blouse in the military for jackets. The French words associated with "blouse" are a little complicated, not unlike English. A blouse in English generally means a shirt without tails worn by younger boys, girls, and women. (There are other meanings, but this is thge primary meaning.) Catalogs at the turn of the 20th century also used the term "waist". We note this usage in an American 1905 sewing pattern. (Like blouse there were other meanings for waist.) Blouses were commonly worn by American boys in the 19th and early 20th century. We use the term for button-on tops and the tops made with waistband drawstrings which made them blouce or billow cout at the waist. Boys by the 1920s, however, had begun to object to the term "blouse" as describing a childish garment. We note the term "blouseon" being used for a blouse with a drawstring waist. We do not, however, notice this term usded for boys blouses with drawstrings at the turn of the 20th century. Many boys' blouses at the time did have those drawstrings. It is also used in the military for a solidier's uniform coat. The French word for blouse, meaning a boy's shirt-like garment, is "blouse "or "guimpe". The use of "guimpe" is now most common when referring to a child's blouse. A girl's blouse translates as "blouse" or "chemisier", but "guimpe" is less commonly also used for a girl's blouse as well. "Blusen" in German refers primarily womens wear, but the word as in English has been used for men's wear for sailors, soldiers, or peasants.

Boys' Wear

While blouses are now thought as a woman's shirt, but in fact were originally for both women and children, boys and girls. The garments extending from the neck to the waist, but without shirttails which were not suitable for kilts, especially bodice kilts. Boys dressed in Fauntleroy suits or bodice kilts wore these frilly blouses rather than shirts. A man or big boy's shirt tucks into the trousers, but a blouse has an elastic threaded through the waist or a tape, or a band which buttoned to the pants or kilt. These blouses were often extremely fancy with elaborate lace work at the collar and cuffs. Often department stores had a very wide selection of blouses with various lace trim for a mother to select for her little darling. Such blouses, at least in America, were often worn with large floppy bows.

Chronology

HBC has first noted blouses during the early 19th century. They were worn with the popular skeleton suits of the day. HBC does not yet have much information on the blouses worn during the early 19th century. Boys at the mid-19th century usually wore blouses rather than shirts. Most of the blouses were solid colors, although striped were also worn. White collars were popular, but of modest size. Middy blouses became popular in the 1870s and fancy Fautleroy blouses in the 1880s. Boys after World War I (1914-18) began to wear shirts more commonly, but some younger boys might wear blouses for dress occasion. One popular style for younger boys were blouses with Peter Pan collars. Occasionaly for formal occasions a younger boy might wear a blouse with a ruffled collar.

Construction

Blouses were constructed differebtly than shirts. The primary difference is that there are no shirt tails. Modern blouses, for examplw, are shirts without tails. Turn of the 20th century blouses. often called waists, were a little different. They came equipped with a drawstring at the waistline. The drawstring was drawn and tied giving a kind of bloucing affect that can be seen in many turn-of-the century portaits. Bloucing means according to 'Webster's Dictionary means "to pull out in drooping fullness". This is a good example of the American tendncy to create verbs out of nouns. This is an important difference between American and English English. The English in recent years have adopted so much American English that the term may now be used in England as well.

Types

Boys in the mid-19th cebtury wore a variety of plain blouses with collars of modest sizes. Most blouses were solid colors, but stripes were also worn. Middy blouses also became popular by the 1870s. Some of these plain blouses show some influence of sailorstyling, including a back flap or small back flap, but without sailor styling.Blouses have come in a wide range of collars, both fancy and plain. The styles were rather plain until the 1880s when boys started wearing elaborate lace and ruffled collars. Mrs. Burnett's book Little Lord Fauntleroy created a crze for velvet suits worn with elaborate blouses. With the Fauntleroy craze of the 1880s, extremely elaborate, frilly blouses appeared for boys. The Fauntleroy blouse came in many styles. Boys after World War I (1914-18) began wearing plainer blouses once again. A popular style became blouses with Peter Pan collars.

Stylistic Elements

There are two primary stylistic elements to a blouse, the collar and sleeves. Some fancy blouses like a Fauntleroy blouse have a third element, a decorated front. The collars are done in a wide range of styles. There were both open and closed collars. Open collars were quite popular in the early 19th century. The fanciest and largest were Fauntleroy blouses with lace and ruffled collars. There were also blouest with very small collars. These were popular in the mid-19th century. These small collars were often plain, but some were ruffled. A good example is a German boy about 1862. The other important element is the sleeves. All 19th century blouses had long sleeves. Mid-19th century blouses commonly had sleeves which vlouced out below the elbow. They were worn with jackets that had hald sleeves. The German boy in 1862 is also a good example of this. Straight sleeves were worn in the late 19th century, but often had fancy cuffs maching the collars. Short sleeves appeared in the 20th century. Some French blouses for younger boys had short ballon sleeves. An example is an unidentified boy in the late-1930s. The Fancy fronts are mostly associated with the Fauntleroy blouses of the late 19th century.

Patterns

Boy's blouses have been made in a variety of patterns, including solid colors. The plain, solid collars were the most common. Here white was by far he most popular, but there wera a variety of other colors. Beyond the solid colors there were a wide variety of patterns. We do not yet have much information on country trends concerning patterns. We do have a page on American blouse patterns.

Solid colors

HBC believes that the most common blouses were the solid colored ones. This is, however, just an initial assessment. Only limited information is available at this time. Here white was by far he most popular, but there wera a variety of other colors.

Stripes

While solid colored blouses appear to have been the most common, some stripped blouses were also worn. HBC is not certain about the color combinations.

Polka dot

A polka dot is a dot or round spot repeated to form patter, especially on a textile fabric. HBC has noted some polka-dot blouses in various portraits in the late 19th century. I'm not sure how common the were. Presumably they were white shirts with colored dots, perhaps some pastels shirts also came with polka dots. The dots were various sizes. I'm not so sure what colors the dots came in. I have noted the polka-dots in the 1980s and 90s, but am not sure about the precise chronology. Interestingly this appears tobe one of the few times that boys have worn polka dots.

Patterns

HBC is still collecting information, but at this time does not berlieve that patterned blouses were widely worn.


Figure 2.--French mothers in particular during the 1920s and 1930s liked to dress boys in blouses with fancy collars. Collars during this period more commonly used ruffles than lace. Note the buttons used as trim on the boy's shorts. They were common ornaments on kneepants, but relatively rare on short pants.

Country Differences

Fancy blouses were also worn by European boys during the 1920s and 1930s. This appears to have been particularly popular among French and Italian mothers. While much less elaborate than at the turn of the century, they would be considered very elaborate by modern standards. The blouses worn on the Continent during this period often had more ruffles than the lace worn with the Fauntleroy suits of the previous generation. These blouses were also usually not worn with large bows as was the case with many Fauntleroy suits. The neatly tied large bows seemed more popular in America than in Europe.

Bows

Blouses were commonly worn with bows by mid-19th century. The bows initially worn were rather small bows. Beginning in the 1870s bows began increasing in size and could be huge bu the 1880s. Sometinmes the bows were so large that it was difficult to see the collar of a boys's fancy Fauntleroy collar which themselves could be quite large. Some fancy Fauntleroy blouseswere worn without bows, but most wearing fancy bloses mostly wore them with bow. Less fancy blosesv less commonln required bow. Bow were still commonly worn in the 1910s, but declined in popularity as did fancvy Fauntleroy blouses in the 1910s. They were still worn by younger boys in the 1920s, but not commonly seen by the 1930s. worn with them.


Figure 3.--A few stores specializing in formal children's clothing still offer fancy blouces for boys. Note the smocking on these outfits.

Accompanying Garments

Blouses yave been worn with a variety of garments. We note in the late 19th century that they were worn with Fauntleroy suits and sailor suits. Younger boys might wear them with a kilt suit. We note during the summer boys might wear a blouse with kneepants or less commonly the skirt part of a kilt suit. We do not note them being worn very commonly with long pants. The blouses popular had drawstrings at the waistline. In more modern times boys have worn blouses with Eton suits and shortalls.

Gender

The blouse today is seen a primarily a girls'/woman's garment. Blouses in the 19th century like shirts were primarily a male garment. Most 19th century portraits showed girls wearing dresses. We do not begin to see portraits of girls wearing blouses until the late 19th century, but they seem much less common than girls wearing dresses. We do not know a great deal about girls' clothing and we are not sure just when girls began wearing blouses and skirts rather than just dresses. Unfortunately we do not knoew as much sabout girls' cloyhing as boys clothing. Nor are we sure just why this chasnge occurred. The skirt and time line seems identical and related to that of the blouse. Boys continued to wear blouses into the 20th century. This began to change after World War I (1914-18). Boys wanted to wear shirts rater blouses. We even note boys objecting to their shirts being called blouses. Gradually only pre-school or very young blouses wore blouses, often for dress up occassions. The blouse and skirt became major garments for girls. Here the time line varied from country to country top country, but the basic trend occurred throughout Europe and North America.

Vintage Blouses

Vintasge clothing can provide a great deal of useful clothing. Oftn consyruction details can be seen that do not show well in portraits and snapshots. They also provide valuable information on material and color. Thus we are expanding our vintage clothing section. The problem with vintage clothing is tht it is often difficult to date. We have archived an Americn Civil War era puff sleeve blouse. We also note a fancy stripped blouse dating to the turn-of-the-20th century.

Modern Era

Fancy blouses for boys have, for the most part, long since passed into fashion history. Currently only very small boys wear such blouses for dress occasions and even this is rare. Fancy blouses are, however, occasionally worn Fancy blouses are also sometimes worn by small boys at formal weddings. Modern blouses for boys come in several different styles.








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Created: October 15, 1998
Last updated: 1:58 AM 5/30/2012