French Dresses for Boys


Figure 1.--Portrait of the De Lesseps family taken about 1882. Despite the dresses on most of the younger children, several are in fact boys. Note that the two older boys wear sailor suits. (The children with a white dicky visible at the "V" of the middy blouse wear sailor suits to distinguish them somewhat from their younger brothers and sisters all with long hair. The children with the all black "V" are in dresses.) The boy at the back in the sailor suit standing next to his mother is Paul. Ferdanande is the child below him wearing bangs with her hair pulled back and tied with a hair bow. John the next oldest boy and probably almost 10 years old is the child at the front in the short pants sailor suit and hightop shoes. All the other children wear identical dresses, white socks and strap shoes. Some of the boys still in dresses look to be at least 7 or 8 years old, such as the child sitting at the extreme right next to Paul. Note that John in the front row has shorter hair than his older brother.

HBC has only just begun to address French dress styles. We believe it was fairly common for younger French boys in the 19th century to wear dresses, especially boys from affluent families. At this time HBC has only a few images and larger numbers of drawings from fashion magazines. The limited written information, however, makes any assessment of French dress styles for boys and conventions for wearing dresses difficult at this time. We are collecting information so we can more thorougly address this topic. The limited information we suggests that it was somewht common for French boys to wear dresses than boys in many European countries. French boys also seemed to have worn dresses to an older age than boys elsewhere in Europe. And we see boys and girls wering some of the smae dress styles. We also note French boyswearing some fancier dresses than we generally note in other countries. HBC has acquired a variety of images, but very little written information to help interpret the images. Our assessments are still largely preliminary as our French archive is still quite limited.

Chronology

HBC has noted several styles of dresses worn by French boys in the late 19th century. The high-waisted and sometimes low neckline Empire dresses, worn with pantaletters were popular in the early 19th century. Boys and girl's styles were almost identical. By the mid-19th century thr hem-line had risen to knee level and so had the pantalettes. Scotch patterns and kilts were common motifs. Boys by the late 19th century were wearing paliner dresses styles and tgere wwre significant stylistic differences between boys and girls' dresses, although not all mothers conformed to those differences.. Younger boys in the 1900s were still weating dresses, but by the 1910s, especially after World War I, it was no longer fashionable for boys to wears dresses--except for the very youngest. There was little difference between these infant dress styles for boys and girls.

Conventions

Some limited information suggests that it was more common for French boys to wear dresses than boys in many European countries. French boys also seemed to have worn dresses to an older age than boys elsewhere in Europe.

Styles

HBC does not yet know if special dresses were made for boys as was the case in America. We notice boys wearing dresses with short sleeves. Notice the portrait here of the Delesseps children (figure 1). HBC does not yet have access to 19th century French fashion ads which would indicate how children's clothes were advertized. The French images of boys wearing dresses so far look to us like dresses that girls might have worn. We note, for example, families with the boys and gils wearing the same dress styles. The Delesseps family here is a case in point. We have not yet noted boys wearing dresses with specific boys' styling. The difficulty in identifying the gender in old photographs, especially wearing dresses complicates are ability to assess the tyles of dresses wirn by boys.

Jackets

Some images shoe boys in dresses also wearing jackets. I believe at this time that these were generally boys. I do not note images of girls similarly wearing dresses with jackets. Our image arcjive of French 19th century photographs, however, is still very limited, so this is more of a question than a statement.

Color

We are unsure at this time about the colors of the dresses worn by French boys. The problem we have of course is that HBC relies very heavily on period photography for our assessment. And photography in the 19th and early 20th century only provides us black and white images. We have been able to obtain little information from catalogs and painted portraits. These would be the two best sources. Another good source of color information is vintage clothing, but vintage clothing is only useful if it can cnnected with a specific individual. Without this information we have no way of knowing if dress was worn by a girl or boy. We have some color information from colorized commercial portraits, but we consider these to be highly unreliable. One source we believe to be relatively reliable is colorized portrits. We think that the photographer would have made some effort to acurately depict the colors of the dresses and other clothes. We are insure, however, just how this was done.

Extent

Our information, however, is still very limited so it is hard to make any real assessments. Here the fact that many old photographs do not have writing on the back identifying the subject. One problen with this topic is that unless a boy in a dress is identified, there is no real way to identify him as a boy with absolute certainty. As a result we assume many images of boys in dresses thus pass a photographs of girls. And our relatively small French archive makes it very difficukt to make an reliable assessment of the extent to which French boys wire dresses.


Figure 2.--This French post card was issued by a store advertising its children's fashions. The store was Au Bon Marché in Paris. The card is a puzzle. The ring you see on the card must go from hole to hole from a side of the card "A" to the side "B". The children are pictured in the park playing with rings. The child on the right is probably a boy--note the jacket he is wearing.

Social Class

As in other European countries, HBC believes that social class and wealth appears to have been a factor here affecting the extent to which young boys wore dresses and the age to which they wore them. Boys from wealthy families who were schooled at home, were more likely to wear dresses and wear them to an earlier age than children from more families with more modest circumstances. A boy tutored at home had fewer contacts with other boy and thus was not pressured by other boys to conform to more established clothing conventions. It is very likely, for example that the De Lesseps children pictured above were tutored at home (figure 1). HBC recalls these experiences of Paul whose mother sent him to school in curls. A reader comments, "Boys that were tuored obviously came from affluent families. Boys who were tutored may have worn dresses longer or as discussed elsewhere in HBC by a Alain-Paul, a boy who grew up in France in the late 40s and 50s. He wore rompers longer than his brother who lived in Paris went to school and the brother wore smocks though most of the children attending schools were less affluent and as a result the brother wore the school smocks like most other French boys at the time." We are less sure about the middle-class. A factor here is that we have portraits of boys from affluent families, we have very few images of boys from working class families. The photographic record in France seems much more sketchy than is the case for America. Thus we are not yet prepared to assess trends for the different.

Hosiery

Very young children in the late 19th century might wear dresses woth shor socks. School age children in America and Britain generally wore long stockings. Drench children, both boys and girls, more commonly wore short socks with dresses. Short white socks and three-quarter socks might be worn by boys before breeching--often with strap shoes.

Smocks

We are unsure if the more common use of smocks in France was a factor affecting breeching and dresses. Did wearing smocks, for example, make it less urgent to breech a boy. Smocks may have affected how a boy or his mother viewed breeching. If the boy was to wear a smock anyway, breeching would seem to be of less immediate importance than say in America and England.

Terminology

A variety of terms in French have been used for the dresses and other skirted garments worn by children. The primary word is "robe". Since the early 20th century the sense of the terms concerning garments have changed little. Of course some are unused, like " entre-deux" others one's appead like "jeans" or " tennis" or "bermuda" and so on .. Some have changed like " culotte" is now less cimmon than "short". Some other terms have come and gone over time to describe popular fashions, like "costume bloomer". As a result translations have to consider the period in which a particular piece was written.
Alb: The skirted garments worn by priests and altar boys is called a "aube", comparble to "alb" in English.
Dress The French word for "dress" is "robe". This word is the origin of the modern English word "robe". The French word is very old, probably before the 10th century. In French there is no other word to describe a dress. It is primarily used for women's and girl's dresses, but in the 19th century also was used for the dresses that boys wore. A variety of other terms have been used to describe dress fashions fads. In 1958 for example utill 1968 appearded a fashion called " Costume bloomer". It was composed of bloomer pants and a very short dress. This style was for boy 2 to 4 years old. You can see some of those articles on the "La Redoute " catalog in 1959. The "costume bloomer" would not be considered a dress ("robe") by French readers, but a a suit ("costume"). A French reader reports, "It is composed of two pieces; a blouse (rather like a very short dress) and a culotte bloomer ("buble pants"). A reader reports, "My son wore one in 1970 , but it was the end of this fashion."
Frock: There is no real French word for "frock". In English there are many meanings besides a type of dress. The french word "frock" is a swear word and unrelated to dresses.
Kilt: There is no French word for "kilt", so the English word is used.
Pinafore: There is no word in French for "pinafore". So other terms are used according to the style of pinafore. The "blouse de bébé" or "blouse baby" rather like a pinafore is worn by both boy and girl toddlers. Modern French usage for a child's blouse (meaning a shirt-like garment) is "chemisier" instead "blouse" when they are concerning this article for children.
Smock: The word "tablier" is the principal word for a child's smock. The French sometimes use "blouse" to describe an adult's smock. The "tablier" is often used in conjunction with other terms to describe a dress or pinafore. The French might sau "tablier-robe" or "tablier bain de soleil" for a little girl's dress or pinafore. In the mid-20th century, a little girl's dress might be called a "tablier robe" or a "tablier bain de soleil". The "tablier bain de soleil" is a little girl's sun dress.
Tunic: I'm not sure what the French word is for tunic.

Individuals

We have some information about individual boys who wore dresses.

E'tienne Carjat (1869)

DeLesseps family (1870s)

M May (1870s)






HBC







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Created: January 8, 2000
Last updated: 12:15 AM 2/13/2012