Figure 1.--The dresses worn by boys at the turn of the 19th Century, just like those of their sisters, were very long. Sometimes the boys were identified by blue sashes.
Europeans for centuries dressed little children, both boys and girls in the same styles of ankle-length dresses, often referred to as petticoats. For most of this time, no special clothing existed for childrn, boys or girls. Boys when they were "breeched", were simplly dressed in smaller versions of the knee breeches and other clothes worn by their fathers. Special clothes for children appeared in the late 18th centuty with distinctive styles for boys and girls. Even so, many mothers continued to dress small boys in dresses for more than a century. This fashion also became common in America and persisted well into the 20th century. The fashion of dresses for boys continued well into our modern era. Very young boys throughout the 19th century often wore dresses and as clothing styles was a the digression of the mother, some boys with adoring mothers pamering them might well keep them in dresses much longer than other boys. Some distinctive dresses for boys developed after mid-century, but some styles little different than their sister' dresses continued to be available througout the century.
Figure 2.--The children around the wheelbarrow in Jacques-Laurent Agasse's, 1830 painting The Playground show two children who appear to be boys outfitted in dresses. One boy wears a back buttoning pinafore.
Boys in early 19th century wore dresses much like those worn by their sisters. Many styles especially early in the century were identical. Often only minor
details, such as color or decoration, differentiated the dresses worn by boys and girls. In some instances, especially before the mid-1800s, the dresses were identical styles, but with differences like blue ribbon instead of pink. These dresses in the mid-1800s could be quite elaborate. Girls and younger boys generally wore pantaletts under their frocks to make sure their legs and ankles were covered.
Much of the information we have on children's fashions in the early 19th century continued to come primarily from contemporary paintings. this is particular;y helpful when the artist identified. It was often still quite difficult to tell whether the children in paintings were boys or girls. Younger boys and girls were dressed virtully identically. Some clues help assess the identity of older children. As boys grew older some differentiation might be made such as less lace and frilly aplique, although in the early 19th centuries boys and girls often wore dresses that were indistinguishable. Boys outfitted in frocks during the early part of 19th Century often wore long pantaletts, often trimed in frilly lace. Other frocks might have embroidered, somewhat less feminine pamtalettes. We have noted a few boys painted barefoot, although this was not common. Other outfits for somewhat older boys were frock-like tunics. Sometimes props help identify the child. Farm implements, sports equipment, or boyish toys are good indicators that the child portrayed was a boy.
At the tail end of the 18th century and the very beginning of the 19th was a real state of flux for fashion; the "grecian" style was still very new, as was the idea of putting children in something more comfortable than an exact reproduction of adult wear, and there were many variations. The fussy pantalettes really took hold in the first decade of the 19th century.
Little boys all through the 19th Century were dressed in dresses and petticoats like girls, especially in affluent families. Small children of both genders might include chintz dresses and gay, printed cottons in the French Empire style of long full-length style of classic Greek inspiration. They were worn with small white caps. While this changed as the century progressed, in the early 19th century there was virtually no differences between dresses for boys and girls, perhaps only the color of the sash. Empire style directory dressesm heavily influecenced by the classical gowns of ancient Greece, tended to have very hifh waist lines. Dresses in the early 19th century might include chintz and gay, printed cottons in the Empire style. These were worn with small white
caps and long ruffled pantaloons. The dresses. Many fashions of the early 19th century seemingly come directly out of the pages of a story-book.
Little boys all through the 19th Century were dressed in dresses and petticoats like girls, especially in affluent families. Small children of both genders might include chintz dresses and gay, printed cottons in the Empire style. They were worn with small white caps and long ruffled pantalettes (pantaloons). While this changed as the century progressed, in the early 19th century there was virtually no differences between dresses for boys and girls, perhaps only the color of the sash. Romantic influences began to appear in the details of women's clothing after 1820. Thewaistline went from the "Empire" style back to its natural location. The Grecian gown gave way to a bell-shaped skirt, which became progressively more voluminous with each decade, until, by the 1850s, hoops or crinolines were once again used to support them. Dresses in the early 19th century might include chintz
and gay, printed cottons in the Empire style.
There continuedto be virtually no differences between dresses worn by girls and little boys. Some clues like the color of the sash might provide some clues as to
gender. Boys sashes might, for example be blue--although such clues are not always fool proof. The age at which a boy was commonly breeched varies from family
to family. Some boys as young as 4 might be dressed in more boyish skeletonsuits, or tunics. It was not unusual for boys as old as 5 or 6 might continue wearing
dresses. After thatbage it became less common. However, boys from affluent families might be kept in long hair and dresses much longer. Elizabeth Browning's
younger brothers as noted above had long hair and may have worn dresses up to the age of 9-11 years. Romantic influences began to appear in the details of
women's clothing after 1820. The waistline went from the "Empire" style back to its natural location. The Grecian gown gave way to a bell-shaped skirt, which
became progressively more voluminous with each decade, until, by the 1850s, hoops or crinolines were once again used to support them.
Dresses by the 1830s included printed cottons with high tucked waists and gigot (leg of mutton) sleeves. Many fashions of the early 19th century seemingly come
directly out of the pages of a story-book. Children’s clothes were similar for boys and girls until about the age of 6 years. A really delightful selection of printed
cottons with high tucked waists and gigot sleeves appeared in the 1830s. Both boys and girls wore dresses of cotton or wool around the house. Little girls often
wore pantalettes peeking beneath their dresses. Some boys also wore their dress over "drawers" or pantalettes to match, which showed beneath the dress.
Pantalettes were becoming less common for boys, but many boys wore them.
An early 18th century source describes the ceremony of "breeching" (and cutting off a boy's curls) at the age of about 5, when the boy moved from the nursery to the schoolroom. This was not a definitive time, but appears somewhat uniform. The lack of mass production and marketing makes it difficult to confirm this by checking the sizes in which dresses for boys were made. Clothes were hand made and as a result were not widely advertized in publications. Contemporary paintings and drawings, however, provide some confirmation.
Both boys and girls commonly wore dresses with pantalettes during the early 19th Century. Dresses were quite long in the 1800s but then became shorter so that a child's pantalettes became an important part of the child's outfit. This began to change by mid-century and pantalettes began to be worn just slightly below the hem line, although dress lengths could vary greatly at mid-century.
Figure 3.--Paintings are often difficult to analize, but this 1845 American primitive by Susan Waters shows an example of the dresses worn by the Lincoln sisters in 1848. The child between these two sisters wearing pinafores may be a boy based on the observation that his face looks more boyish than his sisters and the hem of his dress is above the knees. This often was the case with dresses made for boys at the time. Also, one would think if they were sisters they would have similar hair styles. Why would the twins have carefully coifed hair while the younger child have her hair chopped off at the collar? This seems unlikely if the child was another sister.
Some period movies depict boys in long hair and dresses. Movies of course can vary greatly in historical accuracy. It is likely, however, that those who have gone to the trouble of depicting boys in dresses and long hair, probably ercised considerable attention to detail.
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