Why Did Mothers Outfit Boys in Dresses?--Fashion

Figure 1.--Many boys in the late 19th century wore dresses with plainer styles than those worn by their sisters. This was not always the case. Some boys wore the same fancy dresses that their sisters wore. This boy's name was Bill. The portrait was taken in Peoria, Illinois. Bill looks to be about 5 years old. The portrait looks to have been taken in the early 1890s.

While there were practical and societal factors explaining why boys wore dresses, fashion should not be discarded when assessing why boys were outfitted in dresses. Women with the means to do so, liked to dress their children fashionably. This mean that they dressed their sons as well as their dughters in the most fashionable styles that they could afford. Thus boys in dresses were outfitted in the height of fassion. Of course it was dress fashions that women were most familiar with. Some dresses worn by boys seem rather plain and utilitarian. There are, however, many images of boys wearing very fashionable dresses. In some cases they are the sames dressess and styles worn by their sisters. In other instances boys wore dresses specifically styled for them. These boys dresses might have pleated or tailored skirts. Of course the best known pleated outfit were kilts, but would more accurately be called skirted suits. Actul dresses were also oten pleated. Dress styles of course varied over time. Boys might wear thesame dresses as their sisters. The dresses boys wore, especially after mid-19th century, were generally less frilly and had less lace and other trim. Although plainer they are unmistakeably dresses with much of the same detailing used in dresses for girls, including collars, piping and trim. Puff sleeves were less common in boy dresses, but were not absent.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 25, 2002
Last updated: September 25, 2002