The Little Lord Fauntleroy suit is one of the most recognized boy's outfit in history, although it was not very popular with maby of the boys that wore it. Many boys had actual Faumtleroy suits. Others wore plainer suits that had Fauntleroy stling added to them. Here by far the major element was a pin-on lace or rulled collar or a Fauntleroy blouse. Boys might also wear large floppy bows, although this was an alternative item. An especially fancy item that might be worn for formal occassions was a colorful waist sash. A variety of other items might be work to complete the Fauntleroy look, but there were no definiye styles of headwwear, footwear or outerwear assiociated with the Fauntleroy suit. They were not only items that made up the Fauntleroy suit, but items that might be employed with other suits to give a Fauntleroy look. Ringlet curls are sometimes associated with the Fauntleroy suit, but most American boys did not have them and they were much less common in Europe.
The Fauntleroy style that broke upon the American scene in the 1880s was not entirely a new development. Little boys had begun wearing fancy velvet suits with lace collars in the 1870s.
One of the widely recognized costume of any American literary character is the elegant velvet suit and frilly lace collar worn by Cedric Erol, or has he is better known, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Actually the nationality of Cedric is somewhat ambiguous. The author was born in England, but lived and raised her children in America. Cedric himself had an English father and an American mother and was being raised in America. Actually I guess he has to be considered an American as his attitude innocent attitude toward privlige and aristocrarcy is at the center of the story. The story was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1885. It was based on stories that she would tell to her two beloved children. Cedric's clothing is only described briefly in the book, but those descriptions and accompamying drawings caused a censation in America and the Fauntleroy craze had begun. A generatiin of American boys found theselves oufitted in velvet kneepants party suits with huge lace collars and bows.
St. Nicholas Magazine in its November 1885 issue published the first installment of Mrs. Burnett's romantic novel about a little American boy who inherits an aristocratic British title. The story was an enormous success. Published as a book in 1886, it was an instant best seller in Americas. The book and resulting theatrical productions soon swept Engalnd and the Continent. No where, however, was the impact as pervasive as America. As a result of the book,innumerable American boys were subjected by their mothers to the fancy velvet suits. American mothers who before and after resisted the fancier European fashions for their boys--subcumed to the Fauntleroy craze. The fashion is probably the most despised costume in the history of American boyhood: velvet knee length page-boy suits, delicate lace collars, and--the crowning ignominy-long, flowing sausage curls. Little Lord Fautleroy-style velvet suits with lace collars were worn by small boys as party dress before the publication of Ms. Burnett's famed novel. Most boys' suits of the era, both kilt and knee-length suits, however, before the publication of her book were rather plain. Some of the fashions include jackets that older boys or even men might have worn without comment. Mrs. Burnett's book changed that almost over night. Little Lord Fauumtleroy put these fancy velvet suits on the fashion map and gave them their name.
As popular as it was with mothers, the Fauntleroy style may be the most maligned style in the 200-year history of boys fashion. Typical of the modern assessment is the Christina Walkerley writing in her insdightful book, Dressed to Impress (1989):
But if all late 19th century children dreaded Sunday best, the worst humiliation was reserved for those with artistic mothers, who used their children as a means to indulge romantic fantasies. To be dressed as a little Scotsman, or a miniature able seaman was one thing, but to be togged up in velvet knee breeches and lace collar, and perhaps, worse still, to be forced to wear one's hair in ringlets, was more than most boys could bear with equanimity. But if their mothers had read and loved Frances Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy, such was their fate.
The best known Fauntleroy garment was of course the velvet suit, but many other Fauntleroy-styled garments were made to suit the discerning mother of the day. The classic Fauntleroy suit was the velvet cut-away jacket worn with knee pants or bloomer knickers. Faunteleroy suits were done in other jacket styles, but the small cut-away jacket to show off the fancy blouse was the classic style. Most American boys wore knee pants suits. Knicker suits were popular in Europe. Not all Fauntleroy suits had all of the items, but some were important to the Fauntleroy look. The large, fancy Fauntleroy collar was especially important. Some of the items were worn with other suits to given them a Fauntleroy look. As popular as the Fauntleroy suit wss, many more boys seem to have worn suits with Fauntleroy eklements suchbas a fancy blouse than actual Fauntleroy suits. And of course, some items worn with Fauntkleroy suits such as knee pants were widely worn at te time with many other suit types. Other garments include bows, sashes, hosiery, and footwear.
Boys wore Fauntleroy trim with a wide range of suits. Younger boys might wear this trim, perhaps because mothers could not affors a fancy velvet suit. The Fauntleroy look was so popular that many mothers wanted to use it even after a boy had grown out of his Fauntleroy suit. They seemed to have felt that it was not really suitable for a boy to have an older-boy look yet. Here rather than a Fauntleroy blouse, oin-on collars might be used. These were items thay could easily be put on or taken off. Again matching wrist cuff trim was common. These Fauntleroy blouses and pin-on Fauntleroy trim were also worn with other suits than Fauntleroy suits. Mothers would commonly add this trim to more mature suits for the first few years a boy night wear them. A family with boys of different ages might use these trim items as a form of age gradeing.
Fauntleroy items were used in age grading, a common practice in the late 19th ad early-20th century. This was the practice of using clothing to emphazize age differences in children. This was a common practice for families at a time when it was common tonhave large families. We note yonger boys switching from skiets/kilts to knee pants Fauntleroy suits. The primary Fauntleroy items used for age grading somewhat older boys were floppy bows and lace or ruffle collars. We note instances in which boys might wear similar or even identical non-Fauntleroy suits and the yonger boys wear the Fauntleroybitems. And single boys might wear a suit with a floppy bow and Fauntrleroy collar for a year or two and then wear the same suit with more mature collars and neckwear. The paticular items, suit styles and ages of the boys varied from family to family.
One element of the Fauntleroy look were long shoulder-length ringlet curls. Not all boys wore ringlets with their Fauntleroy suits, but many did. Fauntleroy suits were not the only outfits with which ringlets were worn, but they were probably the most common. And it was not just little boys that wore ringlets.
Additional information on the Fauntleroy style is available on the following pages.
Mrs Burnett made many of the clothes for her boys when they were small. Cash at the time was shortband she made it a labor of love. She curled the boys' hair herself. And to entertain them during the tedious period of hair curling she would tell them sories. It was during these sessions that the story of Little Lord Fauntleroy was born.
Nrs. Burnett's youngest so, Vivian. was in many ways the model for Cedric Erol. She did indeed dress him and his brother in fancy velvet suits. I'm not precisely sure what Vivian thought of all this, but he was very close to his mother.
The original illustrator of Little Lord Fauntleroy, Reginal Birch, may have had more to do with popularizing the Fauntleroy look than the authoress. Mrs. Burnett provides few descriptions of Cedric' clothes. The many wonderful Birch illustrations, however, show cased Cedric, his long curls, and his velvet suit.
Upon the sucess of her book, Mrs. Burnett launched highly lucrative stage productions. The boys and girls that played Cedric on the stage often wire very elaborate costumes and hair styles.
After the development of the movies in the 20th Century, there have been many productions of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Television productions followed. In contrast to the stage plays, the costuming was much less elaborate.
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