The Fauntleroy Craze: Individual Boys


Figure 1.--This English child was photographed about 1890 I believe in London. I believe the child is a boy, but it is difficult to be sure. The absence of the bow in particular causes some doubt.

While mothers and girls were enchanted with Mrs. Burnett's book and the elegant suits depicted in the book, the same can not be said for the boys' reactions. Despite the enthuiasm of Mrs. Burnett and countless mothers, the boys attired in these fancy velvet suits were not nearly so impressed. They were decidely not popular with the boys--especially when mothers selected them for boys much beyond 5 or 6 years of age. Despite their lack of enthusiasm, the sons of countless impressionable American mothers, however, condemned to velvet page-boy suits, knee pants, frilly blouses, lace collars, and the crowning burden-- long flowing curls. Some boys even wore their Fauntleroy suits with skirt suits rather than the more boyish knee pants. Little Lord Fautleroy had arrived on the American sartorial scene with a vengence.

Boyhood Thoughts

While large numbers of boys wore Fauntleroy suits both with and without ringlet curls, they were in the minority. Most boys wore much plainer suits and much preferred them. Many memoirs have references to the Fauntleroy suits that men had worn as boys--and almost uniformily the suits are recalled with great distaste. The litterary characters which American boys wanted to dress like were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

A good indicator of the feelings of the boys is a popular poem, Jest 'Fore Christmas by Eugene Field. The poem begins:

Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain't a girl---ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes curls an' things that's worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an' go swimmin' in the lake--
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
'Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain't no flies on me,
But jest'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!

Individual Boys

Many individuals recall with some distaste the Little Lord Fauntleroy suits they wore as boys:

Vivian Burnett (American, 1876-1937)

Think of a young American boy outfitted in velvet and lace, his hair falling to his shoulders in long, golden ringlets, the personification in our modern eyes of the pampered, mama's boy: Little Lord Fauntleroy. For one small boy, Fauntleroy was all too real. Vivian Burnett, the authoress' son and real-life model for the popular book, was in fact the first Fauntleroy and in the public eye he was the real Fauntleroy. Fauntleroy's fame was to haunt him to the end of his life. The first individual to list in any compendium of personal experiences is of course Vivian, the prototype for Cedric Erol. I only have a few actual quotes from him at this time, but I do know that he spent his entire life trying to disassociate himself from Little Lord Fauntleroy. Interestingly Vivian was born in Paris. Thus the Anerican Little Lord Fauntleroy suits popularized by Mrs. Burnett were influenced by both English (Mrs. Burnett was born in England) and French chidren's fashions.

Irvin Cobb (American, 1876-1944)

I do not yet have details on what American humorist Irwin Cobb wore as a boy, beyond his description of the Fauntleroy phenomenon described above. Given his age, he may have just missed out on wearing a Fauntleroy suit himself. The fashion, however, clearly made an impression on him that he laster recalled as an adult. He was born at Paducah, Kentucky. He contributed to local nesspapers as a youth and became the editor of the Paducah Daily News. He later edited the humerous section of the New York Evening Sun. He also worked on major American magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. He wrote movie and radio scripts as well as numerous fiction books. His most popular character was the idealized Civil War veteran, the courtly and garrulous Judge Priest.

Sir Compton Mackenzie (Scotland, 1883-1972)

The British writer, Compton Mackenzie, remembered, "... that confounded Little Lord Fauntleroy craze which led to my being given as a party dress the Fauntleroy costume of black velvet and Vandyke collar." Mackenzie was born in West Hartlepool, England. His father was Scottish and he became a fervernt supporter of Scottish nationalism. I do not yet have details on his childhhod or any further information on how he was dressed as a boy. Despite his attachment to Scotland, I do not think he wore kilts as a boy. Interestingly, he seems to have put his velvet suit behind him and served as an officer in the Royal Marines during World War I. He wrote over 40 popular novels as well several volumes of memoirs. He was the literary critic of the London Daily Mail. He also wrote a biography of President Roosevelt during World War II.

Ernest Shepard (English, 1879-19??)

Famed English illustrator, Ernest Shepard, remembers a dispute with another boy at a party over who had the worst outfit. The other boy, who was outfitted in a kilt, took isue with Ernest's velvet suit and lace collar. Shepard wrote and illustrated one of the most delightful childhood memories of growing up with his older brother in Victorian England--Drawn From Memory. Shepard is, of course, the artist who illustrated A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. He grew up in London during the 1880s.

Frank Sinatra (American, 1915-1998)

Little Lord Fauntleroy suits and ringlet curls did not disappear completely after World War I (1914-18). While fashion adopted particukarly by affluent families, they were also worn by boys from families of modest means, although a boy growing up in less protected circumstances might be teased about his suit. Such appears to have been the case of famed American singer Frank Sinatra who grew up in Hoboken, a rough Jersey waterfront town. One Sinatra anthology describes an incidebt told by the old folks on the front steps. They explain how a a pretty little boy with rosy cheeks and light brown ringlets who went skipping along the sidewalk in one of the nation's hairiest neighborhoods--all dressed up in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. "Hey!" said one little denizen of the neighborhood. "Lookit momma's dolling!" It was the work of a moment for the roughneck and his pal to redecorate the object of their interest with a barrage of rotten fruit. Then they opened their mouths to laugh, but no sound came. When last seen, the two boys were disappearing rapidly in the direction of the Erie Railroad tracks, followed hard by Little Lord Fauntleroy himself, who was spouting profanity in a highly experienced and unFauntleroy-like manner and carving the breeze with a jagged chunk of broken bottle.

Unnamed individuals

HBC has noticed various references to individual experiebes. These references are from a variety of differencrt sources and are many cases boys whose nanes we are unfanilair with.

Others

I want to add others here, please let me know if you know of any individuals who should be added.







Christopher Wagner





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Created: July 25, 2001 Last updated: July 25, 2001