Little Lord Fauntleroy Suits: Classic Period (1885-95)


Figure 1.--This television producting used some care to accurately replicate the costuming of the late 19th century. This is what a dark blue Fauntleroy suit might have looked. Such a suit would have looked like a black suit in a black and white photograph.

The Fauntleroy rage began in 1885-86 after the publication of Mrs. Burnett's s famous book. Fancy velvet suits for boys began appearing in the early 1880s, but did not begin to take its final form in the popular mind until the population of Mrs Burnett's book Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1885-86. The origninal style appeared on boys for about 10 years, but as the new century approaced began to change in the Edwardian period.

Chronology

The velvet Fauntleroy suit enjoyed its greatest popularity in the fall and winter of 1889-90, after Mrs. Burnetts play had reached audiences all over the country. Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine offers an excellent description of the style: "For small boys nothing has met with such universal favor as the Fauntleroy suit. It certainly is the most attractive seen for some time. It is usually made of black velvet or velveteen, with a broad collar and cuffs of Irish point lace, with a sash of silk passed broadly around the waist and knotted on one side. [Godey"s Lady's Book and Magazine, September, 1889, p.244.] Peterson's Magazine showed another version in February 1890, this time in green velvet. ["Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit," Peterson's Magazine, February 1890, p.206. ] Fauntleroy suits continued to appear for several years after, although, by fall 1890, they were listed last, after middy suits and Norfolk jackets. Fauntleroy suits were definitely intended for dressy occasions, Cedric Errol's footraces notwithstanding.

Age

Infants and toddlers in comfortable middle class or affluent familes were generally outfitted in dresses. Beginning at about 2 1/2 years, a few mothers, however reluctantly, began to consider breeching their boys and buy them their first boyish suit. Some boys might continue to wear dresses and kilted suits until 6-8 years of age. Some at about 2 1/2 were outfitted in Fauntleroy suits as their first boyish outfits. This was a generally young age to breech a boy. It may well have been that some mothers were so enamored with the Fauntleroy style that they decided to breech their son earlier than they normally would have done. Thus it may have been that the Fauntleroy craze helped accelerate the late 19th Century trend to breech boys at younger ages. Overall Fauntleroy suits were usually described as being suitable for boys from 3 to 8 years of age. One purchased when the boy was 8, however might be worn for another yer or two. We know from personal accounts and the photographic record that some older boys did wear them.


Figure 2.--These two brothers wear identical Fauntleroy suits with emaculate lace collars and large bows. The older brother looks to be about 12 years old. Clearly their mother liked to dress them identically.

While some mothers purchased Fauntleroy suits at this age, others delayed the purchase or purchased Fauntleroy suits with kilt skirts rather than knee pants. Many boys in the 1880s did not get their Fauntleroy or other more boyish suit until much later. Most stores offered Fauntleroy suits in sizes from 2 1/2 to 6-8 years of age. This meant a boy receiving a new suit at 8, could still be wearing it at 9 or even 10, if he had a particularly proud or doting mother. A small boy might be kept in his suit longer than his larger friends. Boys as old as 13 in rich or aristocratic families are known to have worn them. Photographs from the era clearly show boys of 10-11 years outfitted in Fauntleroy suits. The heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, for example, was still wearing velvet suits at 13 years of age.

Colors

Fauntleroy suits were made in many colors and materials and with a variety of features and embelishments. The classic Fauntleroy suit was black or dark blue. Later other dark colors appeared like burgandy or forrest green. We know suits were made in these colors because many wealthy families had portraits painted. Also fashion magazines during the period noted these colors, notably the velvet suits were usually dark colors. The suits done in satin, however, were usually lighter colors. Color is an interesting topic. We know that Fautleroy suits were made in black and the above noted dark colored velvets. What is not known, however, is the relative popularity of the different colors. I had assumed that the black suits were the primary colors. This is probably because I was viewing the photographic record which was, of course, all black and white photography. I know of no historical works discussing this question.

Materials

Fauntleroy suits were primarily velvet suits. Some fancy suits were made of satin, but these were much less common than the velvet suits. The bettere suits were usually lined with silk and worn with cambric blouses. Other less expensive suits were made for mothers of more modest means from serge, flannel, and a variety of other cloths. Most of these materials are solid colors, but Fauntleroy suits were also made of patterned material. Many of the patterned fabrics appear to be lighter weight materials for summer wear.


Figure 4.--Fauntleroy suits were also worn with bodice skirts and Scotch plaid kilts like these brothers. Note the large lace-trimed blouses covering much of the velvet jacket.

Garments

The standard velvet Fauntleroy jacket and lace trimmed blouse were worn with a varaiety of other articles, including kneepants, knickers, and kilts. For formal occasions a wide-brimmed sailor hat would usually be worn. Fauntleroy suit styles varied considerably with a great variery of patterns available to the discerning, fashion conscious mother. As most available photographs only show the front of the jacket, we mostly know about the back from designs published on The Delineator and other publications. Jackets were often shaped at the back with a curving center seam. Many jackets had side pockets at the front and were closed at the front with button-holes and buttons. Some were designed not to be closed to better show elaborately lace trimed blouses. Some jacket had slits cut at the back. The classic Little Lord Fauntleroy suit was worn with a small velvet jacket worn open at the front to best display an elaborately ruffled and lace trimed blouses. Not only could the collar be quite large, but elaborate trim might also be applied at the front. The blouse was often the most important part of a boy's Fauntleroy suit. The blouses came in a miriad of materials and styles. Generally the trim at the wrist matched the collar. During the summer the bouse might be worn without the jacket. The suits at first had pants or trousers cut at or below the knee. The most common style had pants which reached a little below the knees. Often closing was made at the sides near the hem of the pants with button-holes and buttons. Usually there were three buttons near the hem of the touse leg. Some pants had more prominent buttons. The trousers were often attached to the blouse by means of buttons and button-holes to a cambric shirt-waist or blouse. Some fancy suits had bows at the closure. Some boys were dressed in a typical Fautleroy jacket and lace collar, but with a kilt or frock instead of kneepants. The kilt was rarely a Scottish plaid, but made of the same material as the jacket. This fashion gave the apearance of a dress rather than a Scottish kilt. The Fauntleroy suit dress/kilt was particularly popular in the 1880s and early 1890s, but declined as the new century approached and the fashion of dressing small boys in dresses wained. The skirted Fauntleroy suits were generally for the younger boys. Some particularly doting mothers, however, decided to dress their older boys in a kilted Fautleroy suit, consisting of a lacey blouse and collar, and velvet jacket, just like the traditional Fauntleroy suit. The only difference was a kilt instead of kneepants. In such instances, the outfit of the older boy would generally be a plaid kilt looking like an actual Scottish kilt rather than the solid color kilt suits worn by the younger boys. Apparently, it was more acceptable for an older boy to wear an actual Scottish kilt than the more juvenile kilt suits where the jacket and skirt were made of the same material.


Figure 5.--These three brothers, despite the differences in ages, wear identical Fauntleroy suits with black stockings. Note the buttons at the hem of the knee pants.

Destinguishing Features

The classic Fauntleroy suit had several distinguishing features:

Lace or rulled collar

The most distinguishing fearture of any Fauntleroy suit was the elaborate lace collared blouse. As many Fauntleroy suits had abreviated jackets. These short jackets were meant to be worn unclosed, so the elaborate lacey blouse would be best displayed. The focal point of course were the elaborate lace collars. However this would be visible even if the jacket was closed, the collar would be visible. An open jacket , however, showed thevruffles and lace at the front or even at the boys' waist. A sailor-collar mounted on a band at the neck dominated most Fautleroy blouses or shirt waists (shirts without tails) as they were called at the time. Buttons would be sewn to a belt around the blouse at the waist to attach the pants. The collar and wrist trim of the blouses were designed to roll over the neck and wrists of the jacket.

Matching wrist cuffs

Other lace trimFauntleroy suits were worn with blouses that had had matching lace trim at the cuffs. The sleeves were finished with wristbands that had deep, usually round lace-trimmed cuffs. The lace and ruffles at the collar and cuffs could be of Irish point or point de Gene embroidery or Hamburg edging. Some suits had ruffled cuffs extenduing up the arm to the elbow.


Figure 5.--This little American boy (San Francisco) wears a classic Fauntkleroy suit. It appears to be a colored suit. Notice how the lace cuffs reach the elbow. The kneepantsvappear to have a cuff and buttonss run quite high up the leg. The large bow has an elaborate pattern.

Pants trim

Some of the early suits also had lace at the hem of the knee length pants, but this was relatively rare.

Embroidery

Many Fauntleroy suits had extensuve embroidery. This is often difficult to see in most of the available phorographs as it was often done in a dark shade of thread rather than a cotrasting color.

Accessories

The classic Fauntleroy suit was worn with several key asseccories:
Sash: The boy's waist for formal occasions was encircled by a silk or satin sash. The long edges of the sash were seamed, and the ends were gathered up closely and finished with tassels. The sash to be worn properly was knotted on the left side, and its ends fell to uneven depths. The sash might be red (usully described as crisom) to add a splash of color to a black and white Fauntleroy suit. Some sashes were black, but rarely white. The colored Fauntleroy suits were probably worn with sashes of matching colors. Many boys, however, did not have sashes with their Fauntleroy suits. This was especilly true for the younger boys. Other boys only wore their sashes for special occasions.


Figure 6.--This 10 or 11 year old boy wears a classic Fauntleroy suit with long, curled hair. The small velvet jacket shows off his elaborate lace collar and cuffs. Note his plaid collar bow and the beret that he holds in his right hand.

Collar bows

A collar bow was often added to the lace collar. Next to the lace collar, the bow was the most prominent feature of a boys' Fauntlroy suit. While bows were common, not all Fauntleroy suits were worn with bows. This was at the discression of a boys' mother. Black and white bows were commonly worn, but colored bows matching the colored velvets were also worn.

Other bows

Some particularly elaborate Fauntleroy suits had decorative boes at the hem of the knee pants.

Buttons

Some Fautleroy jackets were not meant to worn buttoned up. Others had real button closures. There were also often buttons at the hem of the knee pants, usually only decorative. These buttons were inspired by the buttons on knee breeches worn during the 18th century.

Hat

Fauntleroy suits were almost always worn with hats. The most common were broad-brimmed sailor hats.


Figure 7.--This English Fauntleroy suit was made in a cream-colored satin with heavy lace trim on both the collar and cuffs.

Stockings

The classic Fauntleroy suits, whether with knee pants or kilt/skirts were worn with long stockings. Almost always they were solid colored stockings. The striped stockings popular during the 1870s-80 were never worn with the Fauntleroy suits as they were not considered to be formal atire. Less information is available on the color of the stockings. Black stockings of course were the most common. Available photographs suggest that the stockings were mostly black. However, this is misleading because the black and white photography of the day does not descriminate between the various dark colors used in Fauntleroy suits. Other dark colors matching the blue, burgandy, and green Fauntleroy suits were probably also worn--unfortunately the black and white photography offers few clues. Available paintings confirm that matching colored stockings were worn with colored Fauntleroy suits. We do know that some mothers at mid-century were using bright-colored stockings to brighten the outfits of their sons. The Tennyson boys in England during the 1860s wore crisom stockings with their grey tunics on Sunday, holidays, and in the evening. I'm not sure, however, if this was a common practice during the Fauntleroy craze of the 1880s. We do know that the fashion of wearing bright colored stockings with black Fauntleroy suits to add a bit more color to the outfit was employed. I would have thought the colors of the colored stockings would have been the same dark colors as the colored Fauntleroy suits. At least one 1890s American account, however, indicates that red stockings were worn with a Fauntleroy suit. How common this fashion was I do not know. I would think it was not common, but given that many reds would show up as black in photographs, there is little available evidence from the photographic record can be drawn on to form valid conclusions. Fauntleroy suits during the classic were not generally with white socks or stockings. This is definitively confirmed by the photographic record. As time past the use of white stockings and shorter pants appeared, but this was generally not seen until after the turn of the century.


Figure 8.--This television prod uction shows how a matching light colored bow and sash might have looked with a colored Fauntleroy suit. While a costume and not an actual suit, it does appear to accurately reproduce the suits worn during the 1880s and 1890s.

Shoes

Boys in the 1880s wore high top, button boots. Nicer shoes might be worn for parties or inside the house. Even in the larger cities many streets were not paved until the late 19th century. Thus nicer shoes would not be worn out of doors where they would be quickly ruined by mud and the rough streets. The black patent strap shoes often associated with a Fauntleroy suit did not apear until the Edwardian period, at least for outdoor wear. Low cut buckled shoes appeared in the 1890s.

Hair styles

Mothers often let the hair of small boys grow, especially while they were still in dresses. Boys usually had their hair cut when they received their first pair of trouser. Most boys through the 1870s wore short hair after energing from dresses. However there were exceptions (such as the Brownings and Tennysons). With the Fauntleroy craze, many mothers delayed cutting their sons' hair, even after he was breeched--put in trousers. It was even more common to delay cutting a boy's hair when they were dressed in Fautleroy kilts/dresses. Many American mothers would even curl the boys hair to complete the Fauntleroy look. As a result, we have many photographs from the 1880s-90s of boys wearing Fauntleroy suits with long ringlet curls. French mothers were less likely to curl their boys' hair, but would sometimes add hair bows.

Dressing Up

A complete Fauuntleroy suit was a rather involved outfit. Little boys could no dress themselves. Even the older boys still wearing Fauntleroy suits would need hekp in getting dressed. Tieing the bows and sashes was particularly difficult.

Opinions

Even in the 1880s when Little Lord Fauntleroy was published, velvet suits and lace collars for boys were not received with unbridled enthusiasm. Even before the publicatiion of her book, some of Mrs. Benett's neighbors had criticized the clothes in which her two sons were outfitted. The Washington press alleged that she was posing the two charming children to impress guests and further her litteary career. Mrs. Benett anwsered her critics:


Figure 9.--These two English brothers pictured in the 1890s show the clear age differention in dress. The older boy is wearing his Eton suit school uniform. The younger boy who has not yet been set off to boarding school wears a Fauntleroy suit.

That the little fellows have worn velvet and lace, and being kindly endowed by Nature, have so adorned it as to fill a weak parent with unbridled vanity, before which peacocks might retire, is true, but I object to their being handicapped in their childhood by stupid, vulgar, unfounded stories, and I advance with due modesty the proposition that my taste for the picturesque has not led me to transform two strong, manly, robust boys into affected, abnormally self-conscious, little mountebanks.

Boys during the Victorian and Edwardian period generally wore what was selected by their mothers. They generally had little say in the matter in an era where a child's life centered more on the family and the mass media and television did not intrude on child rearing. Children were not exposed to sales pitches for trendy clothes. But of all the common boyhood styles, Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, especialy those with elaborate lace collared blouses, and kilts appear to be among the most disliked. In her Life of Burnett (Waiting for the Party, 1974) Anne Thwaite relates an incident in Davenport, Ohio, in which an 8-year-old burned down his father's barn in protest at being dressed as Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Only limited information is available on boyish preferences. As a result, it is unclear which were more disliked. Available information confirms, however, that Fauntleroy suits and kilts were some of the most disliked by the boys dressed in them. Many an American youngster secretly hated the author of the book for creating t he vogue compelling him to wearing lace collars and black velvet knee pants.

Special Images

Photographic images provide details on fashion that were never before available to the social historian. Paintings miss some of the details, but good portraits provide a feeling for individuals and relationships that photographs often miss. They have the added advantage of providing information on color.

National Patterns

I have not yet assessed the different styles of Fauntleroy suits worn in different countries.


Figure 10.--This detail from a 1896 Sargeant portrait shows an American family, Mrs. Carl Meyer and her children. Notice the black or perhaps grey Fauntleroy suit and ruffeled collar worn by her son who looks to be about 12 years old. Note that his suit does not have wrist ruffles to match the collar.

American

The brilliant American portrait painter John Singleton Seargent painted Mrs. Carl Meyer and her two children in 1896. The boy wears a velvet Fauntleroy suit. I think it may be a black velvet suit, although he painted it in a grey tone. I'm not sure how old the boy is, but he is not a little boy and looks to be about 12, somewhat older than most boys still wearing Funtleroy suits. It is difficult to describe the collar as the painting style used by Seargent does not provide detail. It looks, however, to be a ruffled, rather than lace collar. Note that there are no wrist ruffles. Many Fauntleroy outfits had matching collars and wrist trim.

English

A paricularly nice photograph of an English boy is available in the British Boys' Costume Gallary. He wears an elaborate lace collar, characteristic of the 1880s, but with knicker style pants which suggests the mid-1990s. He is obviouly on the way to a party, presumably of like- attired boys, because he has a party invitation in his hand, a necesity in the more formal days before the turn of the century. The buckle low-cut shoes confirm the picture was probably taken in the 1890s.

Families

Families in the late 19th Centuries had various approaches to dressing their children. Some would dress the children all alike. Boys and girls could be dressed un identical smocks. Some times the children all wore identical or similar dresses, when the boys were still young. This was particualrly popular in France. More common in America and Britain was to dress the boys and girls differently. The boys were often dressed alike. Most common was to dress the boys similarly, but to make minor or major differences, depending on the proclivities of the mother.

Additional Information









Christopher Wagner






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Created: February 24, 1999
Last updated: April 11, 1999