Boys' Clothing at Home: Media Recreations

Figure 1.-- the Olliff-Cooper family arrive in a new fangled motor car. Master Guy wearing an Eton collar and his parents are seen here.

BBC and PBS in recent years has produced a remarkable series of programs about homes in different historical periods and settings. They place modern families in historically correct homes and ask them to live for a time as if they were in that period. The producers not only make sure that the houses are properly restored to the time period, but only household products, tools, and appliances actually available at the yime are used. The different productions include a vast amount of information about clothing, fashion, and life styles during different periods of tghe 19th and 20th century in America and England. In addition to the actual recreations, we have also included some dramitizations that focused on houses.

American 1880s Frontier House

The PBS program recreates the experiences of three homstead families living on the American prarie during the 1883 with just the tools available at the time. It was the Republican Congress and the Homstead Act of 1864 that helped open up the American west. It provided land at extrmely low cast to those that would farm it. Homesteaders came from a diverse background, both American and immigrants. Several thousand applicants applied to participate in the experience. Three families were chosen to go back in time. They soon found themslves in Montana trying o survive. A woman describes it as being sentenced "to hard labor". None of the families involved had any idea what they were getting involved in. One girl complains, "I thought it was going to be fun." A boy holds us a snake and complaind. "This is dinner!"

Little House on the Prarie

The TV series based on the renmarkable books by Laura Engles Wilder could have been a wonderful source of information on clothing and life style on the American frontier. The results, however were rather dissapointing. HBC readers may want to go back to the original Wilder books which are a trasure house of information. The first years of the Michael Landon series had, as in the books, girl characters. Landon eventually added a boy to the series, presumably to broaden its appeal. In one episode was when a spoiled Eastern boy was sent to leave with his uncle, which was the store keeper with his obnoxious wife. The wife of course is the perfect overbearing female to put a boy in the hands of. The nephew arrives in a velvet suit and lace collar. The lady soon has her son in a similar velvet suit, to the boy's great horror. She orders it by mail and rushes up to the boy's room with his new suit so he can try it on. In another scene he gets into a fight with the local boys who rip it off him. Peter Billingsly, Clay O'Brian, Matthew Labrouioux (young Charles).

English 1900 House

This show depicts a modern family that spent several weeks living like a family of 1900. The son appeared once in a sailor suit and straw hat. He only appeared in the saior suit once. Boys did wear long pants sailor suits in the 1900s, but HBC believes that kneepanrs suits were more common. This was the only time he appeared in the sailor suit. Most of the footage concentrated on the boy's precocious older sisters who appeared to enjoy wearing their elaborate Edwardian costumes. Their brother, on the other hand, seemed to be a rather unhappy Edwardian. In the picture he is accompanying his mother on a shopping expedition. The time depicted was the same time that the future George V's children were widely photograhed. They almost always wore either sailor suits or kilts. They wore both kneepants and long pants sailor suits. HBC was struck by the huge amount of labor was involved in maintaining one of these homes--especially weekly laundry day.

British Edwardian Manor House, 1905

Channel 4 followed up the 1900 House with this series on an Edwardian country home set in the Scottish borders region about 1905. It depicts life in a British country home in 1905. The series follows the lives of the Olliff-Cooper family and their staff of 14 servants. (Note the hyphanated name.) The website for the series even has a snob appeal test that you can take. The boy of the family is "Master Guy". Who among other outfits wears a sailor suit. He was asked what he was looking forward to most and least. "It will be good to have someone to clear up my toys, because at home Mummy insists that I have to clear them up piece by piece by piece. A tutor will probably be better than a teacher who has to look after 13 children." "On the other hand I think Edwardian clothing might be a bit itchy and difficult to get on". The family arrive in a new fangled motor car. Master Guy wearing an Eton collar and his parents are seen here (figure 1).

Up-Stairs Down-Stairs

Although a theatrical production rather than a recreation, Up-Srairs Down-Stairs also had a great deal of useful clothing and living-style information about a wealthy London family residence before and after World War I.

English 1940s House

Channel 4 did a production on a 1940s House. They took a typical British family and had them live like a 1940s family for 2 months. The two boys (7 and 10 years old) wore the long shorts school uniforms of the time and the old style sandals and suspenders, the parents wore the common adult clothes of the 40s. The Hymers were the family chosen for the program. They were of course a typical modrn British family, accustomed to packaged food and the modern luxuries. The austerity of World War II was a real shock for them. The boys seemed more willing to deal with the situation than the children in the 1900 House. The show was briliantly done and full of valuable information about war-time Britain and how the live of ordinary people were affcted. The older boy had some particularly insightful comments.

American Sitcoms

A HBC contributor asks, "What about Happy Days which depicted the early 1960s." He is of course correct that Happy Days did show the inside of an American home during the 60s. But then again so did virtually every sitcom with a family theme from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver down to modern sitcoms. Many of these programs did show the inside of American homes (usually upper middle-class homes), but they did not usually addressed many of the life style issues that the recreation families experienced. Who can forget what the poor woman in 1900 House had to go through. Perhaps I should not included Little House on the Prarie and Upstairs Downstairs in with these serious attempts to faithfully recreate period living experiences, but it seemed to me that the houses here were more important than in other series and they were set in less familiar time periods.

Reder Comments

A reader writes, " The recent PBS series on the 1900 English family as well as the 1940 English family (which is now being aired) give us a look at clothes and customs of children and families in these eras. The producers seem to have been careful to adhere to historical details, and the programs can be viewed as kinds of historical documentation. Hopefully similar series can be produced for other eras, including family life in the 1880s and 1890s, as well as in the 1920s. It would seem that much of the material that HBC has been been accumulating would be very useful for background in such series if they are produced."


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Created: November 20, 1998
Last updated: 3:34 AM 8/23/2005