Emile Zola (France, 1840-1902)

Figure 1.--This is one of the few photographs I know of with Jacques wearing a dress. He seems to have worn dresses until he was about 4 years old, after whuch he mostly wore sailor suits and gingham smocks.

Emile Zola is one of the most aclaimed writers in French loterature. He was the leading French author in the late 19th century. He was the leading light of French naturalism and a cutting novelist and polemical writer. Had he died in 1895 he would today be remembered as an important French author. Today he is primarily remembered as a leading advocate of human rights for a letter written at considerable personal risk and published in 1898 accusing the French military of unjustly convicting a them obscure French army officer of treason. Zola had two children. The girl, Dennis, was born in 1889 and her younger brother, Jacques, was born 2 years later in 1891. Zola was an avid amateur photographer and there are many wonderful photographs of the children. These are very valuable because many were taken in the 1890s before amateur photography and family snapshots were common.


Emile's father was an Italian engineer, who gained French citizenship in 1862.


Emile was born in Paris but spent his childhood in Aix-en-Provence, southeast France. His father died when Emile was only 7 years old. His mother had to support the family with only a small pension. Zola moved with his mother to Paris in 1858. as a youth he became friends with the painter Paul Cézanne--a friendship which would endure through life.

Childhood Clothing

No information available.


Emile was eduacted at the Lycée Saint-Louis. His mother planned a career in law for him. Emile however failed his baccalaureate examination.


Zola lived in considerable poverty. He worked for a while as a shipping clerk, but after the publication of his first novel in 1864 his second work began in 1969 Les Rougon-Macquart was received with critical and popular success making him the most popular writer in France and launching a storied literary career. Today however he is primarily remembered for a considerable act of courage. He wrote in 1898 perhaps the most famous letter to the editor in newspaper history--J'Accuse. Zola came to the defence of a Jewish officer in the French Army, Captain Dreyfus who had been convicted of treason and sentenced to a slow death on Devil's Island. This was an act of great personal courage because Zola knew how both the public and Government would react. The French public was outraged at Zola's support for a Jewish traitor. The Goverment tried and convicted him of libeling military authorities. Zola fled to England. Gradually the truth emerged of how the military convicted Dreyfus on forged documents laregly because he was Jewish. Zola returned to France in 1900 a champion of human rights.

Figure 2.--Dennis in this photograph is helping Jack learn how to ride a bike. He wears one of the sailor suits his mother favored so much. Note the length of his curls.


Zola had two children. The girl, Dennis, was born in 1889 and her younger brother, Jacques, was born 2 years later in 1891. The children often played together as they were schooled at home and did not mix with a lot of other children. One of the things some authors have noted was the isolation of French children until they were quite old. School was the first time many French children played with other children. Even in the country during the summers some children were mostly around adults. French families seem to have been very close knit units. This was especially true of the Zola family. Jack and Dennis' best friend seems to have been each other. They only occasionally played with other children when friends visited. They may have been more isolated, however, because their mother was Zola's mistress.

The two children and their mother accompanied Zola to exile in England (figure 2). Zola was forced to spend several years in exile following his expose' of the Dreyfus affair. The reason for the exile is the famous newspaper ariticle J Accuse!. It forced him to flee France and to live in exile for years, but eventually That article eventually added to his prestige exposing rampant anti-semitism in the French Army. The article eventually brought down the French government. Since Zola left for England in 1899, second photo was probably taken in 1899 or 1900. That would make Dennise 11 and Jacques, 9.

The two children (Dennis and Jacques) are by his mistress, Jeanne and not his wife, Alexandrine. This doesn't mean he had a poor relationship with his wife. The French being French, this did not cause a scandal--in fact Alexandrine accepted it. When Zola visited the children, he often wrote his wife about how they were doing and sent along photographs of Dennis and Jacques playing or engaging in other activities. Alexandrine was childless and she psychologically adopted the children of his mistress. After his death she provided for the children and their mother.


Around the time his children were born Zola developed an interest in photography. Before the introduction of the Kodak Brownie in 1900, photography was both complicated an expensive. Only affluent amateurs willing to devoye considerable time could take home photographs. He is known to have taken over 7,000 photographs on a variety of subjects. One of his favorite subjects were his children. Zola's interest has thus left us with many wonderful photographs of the children. These are very valuable because many were taken in the 1890s before amateur photography and family snapshots were common. None of the photographs I've seen show Jacques younger than 3 and most are of him at about 4 or 5 years or older and, as a result, almost none show Jacques in dresses.

Figure 3.--Zola's children are shown here lunching with their mother after joining their father in his English exile. Jacques wears a kind of romper outfit with long stockings. Note his long hair and large- brimmed sailor hat in the background.

The Children and their Hair Styles and Clothes

The children were very close. They were schooled at home and often played together. Unlike a few years earlier, boys and girls were no longer being dressed in idential outfits. (See for example the page on the DeLesseps family.

Hair styles

Most of the available photographs of Jaques as a younger boy show him with extremely long hair. Only one photo, however, shows him with ringlets, so I think his hair was curled only on special occaisions. There is one exception. The photograph of Jacques in Rome wearing the large sailor hat and a coat over the dress appears to show him with short hair. I have no idea why this would be.

As he became older his hair was cut shorter, first to his chin in a pageboy bob and later in a Dutch boy cut. The first bob and bangs had his hair much longer at the sides than the Dutch boy bob he finally wound up with.

Figure 4.--Jacques and his older sister were extremely close. As they were schooled at home, they did not have the opportunity to meet a lot of other friends. Jacques wears the sailor suit with knicker pants that his mother so favored.

Interestingly a lot of the photographs of Jacques wearing smocks show him with bobbed hair rather than the long shoulder length hair that he wore as a little boy. I'm not sure if this means that he wore smocks as an older boy or just that he did not have his photograph taken as a younger boy wearing smocks. One would think that he would have worn smocks more as a younger boy. The fact that there are few images of him in acdress suggest that his father may have not taken up his interest in photography when Jacques was very small.

The available photographic record show Jacques through about 10 years of age in 1901. At that age he still wears Dutch boy bangs. I'm not sure at what age his hair was finally cut to a more mature look. As the children were schooled at home, there mother had a great deal of latitude in how their hair was cut and what they wore.

I do not know what opinion if any Jacques had about how his hair was cut. Children at the turn of the century generally had little say in their clothes or how there hair was cut. This does not mean, however, that they did not have very definite opions on such matters.

Figure 5.--This photograph was taken by Zola during a 1894 trip to Rome. It does not appear to be Jacques as he has short hair. The boy is wearing what looks like a white dress under his coat. Note the formal white gloves. I will probably move the image to the Italian page.


Jacques as a small boy was oufitted in dresses, as was the fashion of the day. There are few early images of him, however, wearing dresses. One of the few photograph of him in a dress shows his father photographing him at about the age of 3 years being photographed sitting on a box wearing a white dress while his father is photographing him. I'm not sure when he was first breeched, but photographs of him at about 5 years of age show him in sailor suits with above the knee knickers, an outfit his mother appeartly loved as he would wear sailor suits for most of his boyhood. He sometimes, however, would wear ginham smocks over his sailor suits.

Emile traved to Rome with his father when he was about 4 years old. He is wearing a coat over what looks like a white dress. He wears white white socks and strap shoes with pompoms in addition to white gloves. The white gloves are interesting. Gloves used to be an important element of formal dress than is currently the case.


After emerging from dresses, Jacques mostly wore sailor suits. Some of his sailor suits appear to have been romper outits with features of a middy blouse, a sailor collar with "v" front and box collar at the back. One picture of Jacques in a romper-like sailor suit shows Dennis in a dress and pinafore. Some of the other photograps such as the one with Dennis helping her little brother learn to ride a bicycle also show her wearing a pinafore. Pinafores were very commonly worn by girls at the turn of the century. (Earlier in the 19th century it was more common for little boys to wear pinafores as well.) Some French boys also wore pinafores when they were younger. Jacques wore smocks, but I know of no photograph of him in a pinafore.

Figure 6.--Emile Zola's two children are shown here blowing bubbles. Jacques looks to be about 5 years old. Jacques is dressed in a romper outfit with large ruffled collar. Dennis wears a pinafore and dress. Both children have long hair.

Jacques wears a romper outfit with large ruffled collar blowing bubbles (figure ?). Actually it is a bit hard to determine if Jacques outfit is a romper outfit or a sailor suit with above the knee knickers. Almost all romper outfits had above the knee pants.

Sailor suits

Jack's mother does not seem to have been very imaginative about his outfits.
Younger boy: Most available photographs show him as a younger boy in white or light-colored sailor suit. His suits have above the knee knickers which he wears with either short socks or long black stockings. As he got older he began wearing his knickers just below the knee. (This seems to have been a popular fashion in France at the turn of the century. A contemprary of Jacques recalls wearing such an outfit to school.) Jacques for most of his boyhood wore sailor suits of various forms. Some when he was younger were rather like rompers. As a younger boy the middy blouse had some non-sailor like features like ruffles or even lace trim.

Figure 7.--Dennis, Jacques, and a friend playing croquet with their parents. Jacques again is pictured in a white sailor suit. The children are not wearing their hats, despite playing outside. Presumably their father did not want the hats to shade their faces while he took the photograph.
Older boy: Jacques as an older boy continued wearing sailor suits both in the summer and winter. A nice series of photographs exist of Jacques in a heavy winter sailor suit. It is a very serious series of photographs wearing his winter sailor suit. I'm not sure what the color it, but he wears it with what looks like a dickey with a high neck, almost a turtle neck. His father was interested in photography and seems to have taken a rather serious series of photographs of his son stydying in his winter sailor suit. Jacques in the series has had his hair cut in classic Butch boy bangs. He wore bangs as a younger boy, but with long shouder-length hair. As an older boy with his sailoor suits, his hair has been bobbed.


Several photos show the children with toys. In one of these he is holding what we would think of today as a girl's doll. It interesting to note that he is not holding the doll like a girl, but like it was a toy solder, truck, or any other boyish toy. Much like the way American boys play with GI Joe dolls or teddy bears.


Some photos show Jacques at about 6 or 7, wearing a knee length smock with a sailor-type box collar trimed in lace. In some photographs Jacques wears a back-tying cloth strip to belt the smock at the waist. Presumably it was tied in a bow at the back. In many other images his smock is worn without any waist belt and falls loosely to just below the knees. I'm not sure if his mother brought different styles and had a preference on the matter or if on some days the belt was just not used. I don't think that Jacques himself decicded on the matter. His smocks were back buttoning and the waist belt was done up at the back so he woukd have needed help in putting on his smock.

Figure 8.--Jacques is pictured here with his older sister Dennis. He wears a gingam smock. Note that his sister wars a plain colored smock, but with a pinafore. As a boy, almost all of the available images show Jacques dressed in either a smock or sailor suit.

Several other images show Jacques wearing a smock. He appears to be older than many of the images above of him playing in sailor suits. His hair has been cut and he is shown wearing Dutch boy bangs. He looks to be about 7 or 9 years old. His smock is back buttoning and has a large collar edged with ruffles.

I'm not sure just when his mother would decide for Jacques to wear his smock and when he would not have to wear it. The smock appears to be an informal garment, perhaps worn mostly at home. Some of the photographs with him wearing the smock may have been taken in England. He appears to be wearing the knickers, probably as part of a sailor suit, to which his mother was so partial. The smock is almost the same length as his knickers which look to be below the knee length. I have no information on what he thought about his smocks, if anything. He seems to have been in a rather happy mood in the photographs so he does not seem to have had any great objection. Notice his stylish hat which has been carefully placed at the foot of his mother's long dress so it would show up in the photograph. Presumably it was worn with his smock.

Figure 9.--Jacques is pictured here reading a book with his mother. He is wearing a back buttoning gingham smock with a large ruffled sailor collar. The photogrph was taken during the ummer of 1897 which would mean the boy would have been 6 or 7 years old. Note the Jacques' stylish straw hat which his mother has carefully put at her feet so it could be seen in the photograph. For a photograph of Jacques wearing a smock and pictured with his father, click on the image above.

Smocks by the turn of the century appear to have been a much more common garment for French boys than for boys in Britain and America. French school boys wore smocks to school through elementary school. Thus it appears likely that it would be more common for boys to wear smocks after school than was the case in Britain and America. School smocks were mostly black or dark blue so they would not show ink stains. (There were no ball point pens in those days. Actually I can still recall fountain pens and ink wells in scholls during the late 1940s and early 50s.) I'm not sure how common that gingham smocks like the ones worn by Jacques were. Older boys wearing blue school smocks might have viewed gingham smocks as for little boys. Girls opribably more commonly wore smocks and other garments made out of gingham material, but clearly some boys also wore gingham smocks.

Hats and caps

As was the case at the turn of the century, Jacques was usually outfitted in an appropriate hat. The Victorians and Edwardians almost never left their house without a hat or cap and this also included their children. The Zola's were no exception. While his father seems to have usually had Jacques take off his hat for the photograph, mother would oftem make sure that it was displayed, sometimes prominently in the photograph.

Jacques mother seems to have liked broad-brimmed sailor hats. One photograph taken in 1894 shows him in a coat over a white dress with white socks and strap shoes sporting an enormous wide-brimmed sailor hat. This has to be one of the largest hats I have ever seen on a small boy. A broad-brimmed sailor hat is also displayed in the backgrond while Jacques is having tea with his sister and mother.

Jacques appears to have also worn a straw hat, but not a wide-brimmed sailor hat, when he wore smocks. Note the hat that his mother has caarefully placed at the foot of her dress in the photograph of a smock-clad Jacques reading a book with his mother (figure ?).

Older clothes

I am not sure when Jacques stopped wearing smocks and sailor suits nor when his hair was finally cut short.

Adult Life

I am not sure about Jacques adult life.

F.W.J. Hemmings, The Life and Times of Emile Zola, Charles Scribner's & Sons, New York, 1977.


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Created: September 13, 1998
Last updated: 5:13 AM 7/16/2017