*** United States boys clothes: families

United States Boys' Clothes: Families

American families
Figure 1.--At the turn of the 20th century many Americans still lived on the farm. This family in 1905 lived in a sod house. This family lived in North Dakota near the Canadian border. This family has six young children, all are barefoot. The boys wear knee pants. Notice the one boy with the family Bible. Also note the important place for the family dog.

Many images exist of American families. These images are interesting because they show the fashions that all members of the family wore over time. HBC has limited its analysis to boys' clothing--itself a massive undertaking. These family photographs help to put the boys clothes into better perspective, showing what girls, women, and men were weraing at the same time. The family portraits also add some cultural context as they provides clues as to the social status or occupation of the parents--until the 20th century mostly the fathers. Most of the portraits are of the privligded classes, but by the late 19th centuries falling prices at photographic studios had brought the family portrait within in the reach most American families. Thus family portaits provide wonderful historical records of fashion. They also offer fascinating insights into the structure of the American family.

Individual Families

HBC has collected information on quite a number of American families. Here we have included both nuclear and extended failies. Often the images we have found do not include every family member. For this section we like to include both the children and adult family members to provide a look at how adults were dressed and what adult clothing was associated with chilfren's fashions. We are also interested in sociolgical facrors associated with family fashion.

Aphabetical Listings

We have the names of some of the family images we have found. Unfortunately many are unidentified. So we can only list some of them alphabetically. Of course with paintings the families are usually known. With photographs there are many old images that are not identified. It is useful to cross reference the famililies for which we have the names alphabetically. There are many more families listed in the chronological sections. And of course family names can be searched in the biography sections.


Images of American families over time provide awide range of not only fashion informstion. but insights into American society abnd culture. Even if we have no information about a family image, we can usually estimate the decades represented by the fashions, photograpic charateristics (type, mount, frame, ect.), or other characteristic. Family images are fairly limited before the 19th century. There are paintings, but the numbers of such images are relatively small and mostly limited to the upper classes which could afford the cost. This changed with the the 19th century. One factor was the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America and the great wealth it created. Another factor was invention of photography (1839), but really large numbers do not begin to appear until the introduction of albumen prints and CDVs (1860s). This mean that virtually any family that wanted a portrait could afford to have one made. And in the 20th century with the the appearance of the snapshot and simple, inexpensive amateur photography we move outside the studio snd formal images. We thus have much greater insights into family life.


Many available photographs show boys by themselves or with one oir two siblings. Hundreds of these portaits have been added to HBC. They provide in many cases insights on how parents accounted for age in clothing selected for their children. They also raise interestuing questions about sbling relationships. One American reader writes, "I don't think it's any secret that at least 90 percent of people have. Many don't get on with each other well, when adults. This usually extends back to childhood. I know quite a few brothers who, every now and again, physically scrap with each other, as adults. They maybe the exception, they do. My brother and I are civil with each other, and can co-operate in a cause. As children we did not get along well."


The nuclear family of mom and dad and one or two children is now the standard Americamn family. This of course was not always the case. Families used to be larger, a reflection of the largely agricultural backgrounds of most American families. We not only notice more children, but also other fmily members such as grandparents, uncles, and aunts. In the era before Social Security, groen-up children were expected to care for their parents in old age. Maiden aunts were also taken in by family members. This of course in some cases made fir very large families. We can see this in several of the HBC 19th century family pages. Affluent families might have servants are help for the more modestly affluent. These people would not have been considered family members. One exception here was help that cared for the children, nurse maids and governesses. Nanny that stayed with the family over an extended period may havevbeen considered quasi-family members. This varied from family to family. In some instances, nannies who cared for a child might also care for that grown-up child's children. In some 19th century families, the children might be closer to the nannies and governesses than the parents.

Age Grading

One convention that can be seen in many family portaits is age grading. This is actually related to the convention of dressing children in identical or coordinated outfits. Age grading was also used when the children were dressed in differehnt types, but not necesarily identical outfits. This is of course adopted with children that are close in age. In the 19th and early 20th century, families were commonly larger than they are today. Thus it was not appropriate to dress all the children alike. In large families there mighgt be two or three levels of age grading. There were alson refinements of age grading. Children might, for example, wear the same suit, but with alterations such as different collars and neck wear ot trouser types. There are many examples of age grading on HBC. We will start to link some of the here as examples. A good example of a family whichpracticed this approach is the Rockefellers. We note an Louisiana family (1924). Age grading is a convention that virtually disappeared in the late 20th century. We are not sure why age grading when out of style.


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Created: March 12, 1998
Last updated: 5:16 AM 12/10/2011