*** boys' clothing : family trends

Family Trends

Figure 1.--These German siblings were photographed in 1909 without their parents. Their mother clearly liked sailor suits for both the boys and girls until they wer older teens. Only the youngest child does not wear a sailor suit. He looks to be wearing a black dress. Two of the boys died in World War I.

HBC of course is designed to collect and archive information on clothing. We have decided, however, that many decissions on clothing are made or stongly influenced by the parents. The increasing influence of children over the clothes they wear is, im part, a reflection of changing family patterns and the weakening of parental authority. The family is a key institution that needs to be better understood if we are going to fully access clothing trends. Here we will archive full family images with parents or grandparents or imges which show all of the siblings in a family. This will help to show the types of clothing being worn by other family members in different countries over time. We have begun to build family pages in several differnt country sections of HBC. We hav not yet begun to assess the family and clothing trends here but will when we have archieved sufficent numbers of images. We would be very interested in comments about the family trends in the various countries of HBC readers.

Country Trends

We have begun to collect some images of families from different countries. Our initual interest ws fashion nd putting boys' fashions into perspective with both gurls' fashions as well as adult fashion. As HBC expands, we are adding more and more countrie to our family pages. We note major differences from country to country in family trends. Especially notable are differences in family trends beteen northern and southern Europe, a diffeence that has been trasferred to North and Latin (Central and South) America because of the varried pattern of colonization. We have less information on Asian trends. Some of the economic trends are similar to Europe, falling family sizes as a result of the shift gfrom rural to urban areas. We are, however, less aware of cultural factors in Asia than in Europe. Hopefully out readers will provide insights here as we expand the country sections.

Chronological Trends

HBC has been gradually building family pages in our various country sections. Most of the informtion we have archived has come from the 20th century, but we have also begun to archive information on the 19th century for the larger countries. These chronological images provide a wonderful view of how fashion has changed oiver time because they picture not only the boys which HBC focuses on as well as the girls in the family as well as mom and dad. Elderly reltives are also sometimes included. These images help put boys' fashions into perspective. And seoparted by country they also provide an interesting view of how fashions varies from country to country over time. They also provide a range of sociological insights. The most prounounced chromological trend is the shrinking size of the gamily. With the Indudtrial Revolution, the principal demographic trend was people moving from rural to urban areas. Agriculture dominated econoimies from the Neolithic Revolution to the 18th century. Beginning in Britain (mid-18th century), industry bgan to trasform societies and the families with which they are built. Large families were valuable in urban areas. They provided the hands needed to farm. Not all 19th century families were large, but many were, especially rural families. As families moved into the expanding cities, lsrge families were no longer valuable. Children becme more of an economic burden than an assett. Another factor were advances in public health and medivine. As more children survived, ahain fewer children were needed. This decling family size can clearly be seen in our chronological archive. While the trend toward smaller families is notable in the 20th century. We see diirences from country to country, as well demographic, social class, religious, and other differences.

Family Conventions

We have noted a variety of family conventions concerning clothes.

Coordinated clothing

Generations of mothers dressed their children, in some cases both sons and daughters, identically or in similar outfits--convinced this was a charming fashion. This was a simple matter in the 18th and much of the 19th Century. As little boys wore dresses just like their sisters, it was easy to ooutfit the boys and girls in identical. At the time it ws considered in appropriate to outfit girls in boys clothes. As distinctive dress styles for little boys developed in the late 19th Century and the fashion of dressing little boys in dresses disappeared after World War I (1914-19), this became more difficult. Many nothers, however, still wanted to dress their children similarly. Thus styles outfits with girls dresses and coordinate boys outfits were developed.

Coordinated hair styles

Hair was one of the most common ways of identifying the younger boy. In some families the boys would wear almost identical clothes and only the hair style would vary among the different age boys. In other families mothers would vary both clothes and hair style. Some mothers might cut the curls of their older boys or perhaps add a hairbow to the younger boy's hair. The younest boy would be the most likely to still be in curls or wear some sort of fancy hair style. The age at which mothers may the cut off from the curls for the younger boy to shorter hair styles varied. Often curls were cut at about 5-6 years old, but this was not always the case and older boys did wear them.

Hand-me- downs

A HNC reader writes, "you haven't discussed the phenomenon of hand-me-downs in the HBC pages. This was especially important in large families. In a big families with many children the same clothes for tge children, even boys and girls sometimes,are very practical. When the child grows, mother can give old clothes to his (or her) smaller brother (or sister).

Family Attachments

One fascinating subject is the strength of family attachments. Some interesting research has suggested that grandparents are more like to invest their time and money in grandchildren to which they are genetically related. Here the variable is infidelity. The mother's relationship is obvious. Without DNA testing, the father's relationship is less obvious. Thus maternal grandmothers are positive about the relationship while their is some uncertainty with a patetrnal grandfather. An Australian resarcher investigated the emotional attachment of students with their grandparents. The students reported feeling cloest to their maternal grandmothers and least close to their paternal grandfathers. [Hippel]


Until recently, children until in their teens were primarily cared for my thev mother. Well-to-do familes had servants to help. Younger children were cared for in the nursery by nannies. Nannies were working-class woman who saw to child care. Rich families might have a head nannie who would have a staff to assist her, especially if there was more than one child. Less affluent families might have only one nannie. Often very close bonds developed between the children and theur nannies. This was especially true when the parents took little interest in their children which was all too often tghe case in the 19th century. As the children got older they might have a governess employed for their education, but this was often after they left the nursery. Governesses were mor genteel women with some education. They had a higher social standing than nannies and commonly ate with the family, something nannies never did. Governesses were more common for girls as it was more common at least in Britain to spend the boys off to boarding school. By the late Victoirian period this was commonly done at about 8 years of age. Governesses were commonly depicted in Victorian novels, but less commonly in art. A rare exception was Rebecca Solomon's depiction of a governess in an idealized Victorian family during the early-1850s. We believe nannies and governesses became more common as the Industrial Revolution brought unpreedented prosperity to a widening number of people. With less affluent families, it was up to the mother sometimes assusted by their realatives depending on family circumstamces.

Publication Search

Is anyone familiar with a publication called The Family, which would have been printing during the 1920s (may have been before, as well). I'm trying to track down a cite that reads THE FAMILY 8, (1926). The Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins and Michigan State University have copies. They have vol. 1-14 (1920-1933).


Hippel, William von. Personality and Social Psychoology Bulletin (2004).


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Created: June 14, 2001
Last updated: 12:21 AM 9/15/2013