Family Outfits

Figure 1.--Some mothers in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century liked to dress the entire family, with in those days could be quite large, in the same outfit.

One fashion popular with mothers was to dress brothers and sisters in identical or coordinated outfits. ome mothers took this one step further. Some mothers chose to dress all of the children in the family identically, even children of different ages and genders. Some mothers in the late 19th and early 20th century had quite large families and all of the children in identical or similar outfits was quite a striking site. This practice was most common in the late 19th century. Some mothers would actually choose identical or similar outfits. More common was some clothing differences based on gender or age, but having the children wear pinafores and more commonly for boys-- smocks. This gave the entire family, both the boys and girls alike, a common look.

Parental Roles

Parental roles of course varied from family to family. Generally speaking, however, decisions about children's clothing were made by the mother. This was in part because taking care of the children, like cooking, laundering, and housekeeping were seen as the women's responsibilities. In part many men were simly not interested in such mundane matters as their children's clothing or hair style. Often father would only interevene if mother delayed curtting a boys' girls or breeching him beyond that of the other boys in their social set.

Figure 2.--This mother has outfitted all of her boys in different outfits. Note that one boy wears a sailor suit or tunic while an older brother wears a ruffled Fauntleroy blouse and bow. While their clothes are different, notice the similar hair style all the boys wear.

Different Styles

Not all mothers wanted to dress their children in similar or coordinated styles. Some mothers dressed each child in a different outfit. Thus boys in the same family might wear dresses, kilt suits, tunics, Fauntleroy blouses and suits, sailor suits, Eton or Norfolk suits, and many other combinations. These outfits were often worn in age gradiations more or less following the order of the list above. The actual order varied over time periods and countries. Some mothers had further destinctions by varying hair styles as well. Other times the age destinctions or less clear as an older boy werearing a Fauntleroy blouse and a younger boy a sailor suit.

Common Style

Some mother like to dress all of their children in the same style. I believe this was particularly popular in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. This is primarily bcause more images exhibiting this style are available from this period. This could, however simpily reflect the larger number of images available from ghis era because of the development of photography. Families in the 19th century could be quite large, sometimes five to 10 children. In these larger families, some of the older children were permitted their own individual clothes, but the younger children were dressed alike.

Figure 3.--This mother outfitted the youngest boy in a white dress and the older two children, a boy and girl, in identical dresses. The photograph was probably taken in the early 1880s.

Age Distinctions

Some mothers while choosing identical or similar styles for the children allowed age destyinctions of various types. This varies greatly from familt to family. Some individual images offer interesting insights into 19th Century families and the clothing chosen by mothers in that period. Unfortunately usually information on the families is not available, only the image is available. We note one late 19th mother dressed her three children in dresses (fgure3). They look to be two boys and a girl. The two older children are in an identical colored dress. The younger boy wears a white dress. The older girl appears to have a small colored hair bow. Interestingly the boy on the left seems to have out grown his dress. (Note how high the sleeves are above the wrist.) That raises an interesting question. Presumably the dresses were bought at the same time, or the elder child's bought first. You might think therefore that the elder child would outgrow the dress first. The only difference in the dress that I can detect are the different collar bows on the two older children. The small size of the bows and the lack of large hair bows suggests to me that the photograph was taken in the late 1870s or early 1890s.

Identical Outfits

The styles of family costumes almost always meant dresses, smocks, or pinafores. This is because in the 19th century there were destictive styles for makes and females. Women and girls wore skirted garments. Men and boys wore trousrs. Women and girls unlike the modern era never wore trousers. Younger boys, however, were outfitted in skirted garments. Thus the garments to be used if all the children were to be dressed alike were skirted garments. This was only possible, howeer, when the boys were young before they were breeched. The age of breeching varied over time as well as from family to family.

Coordinated Outfits

As gender destinctive clothing became more fixed, even for younger, children, mothers less commonly dressed brothers and sisters in identical or similar outfits. Some mother adopted the fashion of replicating a stylistic detail on very different types of clothing as a way of cordinating the outfits of brothers and sisters. Here there were many possibilities such as the collar type and detailing or other elements such as sleeves, buttons, pockets, ect. Color patterms could also be employed in conjectn with these stylistic details. We have noted this technique in America. We have less information on Europe, but believe it was done there as well.


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Created: April 6, 1999
Last updated: 2:54 AM 4/3/2008