Boys' Dresses: 17th Century


Europeans beginning in the 16th century dressed little children, both boys and girls in the same styles of ankle-length dresses, often referred to as petticoats. For most of this time, no special clothing existed for children, boys or girls. Boys once "breeched", were simplly dressed in smaller versions of the knee breeches and other clothes worn by their fathers. Specialized clothing for children did not appear until the late 18th centuty-- and a first only for boys. Even so, many mothers continued to dress small boys in dresses for more than a century.

I have yet no information on boy dress styles in the 1600s. They apparently were just small sized versions of their mothers' dresses. Both boys and girls wore the same-styled dresses. It is clear that the fashion of dressing small boys in dresses was the prevalent fashionthroughout the 17th century.

Figure 1.--


Relatively little written material exists on the styles of the dresses worn by children. Much of what we know has been deduced from contemporary portraits and other paintings. It is amazing to some modern observers

Figure 2--.
to find when studying the contemporary portraits of children that one often cannot tell boy from girl except by name. This is because there was little differentiation in the styles of the dresses worn by girls and boys rather there seem to have been generic styles for children.

Leading Strings

Leading stings were comonly employed on children's dresses from the 16th to 18th Century. They were precisely what they sounded like. The strips of fabric matching or coordinated with the dress fabric that were sewn on to the dress at the shoulders. The other end fell freely down the back of the dress. Some dresses did not have leading strings sewn on directly, but they would be pinned on if the mother so desired. The "strings" were considered practical for assisting younger chilkdren and contolling rambuncious children for whom they were used rather as a lease. Practices and conventions varied for boys and girls.

Boys' Attitudes

We know relatively little about what the boys of the era thought about wearing dresses. As destinctive styles for children did not exist for much of the period and the children involved were very young, it is likely that the fashion was of less concern to the boys than was the case for more modern generations. In addition, children of the era generally defered to their parents on such matters.

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1500s] [The 1600s] [The 1700s] [The 1770s] [The 1800s] [The 1810s]
[The 1820s] [The 1830s] [The 1840s] [The 1850s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web dress pages:
[Return to themain dress page
[Return to themain dress era page
[Dresses: 17th century] [The 18th Century]
[Dresses: Early-Mid-19th century] [Dresses: Late-19th century] [Dresses: Early 20th century]
[Pinafores] [Ringlet curls] [Smocks] [Bodice kilts] [Kilts]
[Fauntleroy dresses] [Sailor dresses] [Fancy dresses] [Difficult images] [Movie dresses]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Biographies] [Bibliographies] [Activities] [Countries] [Contributions]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: May 25, 1998
Last updated: June 25, 1999