Dresses for Boys during the Early 19th Century: Paintings

Figure 1.--This early American portrait is unidentified. The short hair, hobby horsem and barefeet suggest that he is a boy. This painting is unusual because for such an imoportant event as a portrait, children were usually dressed up including shoes. Perhaps the child's age is a factor in painting him without shoes. The portrait is undated, but we would guess about 1830. Click on the image to see an enlargement.

Much of the information we have on children's fashions in the early 19th century continued to come primarily from contemporary paintings. this is particular;y helpful when the artist identified. It was often still quite difficult to tell whether the children in paintings were boys or girls. Younger boys and girls were dressed virtully identically. Some clues help assess the identity of older children. As boys grew older some differentiation might be made such as less lace and frilly aplique, although in the early 19th centuries boys and girls often wore dresses that were indistinguishable. Boys outfitted in frocks during the early part of 19th Century often wore long pantaletts, often trimed in frilly lace. Other frocks might have embroidered, somewhat less feminine pamtalettes. We have noted a few boys painted barefoot, although this was not common. We think it may have been especially uncommon in Europe. The barefootboy painted here was American, but little else is know about either the subject or artist (figure 1). Other outfits for somewhat older boys were frock-like tunics. Sometimes props help identify the child. Farm implements, sports equipment, or boyish toys are good indicators that the child portrayed was a boy. Boys were also depicted with hobby horses more than girls.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: July 23, 2002
Last updated: June 23, 2002