Little Lord Fauntleroy Suits: Sartorial Impact

Figure 1.--Some mothers chose Fauntleroy dresses for younger boys, but others bought suit with kneepants even though they would not have normally breeched them at such an early age.

The long-term impact of the velvet Fautleroy suit, lace collar, and large floppy bow is difficult to assess. There is some reason to believe, however, that these suits had a major impact and was in fact a dividing point between historic and modern boys' clothing styles. The passions inspired by the suit on the part of mothers and sons may have had a lasting impact on fashion.

Major Fashion Changes

The Fauntleroy craze of the mid-1880s eventually subsided, and boys' fashions began to rapidly undergo a change which echoed that which had occurred in men's dress, only much more rapid. Skirted styles for preschool-aged boys rapidly declined in the 1890s and by the turn of the century this custom along with long curls for boys were much less common than before. Boys were put into knee breeches and their curls clipped at an earlier age than before.

The declining use of dresses for younger boys may have well been due to with the popularity of the Fauntleroy suit. Many mothers were so enamored with the Fauntleroy look that they purchased a kneepants Fauntleroy suit at a much younger age than they would have normally breeched their sons. They could have, of course, bought a Fauntleroy dress, but many chose a Funtleroy kneepants suit as early as 3 years of ahe when they normally would not have breeched their son until 5 or even 6 years of age. This may have been one factor which set in motion the end of the convention of keeping younger boys in dresses. [Jo Barraclough Paoletti, "LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY AND HIS DAD: The Transformation of Masculine Dress in America, 1880-1900," on line article, November, 1999]

The sailor suit, paired either with knickers or long trousers, won favor with many families, to such an extent that by the turn of the century, girls' versions were available. [Jo B. Paoletti, Clothes Make the Boy: 1880-1910," Dress, 1983, p. 19.] Did the Fauntleroy suit, with its popularity occurring when it did, postpone this revolution by a few years--or in fact accelerate it?

Father's Role

The Fauntleroy suit and similar clothing may well have induced more fathers to take an interest in the raising of their sons and the clothese selected for him. It may be no accident that the 1880s also witnessed what seems at first to be a minor trend in history--the return of Father to the nursery. After two generations of women's domination of the home, the opinions and influence of the father once more grew in importance, especially when they concerned the raising of boys. Articles on boys' fashions began to take into account fathers' preferences, beyond considerations of economy. An 1887 article in Godey's advocated the sailor suit for boys of four or five years, as opposed to the kilt suit, which "father and boy dislike." [Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, October 1887, pp.338-9.] Laury MacHenry, in Ladies' Home Journal, took a mother to task for over-dressing her 3-year-old, but included the father in her criticism as well, for he should have restrained the mother. [Laury MacHenry, "About Children's Clothing," Ladies Home Journal, February. 1890, p. 15.]

20th Century Fashions

The late 19th century father may have understood more clearly than their wives what to make of boys' clothing in the coming century. The Fauntleroy craze, which at an earlier time would have been just one more brief fashion, was instead the last straw. Unknowingly, Frances Hodgson Burnett may have provided the catalyst which translated the new image of American man into the new, more decidely masculine image of the American boy who would not for a minute accept the frills and feminine touches that his predecessors stoically endured.

Christopher Wagner

Fauntleroy Related Pages:
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Created: March 30, 1999
Last updated: August 20, 1999