What Was a Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit?

Figure 1.--These American brothers from Pennsylvania in a portrait taken about 1890 wear classic Little Lord Fauntleroy suits and blouses. Note that only the younger boy in this instance wears the ringlet curls so associated with the Fauntleroy outfit.

What Was a Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit? This is an important question. It is common parlance to call a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit any outfit with a fancy collar. This of course is misleading because mothers, after the publication of Mrs. Burnett's book, began to increasingly add lace and ruffled collars and floppy bows to virtually every outfit worn by boys. We see boys wearing lace collars with sailor suits and regular suits. These were not true Fauntleroy suits, alhough granted the look is quite similar.

Imprtant Question

This is an important question. As HBC has begun to build this web site, in many cases there were no existing text books to provide basic information. So the idea of what a Fauntleroy suit is can be complicated. Advertising at the time frequently labeled a variety of suits as Fauntleroy suits. Vevet suits with lace collars are not the only garments pictured in the book. In addition, give the popularity of the term, calling a suit a Fauntleroy suit helped to sell it. Subsequently in the 20th century, a variety of suits were called Fauntleroy suits. It may well be that the Fauuntleroy suit section should be reorganied. The suggestion above is an interesting approach. HBC will have to give more thought to this. There is, however, already a separate section for old velvet suits that were precursors to Fauntleroy suits as well as newer styles of velvet suits that are clearly not Fauntleroy suits. This is the last historicak era category liked above.

Original Meaning

The initial Fauntleroy suit in the late 1880s had a fairly specific meaning. It was a kneepants velvet suit with a small jacket worn with a frilly blouse. One 1889 source defines it as velvet suit distinguished by a lace VanDyke collar and a broad sash. What seems to have happened was that the Burnett character and the clothes he inspired provided a focal point for the rejection of picturesque clothing for boys. Frances Hodgson Burnett--and, evidently, many of her readers--saw Cedric Errol as an ideal: the perfect son. The fans of the book and the play appear to have been predominantly female, and small wonder. Little Lord Fauntleroy is very much the story of a boy's devotion to his mother and the power of a mother's influence on her child. It was mothers, according to the press, who brought their children to see the play, and mothers who created velvet suits for their own sons.

Other Suits

This is an important question. mothers, after the publication of Mrs. Burnett's book, began to increasingly add lace and ruffled collars and floppy bows to virtually every outfit worn by boys. We see boys wearing lace collars with sailor suits and regular suits. Some of of these suits might be worn for a year or two with lace collars and floppy bows and then as the boy got a little older with a different collar. Many boys wore were suits that were not designed to look like Fauntlroy suits, but could in the hands of an imaginative mother be given a Fauntleroy look. Often the boys in a large family would be dressed similarly, but with age-graded embelishments. The younger brothers would wear the lace and other large collars and floppy bows while the olde brothers in the same suits would have smaller collars, perhaps an Eton collar, and smaller bows.

Evolving Meaning

Soon the term Fauntleroy suit was being used to describe a much wider range of boys' dress suits. Thus the question arises as to just what a Fauntleroy suit was. The Fauntleroy suit underwent an interesting change in definition. As mothers were so enamored with the book and style, clothing manufacturers soon began calling suits Fauntleroy suits in order to make them more appealing to mothers. After the turn of the century, a much wider range of garments were referrred to as Fauntleroy suits. By 1910, for example, the term was used to describe velvet suits in general, and eventually became a generic label for dressy boys' suits with fancy collars. One author reports that conducting interviews with elderly men a few years ago, he found that some referred to fancy sailor suits of the World War I era as "Fauntleroy suits" (in one case, "those damn Fauntleroy suits"). [Ben Abrams, interview, Oasis Senior Citizens Center, Hyattsville, MD., January 1988.]

Fauntleroy Look

The Little Lord Fauntleroy style that broke upon the American scene in the 1880s was not entirely a new development. Little boys had begun wearing fancy velvet suits with lace collars in the 1870s. It was the publication of Mrs. Burnett's book in 1885 that created the Fauntleroy Craze. The numbers of boys outfitted like Mrs. Burnetts's hero sky rocketed. Many mothers added ringlet curls to complete the outfit. Some mothers considered their sons too young to wear an actual Fauntleroy suit so soon dresses and kilts were styled with the Fauntleroy look. Other garments and accessories became assocaited with the Fauntleroy look.


A HBC contributor provided this comment: "I wonder if all young boys' velvet and lace suits should be lumped together under the portmanteau term "Little Lord Fauntleroy suit". Perhaps there should be a generic term 'Boys' velvet and lace suits' with a sub-division 'Van Dyck suits' and a further sub-division under the latter sub-division of "Little Lord Fauntleroy suits"--i.e. those directly inspired by the book illustrations."

Additional Information

Some interesting information is available on Fauntleroy suits, ranging from period fashion articles to biographic information.