* boys clothing : depictions in stage plays

Stage Productions: Plays and Musicals

Figure 1.--Mrs. McThing is today a little known play, in part because it was never made into a film. Mrs. McThing deals with the insistance of some parents that small boys should always scrub behind their ears and demands for other adult standards of perfection. The play stared Brandon de Wilde, better known for his performances in Member of the Wedding and Shane. Brandon played Howay, a normally rather mischevious boy. Notice the Blue Boy painting with Howay's face.

Some interesting images of period clothing for boys are available in live stage plays. Live theater in the western world dates back to Greek tragedies. The modren theater dates from the Elizabethan stage and Shakesphere's classic works. Productions in this era rarely dealt in detail with children and the fact that specialized chikdren's clothes had not yet been developed means that the productions offer no real information on children's clothing.

Historical Plays

Initially we began working on modern plays. The play is, however, a literary form that predates novels by millenia having been an important form in ancient Greece. Our knowledge of these ancient plays is limited. We do have some information about Shakespeare in the 16th century. The boy characters from the history plays tend of course to be Shakespearean versions of actual historical persons. In other plays the characters are fictional and purely imaginary. HBC has already archived movie versions of the plays. We already have a few Shakespearean images of boys from the Olivier films or from paintings (e.g. the princes in the Tower from "Richard III"). There were also some important French authors. We are less familiar with boy characters in the French plays.

Useful Information

Theatrical productions began to offer more information on boy's clothing in the 19th Century. Several factors come togeher at this time to explain why stage productions began to provide useful information.
Victorian emphasis on childhood: Our modern concept of childhood began to emerge in the Victorian era which began in the 1830s. ThevVictiorians placed a great emphasis on childhood and the modern sentimental view of the child emerged in this period. Literature and theatrical productionsbegan to focus on children. Character like Dickens' Oliver Twist and David Cooperfield and Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn remain classics to this day. They were follow with the classic example of Victorian sebntimentality, Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Photography: The developing science of photography enabled the costuning to be recorded in detail.
Specialized clothes: Children by the beginning of the 19th Century were wearing the specialized fashions that began to develop in the late 18th Century.

Producers vary greatly in the accuracy with which fashions are portrayed. Generally theatrical productions havevmore limited budgets than movies or television productions. Some took great pains with accuracy and detail. Some were limited by budget constraints. In some instances elaborate, unrealistic costumes were employed. Some of the Fauntleroy suits worn were more elaborate than the suits generally worn.

None of the child actors in stage plays are known to object to some of the styles they had to wear, or at least to have complained. The information currently available, however, is limited. Of curse in the 19th Century, girls sometimes played the part of Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Alphabetical Listing

HBC is compiling an alphabetized list of plays which accurately depict period costuming for boys. We know less about plays than movies. We have only a small list of plays at this time. This is in part many plays are addressed by the New York or local press. The national press gives much more publicity to movies. Thus there is more information available on movies. It is also possible to view movies conveniently at home on television, which is not possible for plays. Of course many of the best plays are eventually made into movies. Popular plays also inspire important films. Sometimes the same cast is used, other times more well known stars are secured for the film version. Please let me know of any movies and television shows that are good depictions of period dress.

Chronological Styles

The 19th Century

Classic 19th Century clothing was portrayed in stage productions. Dickens' Oliver Twist and David Cooperfield protrayed tunics and skeleton suits. Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn portrayed less formal clothes, but Tom and Cousin Sid appeared in dress clothes, although the styles varied considerably in different performances. The classic portrayal of late 19th Century styles was of course Mrs. Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy. Besides the mnajor plays, many other popular productins had roles for children which offered climpses into period dress.

Turn of the Century

Inter-War Years

Short pants suits worn in the 1930s are depicted in the stage production of Auntie Mame. There are many other examples. Some even include scenes which involve the clothing. A boy who rebuked his knickerbockers below the knee in Music Man. Austrian sailor suits and lederhosen were shown in Sound of Music

Post-War Years


We have created a section for child actors. The children archived there are primarily 20th century movie actors. We have also included TV actors in the same list because children often have worked in both film and TV productions. Some began there careers on the stage. Brandon de Wilde here is a good example, but there are many others. We see no real purpose, however, in having a separate list here. We also have some limited information on 19th century stage actors. Most of the individuals we have found have been children playing the part of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Because of the costumes, these are the easiest to identify. Of course these children presumably played other parts as well. We will compile a separate list of child actors who played in other productions, before and after Mrs. Burnett wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy.


Many stage productions include period costuming. Many big movie productions such as Sound of Music and Auntie Mame were originally stage productions. Little Lord Fauntleroy had a long theatrical run in the late 1890s. Many of these productions were in established Broadway theaters or major theaters in other countries. Many major works are now done in local theaters, although the costuming in such productions is usually not authentic.

Local Theater

Local theaters in America and througout Europe often offer productions of some of the classic plays. Often the localmtheters are part of a larger drama program. Production quality and costuming can be highly variable.

Musicals: Music and Dance

Some plays involve much more than drama. The leading example here are musicals and light opera. These plays commonly involve orcesstras, songs, and dance routeins. Today the best examples are the Americam musicals, but they were proceeded by the British light operas. Here the most famous are the Gilbert and Sullivan productions. There are roles for children in many of these plays. Some plays have been produced as both regular plays and musicals. An example here is "Auntie Mame" the play which was later done as "Mame" the musical.

School Plays

Many schools also sponser dramatic performances. These productions provide many valuable learning experiences for the children involved. They help to teach the value of hard work and team efforts as well as an appreciation of literarture. Like local theater, production quality and costuming can be highly variable. Often dramas chosen have children in the cast, giving opportunity for contemorary or period costuming.


Some of the period clothes depicted in plays include:

Fautleroy suits

Sailor suits

Buster Brown suits



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Created: April 14, 1998
Last updated: 10:34 PM 12/20/2006