Once again, it’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! All the time I get asked: In past centuries, why did little boys wear dresses? The answer is simple- it’s all about practicality.
You have all seen the images, whether it be in art or in the movies, of the little 18th
Century toddler wearing a frilly white dress. Girls and boys both
sported the look. The first thought is probably, why
dress such a young child in such a pristine look? Kids are so messy!
child in a delicate silk, then yes, it would be highly impractical. But a
durable cotton or linen was another story. Mothers throughout history
their children in white for the same reason so many parents dress their
children in white today- you can bleach the hell out of it. In the days
machines and Clorox for Colors, a lot of outerwear would only be spot
cleaned. Of course, wealthy families would dress their children in
colors and fine fabrics occasionally, typically for special occasions and such.
This is important to keep in mind when you see portraits, which are
often over-exaggerations of reality.
Wearing a dress was far
more practical for both genders.
Remember, spandex and stretchy fabrics did not exist. Try to imagine
coax a squirming baby into a pair of structured trousers with button
like it’d be challenging, to say the least- not to mention how
would be for the child. Now think about the fact that babies grow by the
With no stretch to the fabric, children would be growing out of their
every few weeks. This is also why children in the 5-10ish age range
would wear short pantaloons or knickers- since they were cropped
already, they hid growth better.
there was the diaper factor. These days, so much has been done to make
the diaper changing process as simple as possible- disposable diapers
with stretchy sides and tape closures, onesies that literally come off
with a snap, and wet wipes, ready to use and toss as necessary. In past
centuries, though, dresses were the best option to simplify changing
There are many rumors that dressing both genders the
same as infants was due to high infant mortality rates, that by not
distinguishing genders could make loosing a child slightly less
difficult. This is just a rumor. Though both genders wore dresses, there
were distinguishing features. Hair styles were the most common (once
long enough to be cut.) By toddler years, when children were old enough
to have some structure to their clothing, girls’ bodices would mimic
adults, while boys’ would often button up front. Trims would also
reflect the respective adult versions.
When boys reached the age
when they were fully toilet-trained, they would be breeched- aka, they
would begin wearing trousers. The occasion was a very big deal, and
typically marked the point where fathers became more involved in raising
Want to learn more about historical infant clothing? Check out these books:
Children’s Clothes Since 1750, by Clare Rose
Clothes and the Child: A Handbook of Children’s Dress in England, 1500-1900, by Anne Buck
a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next
FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!
The lack of female superheroes and the complete ignorance about how little girls actually can admire (rather than have a crush on) male superheroes must be puzzling the clothing industry at the moment. Because look what they came up with:
This first picture is from a Target store in Canada:
And this t-shirt was found in the junior’s section in a Walmart in the U.S.
“You won’t ever be able to accomplish great things, little girl. But you can marry a man that does!” Oh, Target & Walmart, the 1950’s called. They want their sexism back.
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