We live in an age when there is a huge variety of options when it comes to children’s clothing. Some of it is super comfy and practical, allowing kids to play and be comfortable throughout the day. There is also a wonderful choice of handmade children’s clothing boutiques, which sell exquisite party dresses for girls, and smart outfits for boys.
What about the well-dressed child throughout the ages? An article written for the V&A website explains that although there was always the desire among children to keep up with the latest trends, just as now, the choice of attire was much stricter and more limited.
For example, children were often segregated by their age as to which outfits they could wear. Love to Know reports that before the early twentieth century, clothes for young children were unisex. Both boys and girls wore some kind of gown, robe, or tunic, and even when men commonly wore breeches, boys often wore dresses until the age of six or seven.
By around the 1770s, the formal stiff petticoats and bodices, which even small girls had to wear, began to be replaced by frock-style dresses, which had a wide sash waist and a more flared skirt. This is still a popular look for girl’s party dresses today! They were often made from a fine muslin material, which is a type of soft, delicate cotton.
Boys who were considered old enough to wear breeches often combined them with an open neck shirt with a ruffled collar, and a loose cut coat. The transition to breeches was considered an important milestone in a boy’s life, and was often marked with a ‘breeching ceremony.’
According to the Jane Austen Society, breeching ceremonies were not dependant on class or status, but were carried out across all types of household. Of course, richer families could afford better quality clothes. New garments were expensive, because they all had to be handmade, so it was common to wear mended and second-hand clothes.
Breeching ceremonies were a celebration for family and friends, not just to mark the transition, but to celebrate the maturing of a child in an era when many died in infancy, and many more would die before the age of ten. Boys from wealthier families may have been sent off to boarding school after this event.
Girls’ ages were usually defined by the length of their skirts. Younger girls would wear shorter dresses, which were gradually lowered to floor-length by the time they reached their mid-teens. A typical mid-nineteenth century girl’s dress would feature a wide neckline, puffed sleeves, and a gathered waist with a full skirt.
As new clothes were uncommon even for wealthier families, girls often used accessories as a way of varying and embellishing their dress. Ribbons, hats, lace, and even bustles were added or removed from outfits to keep up with fashion.
Over time, girls’ wear became a little more practical, with simpler tailored designs that allowed the wearer to be more active and comfortable. Clothing for younger boys also became less feminine, and by the early twentieth century, the still-persistent rule of pink for girls and blue for boys was established.