St. Nicholas Magazine in its November 1885 issue published the first installment of Mrs. Burnett's romantic novel about a little American boy who inherits an aristocratic British title. The story was an enormous success.
Published as a book in 1886, it was an instant best seller in Americas. The book and resulting theatrical productions soon swept Engalnd and the Continent. No where, however, was the impact as pervasive as America. As a result of the book,innumerable American boys were subjected by their mothers to the fancy velvet suits. American mothers who before and after resisted the fancier European fashions for their boys--subcumed to the Fauntleroy craze. The fashion
is probably the most despised costume in the history of American boyhood: velvet knee length page-boy suits, delicate lace collars, and--the crowning ignominy-long, flowing sausage curls. Little Lord Fautleroy-style velvet suits with lace collars were worn by small boys as party dress before the publication of Ms. Burnett's famed novel. Most boys' suits of the era, both kilt and knee-length suits, however, before the publication of her book were rather plain. Some of the fashions include jackets that older boys or even men might have worn without comment. Mrs. Burnett's book changed that almost over night. Little Lord Fauumtleroy put these fancy velvet suits on the fashion map and gave them their name.
One of the widely recognized costume of any American literary character is the elegant velvet suit and frilly lace collar worn by Cedric Erol, or has he is better known, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Actually the nationality of Cedric is somewhat ambiguous. The author was born in England, but lived and raised her children in America. Cedric himself had an English father and an American mother and was being raised in America. Actually I guess he has to be considered an American as his attitude innocent attitude toward privlige and aristocrarcy is at the center of the story. The story was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1885. It was based on stories that she would tell to her two beloved children. Cedric's clothing is only described briefly in the book, but those descriptions and accompamying drawings caused a censation in America and the Fauntleroy craze had begun. A generatiin of American boys found theselves oufitted in velvet kneepants party suits with huge lace collars and bows.
The Little Lord Fauntleroy suit is one of the most recognized boy's outfit in history, although it was not very popular with maby of the boys that wore it. Many boys had actual Faumtleroy suits. Others wore plainer suits that had Fauntleroy stling added to them. Here by far the major element was a pin-on lace or rulled collar or a Fauntleroy blouse. Boys might also wear large floppy bows, although this was an alternative item. An especially fancy item that might be worn for formal occassions was a colorful waist sash. A variety of other items might be work to complete the Fauntleroy look, but there were no definiye styles of headwwear, footwear or outerwear assiociated with the Fauntleroy suit. They were not only items that made up the Fauntleroy suit, but items that might be employed with other suits to give a Fauntleroy look. Ringlet curls are sometimes associated with the Fauntleroy suit, but most American boys did not have them and they were much less common in Europe.
One intersting aspect of the Fauntleroy craze was why did it occur in the 1880s and why was it most pronounced in America. The late 19th century was a time of excesses in America. The country was undergoing a time of rapid economic development. The United States was rapidly shifting from a basically agranian society to the most powerful industrial economy in the world. Vast fortunes were being made, but many more individuals within the space of one geberation were espaping rural poverty to the gentel middle class life in the groing cities. Middle class mothers did not work. They had a great deal of time on their hands and were very interested in demonstrating their new-found social status. One way to do this was to give great attention to their their and their chldren's clothes. Thus the expensive lace and rich materials used for their dresses were lavished on their sons. Mrs Burnett's novel simply fueled a fashion trend already in progress. A virtual arms race in children's fashion arose between American mothers. America was not the only country in which the Fauntleroy craze developed. We observe the same trend in Britain, France, and other countries. We know less, however, about the Fauntleroy suit and its popularity in these other countries.
American mothers somehow concluded that if they dressed their darling sons in velvet suits and fancy lace collars that they would miraculously become as clever, couteous, and charming as the endearing Little Lord Fauntleroy described in Mrs. Burnett's book. One American humorist, Irvin Cobb, who was a child in the 1880s described what occurred in America,
A mania was laying hold of the mothers of the nation. It was a mania for making over their growing sons after the likeness of a beatific image, Little Lord Fauntleroy infected thousands of the worthy matrons of America with a catching lunacy, which raged like a sedge fire and left enduring scars upon the sacred memories of its chief sufferes.
The desire of proud American mothers to demonstrate their economic position by emulating their concept of the dress of English aristocracy helped fuel the strength of the Faunntleroy craze which swept the nation.
English fashion houses played a major role in setting American fashion and the perceived aristocratic English style help to popularize it in America.
Girls also apparently liked them on their younger brothers. We have few actual written records here, but hope to acquire such information as our reserarch project continues.
While mothers and girls were enchanted with Mrs. Burnett's book and the elegant
suits depicted in the book, the same can not be said for the boys'
reactions. Despite the enthuiasm of Mrs. Burnett and countless mothers, the boys
attired in these fancy velvet suits were not nearly so impressed. They were
decidely not popular with the boys--especially when mothers selected them for boys much beyond 5 or 6 years of age. Despite their lack of enthusiasm, the sons of countless impressionable American mothers, however, condemned to velvet page-boy suits, knee pants, frilly blouses,
lace collars, and the crowning burden--
long flowing curls. Some boys even wore their Fauntleroy suits with skirt suits rather than the more boyish knee pants. Little Lord Fautleroy had arrived on the American sartorial scene with a vengence.
large numbers of boys wore Fauntleroy suits both with and without ringlet
curls, they were in the minority. Most boys wore much plainer suits and
much preferred them. Many memoirs have references to the Fauntleroy suits
that men had worn as boys--and almost uniformily the suits are recalled
with great distaste. The litterary charascters American boys wanted to dress like
were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
A good indicator of the feelings of the boys is a popular poem,
Jest 'Fore Christmas by Eugene Field. The poem begins:
Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain't a girl---ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes curls an' things that's worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an' go swimmin' in the lake--
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
'Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain't no flies on me,
But jest'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!
I have little information on fathers during the late 19th century. I think basically they were disengaged as pertains to how their younger children were dressed, many feeling that was responsibility of their wives. Some fathers did step in, however, if their
wives insisted on keeping their sons in Fauntleroy suits beyond what they considered
an appropriate age. One researcher believes that the experiences of boys in the 1889s and 1890s mean that when they grew up and became fathers, they insisted on more practical outfits for their sons.
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