Much of the 18th Century appeared on the surface a continuation of European social and cultural trends established in the 17th Century. European and American infants continued to be swaddled which mean being bound to a board or neck which kept the neck and back straight. Poweful change, however, were underway. These chanfes were to lead to war and revolution by the end of the Century--changes that shook the established social order to its roots. One part of the social ferment underway was the way Europeans looked at cildren and and childhood and by the end of the century a novel new fashion had become widely accepted,
a belief that childhood was a special stage in human development and that children among other matters should have specialized clothing catering to their special needs.
The origin of spealized children's clothes and indeed our contemporary
attitudes toward childhood itself can be found in Georgian Britain. The
Georgian era (1714 to 1837, named for the
first four King Georges and William IV who ruled consecutively) roughly
correspond to the 18th century and the
organizational thread of this web site.
The Georgian era was one of tremendous change. Society began reorganizing itself in ways that we have come to be perceived as distinctly modern: the advent of the industrial economy, growing power of the nation state and the strength
Figure 1.--Boys throughout most of the 18th Century wore tri-cornered hats, long coats, and knee breeches. The long buttoned cuffs on the jackets are characteristic of the early 18th Century. Note the closed collar just like adults also wore.
Nowhere is this change more evident than in
family relationships. The family came to be based for the first time
on bonds of affection rather than economics. The child, once at the
periphery, moved to the center of family affections as the Victorian era
approached. This changing focus on children led to increasing attention
to their needs and a growing recognition that childhood was a distinct
period of human development and that a child had distinct needs. The
development of specialized children's clothes during the 18th Century
was one reflection of this growing recognition.
These changes were well under way during the early decades of the
18th Century. Only slowly, however, did these changes begin to affect the social order and
the attitudes of the population. The changes were to bring about
monentous changes in the European mind and social order. Among these changes were to be a
new concept of childhood and the specialized clothing for children that
will be assessed in this website.
John Locke launched the 18th Century debate on education when
he published Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693). Europeans
in the Georgian period
engaged in a profound debate over education. Locke had suggested that the
goal of education
was to prepare the child to achieve future independence in the world.
Even so, this meant controlling the child's true, perhaps unruly, nature.
Boys were to be educated outside the home, safely removed from the
"pernicious" domestic sphere of women and servants. These ideas did not resonate with
the population during the late 17 and early 18th Century. By
mid-Century, however, increasing thought was being given to education and
the nature of childhood. Some of the outcomes of the changes underway in
the European mind were to be attempts to meets the needs of children and
one aspect of that was specialized children's clothes. Such concerns
and specialized clothing, however, were yet to be seen in the early
part of the Cetury.
It is interesting to note that up until the late 18th century, it
was often the man who dressed more flamboyantly than woman. Mens'
wardrobes were filled with laces and bows as well
as high-heeled shoes with shiny buckles. Even American presidents were
not immune, as a sartorially splendid George Washington appeared at his
first Inaugural wearing a brocade jacket,
lace shirt, silver appointments, and high-heeled
shoes with diamond buckles. This began to change in the later decades of
the century, perhaps not coincidentally at the same time that special
children's clothing styles developed.
The principal male garments were the long coats that had become
popular in the 17th Century and
the knee breeches that had appeared in the late 17th Century. Previously
men and boys had worn long hose and breeches well above the knee. These
coats and knee breeches would dominate men's fashions throughout the
Many of our contemporary attitudes surrounding children began to
develop in Georgian Britain.
This period (1714 to 1837, named for four King Georges in sucession)
stands out as one of
tremendous change, as society reorganized itself in ways that we now
recognize as distinctly modern: the growth of nation states,
the advent of industrial economies, the emergengence of a middle class with
democratic aspirations, increasing emphasis on domestic life, and
the cult of individuality.
Parental attitudes toward children have changed remarkably in various
historic epochs. Considerable evidence shows that parents have always
prized their children, Georgian Britain led
the way in Europe to viewing childhood as a special phase of human
existence. Artists themselves
participated in this movement as both recorders of contemporary values and
as activists promoting
change. Wider audiences come dramatically into play as well. The century
saw the advent of the
first opportunities in Britain for the public display of art (such as the
founding of the Royal
Academy in 1768) and the widespread popularity of inexpensive prints
and illustrated books
created expressly for children. Collectively, these works of art played
public and private roles central to the creation of a new view of the
child and provide many graphic depictions of children's
clothes in the centuary before the development of photography.
The fashion of dressing children like their parents reflected the
of childhood. It may be difficult for the modern reader to understand,
focused as we are on on issues of childhood-including new
definitions of the family. The nuclear family symbolized by June and Ward
Cleaver for those of us who grew up in 1950s America no longer exists for
millions of American children. The ubiquitously termed "family values,"
and child abuse-we must remind ourselves that childhood
and the family have not always been as we know them. Many of the
attitudes we hold concerning children and their special importance
and needs were inconceivable only to 18th century Europeans. Prior to
the 18th Century, for example, the concept of childhood development
and teen-age culture were unheard of.
Children then, while loved by their families, were viewed as little more
than small, vulnerable adults.
While powerful economic and social changes were underway in the early
18th Century, they were not yet reflected in chidren's clothing.
Children in the early 18th Century as well as most children until
the later decades of the Century continued to wear clothes that were
simply scaled-down versions of their parents clothes.
European parents like generations of parents before them so no benefit
in providing less restrictive clothing than adults. In fact babies'
swandling clothes were designed to restrict as were the corsets worn by
girls. European and American infants for much of the 18th century were normally swaddled which mean being bound to a board or neck which kept the
neck and back straight. This was just the opposite of the modern concept of stimualting and developing activities to exercize an infants mind and body.
Swadling was seen as benefecicial to both the child's moral character as well as his physical development. Swadling continued until about 2 years of
age when boys anf girls alike were put into ankle-length dresses with leading strings. Adult clothing such as tightly fitted knee breeches, heeled
shoes, and jackets fitted tightly at the waist and around the arm were
judged perfectly suited for boys as well. Such attitudes did not
begin to change until after the mid-18th Century.
There were no specialize styles for chidren, but they wore quite a lot
of clothes, especially if they came from wealthy families. Girls in
particularly were heavily dresses which could be quite stiflng. Many
wore enormous hairdos and or bonnets.
Elaborate dresses were worn over what one 18th Century writer
recalls as "A tightly constructed constructed harness of whalebone--sticks,
sufficiently firm and stiff to with stand a bullet, violently pushed back
arms and shoulders, pushed the chest forward and constricted the waist
about the hips to wasp-like prpportions." [Johanna Schopenhauer] Boys
were less likely to be so confined, but their dress outfits could also
be quite elaborate.
Infants' swaddling clothes lasted well into the eighteenth century.
The baby also owned a complete set of dress clothes which were worn
for the christening ceremony and any other public occasion. Such
garments were exquisitely made and beautifully embroidered. The
skirts attached to
the tiny bodices were invariably a good four feet in length. Yellow
was the traditional color for the christening dress with embroidery
in silk, or gold for an "upper class baby."
Boys at the beginning of the century continued to be attired in
dresses just like those of their sisters. In fact if they had older
sisters they probably wore their hand-me-down dresses. There were no
special styles for the dresses worn by boys. Indeed there were no
special styles for girls' dresses. Children simply wore scaled-down
versions of the styles worn by their mothers.
Boys wore dresses until they were about 4 or 6 years old, although
I am not sure about the precise age and circumstances of
breeching. There appears to have been
considerable lattitude as to the age. Period portraits show quite young
boys in breeches as well as older boys in dresses.
One utilitarian element still employed on children's dresses were
leading strings. They were still common on dresses
for young children in the
early 18th Century and were sometimes employed as a fashion element on
dresses for older un-married girls.
Boys after they were breached from dressed were just like their fathers
in the early 18th century. After emerging from dresses, boys were atired
in minature versions of their fathers' clothes, just as before breeching
they wore minature versions of their mothers' dresses.
Elaborate and formal finery for the
young gentleman of the 18th century might be a fine damask suit with
pleated jabot, cuffs and stock--just like the outfit that might be worn
by his farther. Men's coats were made with full skirts, and the sleeves
were made with wide cuffs. The sleeved vest became shorter than in the
17th Century and was often richly embroidered; after a time the vest
was made without sleeves.
An 18th-Century addition to male costume was the buckled knee breeches.
Older boys for most
of the Century wore knee breeches. Boys knee
breeches were scaled down versions of their father's breeches. There
was no children's styles for knee breeches.
Other articles of clothing worn by boys were virtually
identical to that of their parents. Boys
also wore the same tri-corned hats worn by their fathers.
Early American clothes for children were basically similar to Engkish
styles, perhaps simpler and sturdier.
Much more is know about fashion in the 18th Century than any previous
century. This is in part because rising incomes in an increasingly
wealthy and educated Europe mean that there was more and more interest in
fashion and more and more was being written about it. The major
development, however, occured in the latter part of the Century with the
appearance of fashion magazines. Information on fashion early in the Century
was still confined to paintings and other artwork and personal journals.
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