English Boys' Dresses: Chronology--The 1830s

Figure 1.-- The water color detail shown here is unidentified. We know virtually nothing about it. Our assessment, however, is that it was painted in England during the 1830s. It was not paintained by a master artist, it is however a charming image and the dresses and hair styles are painted in some detail. There is no way to be certain, but we believe the child here in the blue dress is a boy. Click on the image to see the entire painting.

The water color shown here is unidentified. We know nothing about it. Our assessment, however, is that it was painted in England during the 1830s. It was not paintained by a master artist, it is however a charming image and the dresses and hair styles are painted in some detail. We believe the child in the blue dress is a boy, although there is no way to be certain about this.

The Artist

The artist of this watercolor portrait is unidentified. It was not paintained by a master artist. The rendering of the children's faces is uneven. It was painted, however, by a competent naive artist. The clothing and hair styles are rendered with considerable skill. Which provides a useful image for HBC.


We believe this is an English portrait. The painting was being sold in England. This of course is not definitive proof that it was painted in England, but it is a simple fact that unidentified paintings sold in England are more likely to be English than any other country. Also watercolor is a medium that was popular in England during the 19th century. In addition, the scene visible out the window in the full painting looks rather English to us. We also think that the children have an English look to them as does the dog. While we can not be positive, we are relatively sure that this is an English painting.


The painting is also not dated and dating it is more complicated than identifying the country, We believe that it was likely painted in the 1830s. The dresses have move far enough away from the classically inspired Empire styles that we do not believe that it was painted in the 1820s. We note thar Empire style dresses were still worn in the 1920s. Note for example the Bean family in 1829. The bright colors also lead us to the 1830s. Now we would not disagree strenously that it could have been painted in the 1840s, we think the 1830s is more likely. Here we would be interested in reader insights.


I am not sure if the scene through the window provides any insights as to where in England the portrait was taken. We note the mist among the trees. Does this suggest the moors of northern England?

The Children

The children are also unidentified. They clearly came from an affluent land-holding family. Presumably the portrait was taken in the manor house outlooking the family estate. We believe the older children are a boy and a girl. There are several reasons for this assessment. Of course there is no way to be definitive about such matters. First there is simple mathematics. A family is more likely to have a bow and a girl than two children of the same gender. Perhaps most telling is the dominant pose of the child. Girls were less likely to be posed like that. Also notice the riding whip, this was a very common prop for boys. The boys short hair and off center paet are another factor. The blue color of the dress may be another factor, but definitive color conventions were not yet widely accepted. The child in the yellow dress is more likely to be a girl. Note that while the children where the same dresses that their hair is styled differently. If they were the same gender, there hair woyld be more likely to be styled similarly. The longer hair and curls with a center part suggests a girl to us. Also note the girl is holding a ribbon, this is a very strong indicator that the child is a girl. The baby wears a bonet which was common for infants in the eatly 19th century. A reader writes, "This page is quite interesting. nteresting. The images are quite wonderful. I agree with you that the child in blue is a boy although at this time pink was more of a boy's color. I think the gender of the child in yellow is less certain."

Figure 2.-- We believe that this child is a girl. Both the center part and curls as well as the fact she is holding a ribbon are important indicators. Note the two older children wear identical dresses except for the color, but their hair styles are very destinctive.

Dress Styles

The two older children look to be wearing idebntical dresses, except for the colors. Both are brightly colored frocks, with low necklines and high waistlines with large back bows and short ballon sleeves. The defined waistlines are a significant departure from the clasically inspired straight Empire dresses which were usally done in white. This styled had dominated dress fashions during the early 19th century. Also notice the large bows at the shoulders. These were symbolic of the leading strings worn in the 17th and 18th century.

Hair Styles

The hair styles are paeticularly interesting. We understand children hair styles much better in the late 19th century because of all the available photographic portraits. We have some painted portraits from the ealy 19th century, but there is a much smaller number of images. The convention of short hair for boys and long hair for girls was much stronger in the early than the late 19th century. Outfitting young boys in dresses was very common, but styling thdir hair like their sisters was not. We note many images of boys wearing ringlet curls in the late 19th century. We do not think this was nearly as common in the early 19th centyry--although admittedly our information is still rather limited. Here the location of the part is a good indicator of gender. Girls very commonly had center parts. The especially interesting aspect of this painting is it is a good example how in the early 20th century that a girl might have righlet curls and the boy short hair. This is quite different than the late 19th century when in quite a number of families that the boy had long ringlets and his his sisters less fancy hair styles.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main English dress 1830s chronology page]
[Return to Main English family page]
[Return to English hair styles: Individual boys]
[Return to English curls: Individual boys]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Girls]
[Photography] [Topics]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: 6:16 PM 7/29/2004
Last updated: 1:51 AM 7/31/2004