France next to England has probably had more influence on boyswear than virtually any country, at least until American fashions began to spread in the post World
War II era. The French contribution to boys' wear has primarily been stlistic. French boys adopted many sdtyles created in England and then embelioshed them. Many English styles like the sailor suit became popular in France. Relatively few boys' garments were created in France. Perhaps the skeleton suit--although HBC is still uncertain about the origins of tghis famed garment. The classic image of the French boy is a boy on his way to school wearing a beret and colarless dark-colred smock with short pants. HBC has relatively little written information on the historical development of French boys clothes, but will sketch out a basic outline on the basis of various photographs and magazine illustrations that
I have seen. Hopefully French visitors to HBC will eventually provide some historical details.
The fashion industry was important in France even in the 18th century. It was after the mid-19th century, however, that the industry began to explode. There were in 1850 about 25 Parisian dressmakers and ready to wear (confection) houses. That had increased four fold to 800 by 1863 and 1,090 by 1870. This was partly due to the expanding bourgeois and increasingly wealth of late 19th century France. More consumers with available disposable income could support the expanding industry. In addition, technological improvements were reducing the real costs of material and garments. Individuals beyond a handful of rich artistocrats and merchants who formerly might have had only a few changes of clothes, might now have a whole wardrobe. Not only could more people afford more clothes, but the clothes were increasingly well made and fitted. The poorly fitted
garments of the early and mid-19th century, by the 1870s had become increasingly well-tailored garments. The look of fashionably dressed childern in the 1870s and especially the 1880s contrasts dramatically to the poorly fitted baggy garments still common in the 1850s and even the 1860s. By the 1870s knee pants were becoming increasingly common in France. Knickers were also worn, but not so commonly. After the turn of the century sort pants were commonly worn and this did not begin until the 1960s. Today French boys have adopted the same pan-European style of jeans and other casual clothes.
Modern France was in ancient times Gaul (Gallia), the primary Celtic land after the Celts were driven west by the Germanic tribes. Gaul was conquered by Ceasar's Legions in one of the great and brutal military capaigns of history. With the fall of Roman power, the Germanic tribes flooded across the Rhine. In the struggle with the Romans Visagoths, and Huns, the Franks emerged as the dominant power (5th century). Modern France takes its name from the Franks. Francia is the Latin term for "country of the Franks". Pepin founded the Carlogian dynaty which under Charlanegne include much of western and central Europe (9th century). Many of the modern European states developed from the break up of the Carlogian Empire after the death of Charlemagne. France emerged as one of those countries at about the time that the Viking raids began. The country thus was formed by the Celtic, Roman, Frankish, and Viking peoples. France developed with a weak monsarchy because of the resistance of the nobility to cental authority. This left France open to attack from the Vikings and English. Frances played a mixed role in the Reformation. This changed after the Fronde when Louis XIV establish a centralized absolute monarchy. His efforts to expand France's borders to the Rhine brought a series of Wars. France competed with England Spain for control of overseas empires (India and North America). The French lost most of that empire in the overseas conflicts associated with the Seven Years War. French resentment was a factor in their support of the American colonies. The cost was a factor leading to the French Revolution, a major turning point in European history. The Revolution inspired some of the great ideals of the Western spirit, but unlike the American Reolution degenerated into the Great Terror. The Napoleonic Wars convulsed Europe in a series of wars until Napoleon's defeat (1815). The Congress of Vienna attempted to restablish the Ancien Regime. Afterwards France again began to build an overseas empire and the Industrial Revolution began to transform France. The restored Bourbon monarchy was finally replaced during the Revolution of 1848 with the Second Republic and Louis Napoleon's Second Empire. It was during his reign that Italy unified and after the disastrous Fraco-Prussian War that Germany unified. The loss of Alsace-Loraine created an embitered France seeking revenge. Louis Napoleon was replaced by the Third Republic. Kaiser Wilhem's disastrous diplomacy allowed France to negotiate a treaty with Russia and gradualy improve relations with Britain. Thus when World War I broke out France had allies. In the end France was saved by American intervention as it was again in World War II. After the War, France fought two colonial wars, but still lost its empire. It also persued a new relationship with German and European integration. France under DeGualle proved a divisive member of the Western alliance resisting Soviet expansion duruing the Cold War.
Until the Industrial Revolution, French economic history was dominated by one simple fact--the tremendous fertility of French agriculure. Ceasar's conquest of Gaul greatly increased the wealth and power of the Roman Empire. Until the conquest of Gaul, Rome was a Mediterranean rather than a European power. With the fall of Rome, the wealth generated by French farmers ensured that France would be an economic and thus political power in medieval Europe. This was especially true as Germany, which should have been the dominant European power, was rent by the conflict between the papacy and Emperor and would not be united until the 19th century. France was also a divided country, but gradually unified around Paris and the French monarchy, France thus became the most powerful continental power for centuries, sustined by its growing popultion and amazingly productive soil. As Europe emerged from the medieval era, France did not pursue the Inquisition like Spain and the Papacy in Italy, thus the country did not become an intelectual backwater like those countries. At the same time it did not become a major intelectual center like England. Nor did become a center of capitalis, like England and the Netherlands. Rather France was constrained by the Feudal system and royal absolutism which inhibited the ability of individuals to develop their talents and abilities. France remained a major power, but in many ways was more backward than England, a much smaller power. England and France had fought the 100 Years wars in the medieval era. At the dawn of the modern era, Louis XIV launched a major effort to expand France's borders. This initiated two cdnturies of intermittent warfare with England and other nrigbors. Given the greater size and potential richness of France, one might have expected France to emerge the victor. This did not occur. French defeats in a series of war stemmed lrgely because its economy was still largely feudal while Britain embraced capitalism fueled by a maritime economy which would give birth to the Industrial Revolution. France would not begin its own Indistrial Revolution until after the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
France was historically Europe's most populous nation. During the Middle Ages, more than one quarter of Europe's total population is believed to have been French. Although we are nor sure how Russia's population was estimated. It relates to the tremendous fertility of the French soil at a time when agriculture was the primary determinet of national wealth. It points to how important Caesar's conqust of Gaul was. It is quite interesting how after the Norman conquest, England with such a smll popultion was so important. England with population a frction of the French popultion constantly dominated in the Hundred's Year War. A factor here was wheat. It was the crop people wanted to grow to produce bread. Norhern Europe meaning Germany, England, and Scandanavia were not good places to grow wheat because of the cold, wet weather. Mot only were yields relatively low, but there were actual crop failures because of the weather. Wheat came out of the warm, dry Middle East. France on the other hand offered a much better climate. This began to change with the European maritime outreach and conquest of the Americas (16th century). Among other results, it brought two especially important new crops to Europe -- potatoes and corn. Potatoes in particular provided farmers the ability to harvest sunstantially larger harvests per acre than when trying to grow wheat. The potato is today recognized as the 'world's heathiest food'. And corn is the most efficent converte of sunlight to carbohydrates. The result was a very rapid explosion of population, especially in Germany and Russia. In only one century, the French population declined from one-quarter to one-fifth (17th century). The last gasp of French dominnce was the Napoleonic Wars (early-19th century). After this the most populace and dominant European powers became Germany and Russia. Germany established its dominance in the Franco-Prussian War as a result of population and industry (1870-71). The question of demographics and a slowing birth rate was a major issue in French society. The birth rate in France began to slow earlier than in the rest of Europe. Population growth was slow in the 19th century, and the reached a nadir in the first half of the 20th century. At the same time France, was surrounded by the growing populations of Germany and the United Kingdom nd Russia further east. Germany and Russia would have their showdown in World War II in which France was reduced to the status of an impotent observer. France experiencd a post-World War II baby boom. Currently the country's fertility rate is close to the replacement level, but this is in part due to high fertility rates among immigrant groups. Racial and ethnic censuses were banned by the French government (1978). This was in part because the terms race and etnicity have dark associations with NAZI Germany. [Bleich] Another factor is the French Goverment's unwilligness to face up to the issue of France's changing demographics.
French designers apparently focused primarily on women's fashions. Unlike neigboring England, they do not appear to have created a lot of new boy's garments. They do, however, seem to have thought of many embelishments for existing styles. Younger French boys like other European boys wore dresses. One garment which did become destintly French was the smock--especially the school smock. Fancy suits for boys were in fact the inspiration for the American Little Lord Faintleroy suit. French boys began wearing short pants in the 1900s and they rapidly replaced the kneepants that boys had been wearing since the mid-19th century. The beret has to be the most versitile head gear in history. What other head gear has been wore by little boys and girls, elite soldiers, scruffy Cuban revolutionariers, boy and girl scouts, shepards, a president's nemesis, and many others more. The beret is another garment commonly associate with France. French boys commonly wore strap shoes, but this was primarily with dressy outfits. I am not sure when boys began to wear closed toe sandals for casual wear.
We do not yet have much information on the materials or fabrics used in French children clothes. We do have some limited information on specific fabrics. Corduroy was a popular fabric for several boys garments because it was hard wearing. It seems less popular for girls. Gingham or vichy cloth was commonly used for smocks. Velvet was used for fancy suits and dresses.
Two common styles worn by French boys were sailor suits and Fauntleroy suits. The sailor suit and sailor styling appears to have been particulatly popular in France. American authoress Frances Hogdsen Burnett lived in Paris for a time and the fancy velvet suits wirn by French children were an inspiration for the Little Lord Fauntleroy suits that became so popular in America furing the late-19th centuty. Some obsevers reported that knited styles were also reported.
Color is a difficult topic because of the black and white photograph used during the 19th and much of the 20th century. And our site uses the photographic record as a major source of information. Black and white photography does show black and white clothing as well as if the coloes were light or dark. But while you can colorize movies, grey scales require some guesses. We are collecting svailable information about color. A major source is of course French art. We notice George Feydeau as a 8-year old boy wearing a black velvet suit with color provided by a light blue bow (1870). A generation later the Faydouu children are dressed in a dark blue velvet Fauntleroy suit and a satin silver dress (1898). Renoir provides us many wonderful color images, although we are less sure about the color accuracy. In general, however, we believe the artistic depictions are a fairly accurate, dependable depiction of color. Another useful source of information is colorized photographs. Many studios offered to colorize the black and white portaits. Some of these colorized images are journey-men's work and very quickly and poorly done. Other are beautifully done. We believe that usually the colorist tried to replicate the colors actually worn, commonly noted by the photographer at the time the portrait was taken, but colors come in mny hues and unlike the artist, the colorist could not capture the specific hues. There were also some issues. Trying to colorize clothes with patterns could be very tedious, in some cases impossible. And we have never seen detailed instructions addressing patterns. Color information is also available in catalogs and advertisements.
Many French boys in the 19th century wore long hair. HBC is unsure about the chronology. Boys in the eraly 19th century wore short hair. I'm not sure when long hair became more common. This was particularly popular among boys from affluent families. Boys from working-class families were more likely to have short hair. Long uncurled hair was worn by French boys. The ringlets that were commonly worn by American boys with long hair were much less common in France. As a result, the long hair worn by French boys often looks unkept. Perhaps for this reason, hair bows were more common for boys than in other countries. After the turn of the 20th century, long hair declined in popularity. Boys that did continue to wear long hair tended to wear it at lengths well above the shoulder.
Americans visiting France in the 19th century thought that the French were overtly very solicitous to their children and much more willing to buy expensive fancy clothes for them. One American observer reoported in 1861 after seeing children in Paris parks, "In this microcosm of society, the innocent gambols of the children present the most interesting episode. At some distance from the social bedlam, where the vices and follies of fashion run riot in unrestrained licentiousness, little boys and girls enjoy themselves in playful amusement and childish freaks. The French are remarkably fond of children. They idolize their prattling little ones, and lavish upon them ummeasured tribute of admiration. Every child is paraded in the streets, in the public walks, at places of amusement, in the most attractive guise, as real master-pices of art. Nothing is too costly or too extravagant that is not cheerfully procured, at great expense, calculated to soothe the vanity of parents and their passion for exterior adornment." [A. Featherman, "Reminiscences of Paris," Debow's Review, Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial Progress and Resources Vol. 31, iss. 4, Oct-Nov 1861, p. 412; New Orleans (pp 404-412)] This attitude continued through the first half of the 20th century.
French fashions, including boys' fashions have had an important impact on fashions in many other countries. This has varied over time and among countries. We note French fashion influences in America and other European countries during the 19th century. A French reader tells us that French fashions were very influential in several European countries after World War II. He believes that there were two exceptions here. One was Spain which bordered France, but was a largely closed society because of the Fascist Franco government. The other exception may have been England which was perhaps had more conservative fashion attitudes. The French fashion industry was very dynamic after World War II. In France this sector was very dynamic after World War II. French fashions were also dominate in French possessions such as French Guiana and Algeria. Boys there dressed as in the metropole (France itself). Little mostly pre-school boys might wear puffed pants rompers. Boys also wore blouses with puffed sleeves and Peter Pan (Claudine collar). Older boys wore short cut shorts rather than rompers. These outfits were worn in the winter as well as the summer.
Old photographs and most illustrations are black and white. Many are also not clear enough to show clothing details. This photographs of old garments can provide useful information. Old clothing is often displayed in museums and very accurately dated. Collectors have photographed their personal collections, although they vary as to how well they have cataloged the items. Other images are available from vintage clothes sales.
One factor which has to be considered in assessing French boys' clothing are regional differences. We do not yet fully understand these differences are their imapact on fashion, but we have begun to collect information. We wonder especially if the German annexation of Alsace-Loraine (1870-1919 and 1940-44) might have resulted in some differences. Many people in northern France, especially Alsace speak German. A French reader, however, reports, that Alsatians never considered themself to be German. They speak a distinct dialect. Maqny Alsatians probably rejected German fashions even during the German ocupation (1870-1918). Nowadays the young people are more likely to speak standard French and can't speak the parents' dialect. One HBC reader reports that his granparents came from Alsace, but moved to Paris in 1870 rather than live under German control. Another important regional difference is the warmer climate of southern France which has affected clothing trends there.
HBC has also developed information on ethnic or folk costumes. This section is of course related to the regional differences section. European countries despite the relatively small sizes are often divied by regional and ethnic differences. While Americans may think of France as a homogenous country, there are in fact many regional differences in France
with distinct ethnic costumes. Interestingly, the French are one of the few European nationalities that did not emmigrate in numbers to the United states. As a result, there are virtually no important French ethnic celebrations in America. HBC at this time has only limited information on French folk costumes.
Boys engage in a variety of activities from choral singing to athletics. Other major activities include dance, music, school, Scouting, summer camp, and much more. Athletics seems to have been less important in France than in America and England, in part becaise of the higly academic orientation of the school system. Many of these activities have destinctive clothing or even uniforms. HBC has begun to collect information on these activities and the clothing associated with them over time. A French reader stressesm however, that boys' and other clothing styles were suprisingly similar throughout France. This is in part due to the centralized system that French leadersm especially Louis XIV and Napoleon built.
A variety of institutions play an important role in the lives of French children. The most important of course is the schools. France lagged behind the Germans in establishing public schools, but after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), France rapidly constructed one of the world's premier public education systems. France also created one of the most advanced public health care system. There are decidicated children's health instituions. The Germans were largely responsible for conceiving the sansatoria, or closed instututioinal approach for treating infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis. Santoria treated both adults and children. some special children's sanatoria were opened on France, but there cwere other dedicated facilities for childrenm suycj as the The French preventoria and aerium centers.
Other important institutions included orphanages and reformatories.
HBC has begun to collect information and images of families around the world. We believe that this helps to put the more individualized photographs of boys into a more complerte fashion and social context. These images not only show what the other menbers of the family (sisters, mothers, and fathers) were wearing, but also the homes and activities over time and of different social classes. Styes not only varied over time, but also on other variables such as social class. Such information is often difficult to discern from individua portraits. While the individual portraits provide more details on the actual fashions they often provide only cluses as to some of the sociological and historical trends which HBC is also pursuing.
Much of our assessment of French boys' fashion depicts middle-class and to a lesser extent uper-class. This is because the phtographic record, especially the 9th and early-20 century photographic recird, is biased towrd thwe affluent classes. And HBC in its assessments relies heavily on photography. These were the people most likely to have portraits taken. A French reader writes, "Boys from upper and middle class families boys were dressed almost alike during the first half of the 20th century, except for the quality of the garments. In French families very often mothers, grandmothers, and aunts were often very skilled at making clothes. Skills in embroidery, sewing, and knitting. So often boys in large families wore beautifull embroidered rompers with embroidery." There were some differences, principally well-off parents often bought many more garments and these children had a larger wardrobe including more dress up garments or special occassions. Also wealthier families tended to dress children in more juvenile styles for a longer period. There were significant differences with poor families. Working class boys were a different matter. We have far fewer images of working-class children. We do not see anything like the social photo journalism like we find in America. We have, however found a few images. The French scholl smock was introduced largely to cover up the differences in how children with different socio-economic backgrounds were dressed. These childrenes were dressed less fashionably and often began wearing long pants like adults at an early age. These differences varied over time and begun to decline after World War I, both for working-class children and farm/peasant children. After World War II and especially the 1960s these class detinctions in how French children dressed became less apparent.
French mail order catalogs and advertisments help to illustrate destinctive French clothing styles and changes over time in those styles. Currently we have only limited entries here. French readers are incouraged to submit any old catalogs and periodical advertisemenys they may have access to. We are especially interested in entries that can be dated by year.
HBC at this time has only limited information on specific French companies. One French reader has mentioned the "La Redoute" catalog was well known throughhout France. The clothing offered is a good indicator of styles that were widely worn in France and by French people in overseas locations. The some styles were also widely worn in Belgium. A HBC reader reports that the major French department stores were: Les galeries Lafayette, Au bon Marché (HBC has noted advertising from this store), La Samaritaine, La belle jardinière, Le Louvre, and Le Printemps. Au Louvre was a large department store in the centre of Paris. It was particularly well regarded for its luxury good. Many Americans shop here when visiting Paris. French readers are encouraged to submit any information they may have of these stores, including any recollections of the clothes purchased for them from these stores as boys.
Practicly all French mothers after World War I in the 1920s got a sewing machine " Singer "when she married. The smocks and embroideries were commonly hand made at home. Girls were taught sewing in the schools and thus were skilled at sewing. French Mothers were proud to show off their nicely dressed girls and boys when they met friends on the street. The children wore garments with beautiful embroidery and smocking. A reader writes, "The poor father had to work more and more to pay that. It was normaly for the mother to keep the household money. The monthly family benefits were obligatory delivered in the own hand to mothers
and by cash. ntill 1960, the paying agent came inside each houses and could ask to see at the children.
I have had some difficulty in working with French images as I have found it sometimes difficult to identify the gender of the children. Of course this is in part a reflection of French children's fashions when the gender of the child is not clearly defined. Available images of French children show somewhat fancier styles than worn by boys in many other countries. Italian boys also sometimes wore fancy styles, but boys in most other countries did not. Fashions in most other countries were not as fancy and the differences between gender were much more clearly defined.
France has has one of the worls's greatest artistic heritages. Some of the world's most renowned artists were French. This is particularly true of the 19th century. France is also a renowned center for fashion. Thus French art is an extremely valuable orce for fashion historians. Some of the most fascinating 19th century images come from France, especially the late 19th century impressionists. Thus there are many wonderful portraits providing valuablr information on the history of fashion.
The important early work in photography was done in France and England. French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce is credited with the achievement of creatingh the first permanent photograp (12826). He produced photographic images on polished pewter plate which he covered with a petroleum derivative called bitumen of Judea. The bitumen hardened when exposed to light. The unhardened material which were the dark areas of an image could then be washed away. The polished metal plate was a negative. Niépce produced a positive print by coating the pewter plare with ink and pressing it on paper. Next Niépce began experimenting with iron compounds. He had read about Johann Heinrich Schultz work with iron and chalk mixture that darkened when exposed to light (1724).
Niépce (in Chalon-sur-Saône) began working with and Louis Daguerre (in Paris). Together they refined the silver process.
Hercules Florence, a French-Brazilian painter and inventor, invented a silver process which he called Photographie. It does not seem to have made a major commercial impact. Niépce died of a stroke (1833). He left his papers and experimental notes to Daguerre who continued working to refine the still primitive photographic process. Daguerre was not a trained scientist. He managed, however, to make made two critical discoveries. First he found the critical neceessary chemical steps. This was a two step process. He used iodine vapour on the plate before exposing it tgo light. Then after the exposure he used mercury fumes. This brought out a latent image. Second, bathing the exposed plate in a salt bath fixed the image. Daguerre announced his invention (1839). Fox Talbot in England after hearing of Daguerre's success, announced his work. Commercial photography began with the Daguerreotype. While France was the leader in photography with the Daguerreotype, for some reason we have bren able to find few Frencg dags. We are not sure why this is. One source says that the French government bought the patent and made it public domain. Our understanding is tht Daguerre persued copy rught struggles with immitators. The Daguerreotype was a huge hit in America and large numbers of studios were operned. Apparently this did not occur in France. As the name suggests, the origins of the carte-de-viste (CDV) using a negative process was French (1851). Another source indicates that a French photographer, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, introduce the CDV (1854). We do not, however, begin to see many actual examples until the end of the decade.
There is a great deal of fashion information in literature. As it is literature and not actual history, the comments on clothing have to be taken with caution. Authors vary as to how accurately they write about fashion and other historical cultural matters used to flesh out their plots and characters. Of course the most reliable fashion references are those in contemprary works. There are various types of literature of interest to HBC. We note useful information in both novels and children literature. Of course one helpful aspect of many books are the often fascinating references or even discussions of clothing.
One good source of information on French boys clothes is French movies, especailly films set in contemporary periods. The French film industry has made some beautiful films about boys, including both school films and coming of age films. Two wonderful classics are Auervoir les Infantes (France, 1990?) and Murmer of the Heart (France, 1971). Clothes and school uniforms worn during the 1940s are shown in Auervoir les Infantes (1990?). Clothes and school uniforms worn a decade later are depicted in Murmer of the Heart, including the white knee socks worn by schoolboys at Catholic colleges (private secondary-level day and boarding schools). Zero for Conduct (France, 19??) is another well known film. A film made by Americans, but shot in France is Happy Road (US, 195?).
One good source of information on French boys' clothes during the early 20th century is postcards. Children were a popular subject for cards during this period. Many of these cards have been carefully saved by collectors in France and other countries. The clothes depicted are sometimes fancier than those actually worn. Often they seem to be idealized images depicting how mothers would have liked dress their boys rather than how they were actually dressed. The images do, however, show some of the styles that boys might wear for dressy occasions.
A reader reports that the Musée Galliera, now the fashion museum of the City of Paris, has extensive exhibits on children's clothing. She tells us that the Museum often has exhibitions about children's clothes in France. The "La Mode et l'enfant 1780-2000" exhibition in 2001 was especially informative.
HBC has acquired information on several French boys over a wide range of years. Some are accounts contributed to HBC by readeres. Others are biographical accounts or images which have the mame of the child. These individual accounts provide some useful details on French boys clothing over time.
A French reader writes us, "The HBC pages on France give a very accuate view of boys' clothing and childhood trends in France. On the internet there is very little useful information about historic children's clothing and chilodhood experiences in France and other coujntries as well. Perhaps it is becaus that so many readers are young people. I am firmly convinced that we need the baby boom generation need to explain the atmosphere of our period to the new generation. Otherwise when we pass away we will have left without adequately dscribing our era. Already I truly regret not asking my father about his childdhood and what his life was like in the early 20th century. He is gone now and it is too late. I know much more about my mother, because I lived a time at my granparents home."
Bleich, Erik. "Race Policy in France" (Brookings Institution).
Children's Fashion 1860-1910, from Modes de Illustre (Dover Books). There are fashion illustrations from a French Magazine, and illustrates European preferences.
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