The Children and Clothes in French Postcards

Figure 2.--French post cards in the early 20th century appear to provide more informatiion on how mothers wanted to dress their children rather than how most boys were actually dressed.

French postcards provide many charming images of children in the early 20th century. We believe that often these images are how mothers saw and wanted to dress their children, rather than how the children were actually dressed. We believe that some children may have been dressed in these and similar fashions. We do not believe, however, that most French boys were dressed in some of the fancy outfits pictured. One interesting question is who the children were and to what extent they were costumed.

This Post Card

HBC is unsure as to what precisely this means. Although it may look like two girls, we know that since the child on the left wears short pants rather than a dress, he must be a boy. HBC notes that this postcard was mailed in 1929, but the note in the corner says "Audice" (quite old fashioned nowadays) and "Edmond", which seem to be the name of the children and dated 1930. One reader reports, "No real theory about those names. Having had another look at the picture I notice name of girl could well be "Andrée" rather than Audice. Seems more likely and more fashionable." It is aname that is still used still today." HBC wonders if this actually be the names of these children? Another reader speculates, "One possible explanation could be photo was glued in an album and and there was no room left but on picture to record year and heroes."

The French reader who provided this image writes, "This photo is for me rather a mystery . It was among the photos of my family. My brother and I, however, don't know the who the two children are. Also writen at the back is "Andrée et Edmond". There was no other message. This photo is black and white and never sent. At this time (probably the 1930s) the photographs ordered from photographers could be printed as post cards. This allowded them to be sent to relatives so this option was very popular. The postcards sold to the public and produced in larger quantities were more commonly sold in color (hand painted)."

The Children

HBC is unsure as to just who the children in the postcards were. We do not believe that in the early 20th century that there was any kind of agency to go to for child models as might be the case today. Rather the children might be relatives of the photographer or children of associates or friends. The photographs were often taken by photographers operating studios. A French HBC reader writes, "Before 1950 the photographers some time asked the permission of clients to use photographs taken of their children. These children would also be costumed and posed for postcards. The parents involved were apparently quite pleased that their children had been selected. In addition they often received free postcards." There were many Paris studios that did this and the practice was presumably common in other French cities as well, although the postcard industry was centered in Paris. Some parents had photos made as post cards and sent them to relatives. We believe that these children were photographed in their own clothes rather than costumed.

A French HBC reader reports that in the 1940s he and his brother were photographed for such cards, but unfortunately does know if cards were ever produced. He reports that, "My brother and were photograohed three or four times during 1949-51. I would have been about 6-8 years old and my brother 4-6 years. We were in our own clothes which were rather elegant as my mother liked to dress us well. I remember that my little brother was a little afraid of the photographic studio! They studio portrits were different from the family photos because we had to do several differente poses. I perfectly recall that the studio was decorated with artificial flowers. About 1951 I was photografed with a little girl that I did not know. In 1963 I saw one of these photos. Unfortunately I don't know where they are today. If anyone can find them and E-mail to me I would be most appreciative. They were marked: "SM" Studio Mignot. On those one can seen two 2 brothers 5/6 years. Another is a a girl with a boy 7 years old along with a child's weelbarrow."


It is possible that some of the children appearing in the French postcards wore their own clothes. We rather suspect, however, that most of the children were costumed. Perhaps the photographers specializing in these postcard photos kept costumes. We do not yet have information on this.

Hair Styles

One interesting aspect of these cards is the hair styles. Costumes could of course be put on specially for these cards. A boy could hardly grow hair long just for a postcard photograph. Thus this must have been the boys' normal hairstyles. HBC is, however, just speculating here and would be interested in reader thoughts on the subject.

French Post Cards

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.

French Fashion Attitudes

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.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: October 27, 2001
Last updated: October 31, 2001