*** United States boys clothes: mid-19th century -- the 1840s








United States Boys' Clothes: The Mid-19th Century--The 1840s


Figure 1.--Most Daguerreotypes are undated. They were largely taken un the 1840s and 50s with a few in the early-60s. This looks to us like a 1840s Dag. The simple frame and the clothing suggest the 1840s. The Dag was invented in France, but it was in the United states that the photographic industry grew like wildfire. As a result most surviving Dags, especially cased Dags, from the 1840s are American.

Photography was still very limited in 1840s thus limiting the availability of images to illustrate fashion. Even so, Daguerreotype portrait provude a much larger number of images that artists had ever managed to profuce. We see a range of hasts, including straw hats and militarry-sdtyled caps. Younger American boys by the 1840s wore dresses. A good example is Thomas Hardwick about 1840. Note his tasseled Tam o'Shanter. School age boys were no longer wearing skeleton suits and tunics were becoming less common. The ruffled collars still seen as late as the 1830s were being replaced by plainer white collars which still could be quite large. The long trousers enspired by the skeleton suit were now commonly worn by boys after breeching. Kneepants were no widely worn even by quite young boysm but were ot yet very common. We see a lot of boys wearing shirts wih long trousers hekd up by suspenders. America was still quite rural and inexpensive readymade clotthes not available. Boys in the city dressed much smarter with jackets. They were more likely to wear shoes.

Daguerreotype Portraits

Photograhy was essentially invented with the Daguerreotype in 1839. Thus we have photographs for the first time in this decade, almost all studio portraits. Photography was still very limited in 1840s thus limiting the availability of images to illustrate fashion. Even so, Daguerreotype portrait provude a much larger number of images that artists had ever managed to produce. And even though discovered in Europe, it was in America that the photographic industry spread like wildfire. Most of the surviving Dags from the 1840s are Amnericans.

Garments

Thanks to the appearance of photography, almost entiresly Dags, we know mucj more about garments boys wore in the 1840s than any other previous decade. We see a range of headwear, including straw hats, rounded-crown hats, and military-styled peaked caps. Younger American boys by the 1840s wore dresses. A good example is Thomas Hardwick about 1840. Note his tasseled Tam o'Shanter. School age boys were no longer wearing skeleton suits and tunics were becoming less common. The ruffled collars still seen as late as the 1830s were being replaced by plainer white collars which still could be quite large. We note quite a number of boys wearing tunics, mostly pre-school boys, but some older boys as well. The long trousers enspired by the skeleton suit were now commonly worn by boys after breeching. Knee pants were not widely worn even by quite young boys, but were not yet very common. We see a lot of boys wearing shirts wih long trousers held up by suspenders or button-on arrangements. America was still quite rural and inexpensive readymade clothes not available. Boys in the city dressed much smarter with jackets. They were more likely to wear shoes.

Activities

The 1840s is the first decade for which we have photogrphic images. Unfortunately they are almost all studio portraits. This is an important addition to our asessment of children's clothing. We get to see the children and their outfits, but unfortunately nothing more about them. The subjects are just standing or sitting their in front of the camera and dressed in their best clothing. We can tell a liitle about them based on how they are dressed, but nothing more. There are no photographs providing us life style images that offer insights on activities children were involved with. We see a few school portraits, but again mostly children standing in front of their school. We still must rely on artists to see children involved in activities. Artistic genre paintings show children playing and working, providing views of contemporary life. Paintings also provide wonderful insights into everyday clothing and not the children's best clothing usually worn for the photographic portrait.

Armerica's Rise

America at the beginning of the 19th century was a rural country with a small population. Most people still clung to the Eastern Seaboard. European diplomats who were posted in Washington condidered it a hardship post. European navies (especially Britain and France) stopped American shippoig with impunity and impressed American sailors. American institutions such as universities, institutes, and academies were rudimrntary as was the financial system. America did not even have a national currency. Yet by the end of the decade, America haf become an industrial titan, surpassing European countries in poplations and productivity, both agricutural and industrial. Americ had a sophisticated financial system and one of the hardest currencies in the world. And unlike European counries, income was destibuted across a wide social spectrum. American workers had astanbdard of living unknown in Europe, measured not only in dollars, but key indicators like diet and residential living space. A key question economists and historians must ask is how all this occur. There are of course ,any important factors. Abundant natural resources, profuctive land, and the open frontier are of course factors. Other key factors are political democracy, free market capitalism, and a legal systemm based on English common law which protected property and rewarded innovation. Political stability and a system which rewarded investment attracted European capital to America, an especially important factor in developing an critical rail network. America also had a small goverment and military, both which to consume a substantial part of national income in Europe, retarding economic growth.

Families

Photographic studios began to open in America during 1840 and spread very quickly, much more quickly than in Europe. Thus we have many more American Dags than European Dags. The first commercially viable photographic process was the Daguerreotype. We have a few family images which we believe to be from the 1840s. This is difficult to determine because most Daguerreotypes are not dated. The number of 1840s Daguerreotypes was still limited and the cost still relatively high. Thus images from the 1840s are relatively rare. Many are individual portraits of wealthy or important individuals. There are realtively few family portraits. Even so there are more Daguerreotypes than painted portraits which were even more expensive. Thus while 1840s Daguerreotypes are relatively rare, we have more images from the 1840s than the earlier decades of the 19th century. Unfortunately most Daguerreotypes are not dated and we find it extremely difficult to destinguish between 1840s and 1850s Dags. Very early-1840s Dags are rare, but by the end of the decade with the spread of the industry, quite a fews Dags exist.

Hair Styles

We have much more information by the mid-19th century about fashion and hair styles because of the development of photograohy. A substantial number of photographic portraits become available for the first time in the 1840s, while small by later standards, the number of available images was a quatum leap from the number of portraits painted in previous decades. The number of images means that we have a much wider range of social backgrounds depicted. Early Daguerotypes were not cheap, but they were only a fraction of the cost of a painted portrait. That means that they were within the price range of the middle-class as well as some working=class families. Many 1830s styles carried over into the 40s. Daguerreotypes show that hair styles by mid-century had become longer, often worn to or even over the ears. We think that this was a chronolgical trend, but it is possible that social clss was a factor. Less well to do parets might not be a careful with hair grooming. This is something that we need to work out. The problem here is that most Dags ar undated and we find it difficult to destinguish between 1840s and 50s Dags. We have a control for the 1850s in that Ambrotypes were mostly taken in that decade or the early-60s. Virtually all 1840s photographs are Dags. Thus if we do not see a certain style in Anbros, it probably was an 1840s or early-1850s Dag. We would be interested in input from any reader who can help us distingish between 1840s anf 50s Dags. Any reader who has insights on dating Dags would be of great assistance to HBC.








HBC





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Created: 11:35 AM 3/29/2010
Last updated: 11:40 AM 8/11/2022