American Boys' Clothes: Literary References in Novels

Figure 1.--

There is a great deal of interesting fashion information in American novels. Often novels incluse useful information about the time and place in which the novel is set. These references are of course most useful when the novel is describing contemporary society. Here the references to social customs, clothes, entertainments, etc. or most likely to be accurate. There are useful refrence to fashion in novels for the simple reason that fashion is important to people. Novels are all about describing the human condition. Thus novelists have to address what is important to people. Not all novels however, have fashion information. Of course a major part of any novel is developing the character of the key people in the novel. Of course many people express their character in the clothes they choose. In other instances clothes are determined by the circumstances in which they find themselves. There areseveral references to clothing in the books by Frances Hogdsen Burnett, especially Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Loisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott published Little Women, in 1869, right after the Civil War (1861-65) in the United States. One passage in the book describes that when the family first sees her newborn twins, a boy and a girl, Meg says, "I put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink on the girl, French fashion, so you can always tell them apart." A HBC reader writes, "This would have been useful in the days when baby boys and girls were dressed alike. However, this is much earlier then I have usually heard that gender color conventions originated. I remember reading that at one times babies were generally dressed in pale colors, and then pink became the boys' color and blue the girls', then it switched. But I don't remember where this was so I really can't confirm it. Perhaps the current gender colors began in Europe, as Meg mentions borrowing from a French custom. This would be an interesting thing to look into. Also, I wonder where Meg put the bows? On thier hair? Pinned to their clothes, maybe? Alcott doesn't say." [Zanowic] HBC thinks that gender color conventions probably did originate in Europe. Until very recently most fashion conventions did. we re not positive yet, however, that the convention was of French origins. HBC is resesearching the topic of gender color conventions. We think here that the reference is to bows on clothes as new born children often have little hair. If the children were older, hair bows would be quite likely for both boys and girls.

Francis Hodgseoe Burnett

Francis Hobson Burnett originally conceived of the Little Lord Fauntleroy story as a way of entertaining her children. She published the book in 1886. She also published several other books, the text and illustratins to which include interesting discritions/illustrations of boys' clothes during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. She has two other very famous books. One was The Secret Garden, in which the rich boy, Colin, is often depicted in a Fauntleroy suit. It has also been produced in film and TV productions as well as a Broadway musical. Another of her books was The Little Princess, made into a notable 1930s movie staring Shirley Temple.

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe writes, "Light came and went and came again, the booming strokes of three o'clock beat out across the town in thronging bronze from the courthouse bell, light winds of April blew the fountain out in rainbow sheets, until the plume returned and pulsed, as Grover turned into the Square. He was a child, dark-eyed and grave, birthmarked upon his neck--a berry of warm brown--and with a gentle face, too quiet and too listening for his years. The scuffed boy's shoes, the thick-ribbed stockings gartered at the knees, the short knee pants cut straight with three small useless buttons at the side, tbe sailor blouse, the old cap battered out of shape, perched sideways up on top of the raven head, the old soiled canvas bag slung from the shoulder, empty now, but waiting for the crisp sheets of the afternoon--these friendly, shabby garments, shaped by Grover, uttered him. He turned and passed along the north side of the Square and in that moment saw the union of Forever and of Now." [Wolfe]


Wolfe, Thomas. The Lost Boy (1937).

Zanowic, Christine. E-mail message, October 13, 2003.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the main American literature page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Essays] [Literature]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossary] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: October 13, 2003
Last updated: January 1, 2004