Historical Girls' Clothing: Countries--United States

American girls dresses 19th century
Figure 1.--This cabinent card portrait shows dresses being worn by teenage American girls in 1882. Long hair was very popular for girls, but we see some girls with very short hair. A reader asks, "How do you know the teen on the left is a girl? There are some attributes to the dress along with the short hair and boyish face that made me uncertain? Explaining how you know would be an interesting addition to the page." Click on the image for a discussion of this issue.

We have only begun our assessment of American girls clothes. We hope to eventuslly have aetailed chronology. American girls like girls in other countries wore dresses throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century. We do not know a great deal about dresses at this time. We believe dress styles were largely set in Europe throughout the 19h century. We do not, however, know to what extent American and European dress styles varied. We want to develop information on fashion trends over time. We also want to see how girls' dress styles compared to adult women's styles. This will be very useful in improving our ability to date old photographs, many of which are not dated. Not only did girls wear dresses in the 19th century, but so did younger boys. Girls continued to wear dresses in the 20th century. Only after World War II do we commonly see girls wearing other garments. We begin to see girls wearing pants in the 1920s and 30s, but mostly in casual situations. Only in the 1960s do we see girls commonly wearing pants. Here American girls led the way for a trend that would be followed in ther countries. Gradually in the 20th century it became popular for girls to wear boys' styles like shirts and jeans. In sharp contrast to the 19th century, boys' did not wear girls' styles. We note girls wearing a wide variety of hair styles, ranging from very short ro very long. The short cuts in many instances look rather boyish.

Chronology

We have only begun our assessment of American girls clothes. We hope to eventually have a detailed chronology. For centuries children were dressed like small versions of their parents. This was the case for both boys and girls. For girls this meant wearing dresses styled just like those of their motyhers, including both styles and fearures such as sleeves, collars, waislines, and hem lines. Girls had the sme hemlines as their mothers. This did not begin to change until the 18th century. Changes in the 18th century were modest and related primarily to clothing technology. The principal change was the dedvelopment of the technology to produce low-cost cotton textiles, This had eprofound consequences in partr because people at the time spent far more of their income on cloyhing than is the case today. But these new lihht0-weight cootion fabrics were especially suitable for children, although such clothing appeared only slowly. These changes primarily occurred in Europe but affected the American colonies as well as the clothing/textile industry and after independence the new United states also pursued its own industrial revolution which as in England was first focused primarily on textiles. The first dedicated children's clothing was the skeleton suits boys began wearing in the late-18th century. Dedicated girls' clothing first appeared in the early-19th century. Here boys' clothing was the earliest styles to developed. The skeleton suit was followeds by tunics in the early-19th century. We also see boys wearing short jackets and trousers. Dedicated girls styles were slower to develop, but we do see girls wearing aprons and pinafores made with the new cotton fabrics. This continued througout the 19th century. Girls continued wearing dresses styled like their mothers, but hem lines began to change. Women wore dresses with long hemlines. Girls were allowed to wear dresses with more practical, shorter hem lines. This was govdrnecd by age and not style in the 19th century. Girls throughout the 19th century wore either dresses or skirts. Amelia Bloomer make a splah with her bloomers, but very few girls actually wore them. All this changed in the 20th century, especially after World War I. Styles for girls became the standard. Shirley Temple populsrized very short hem lines for younger girls. We see girls wearing rompers, short pants anmd long pants, at first for casual wear. As late as the 1960s girls almost always wore dresses or skirts to school.. We see girls, by the 1970s, wearing pants more and more, n all kinds of situatiions--including schools. These trends occured first in America, but gradually took hild in Europe and other areas.

Styles

We do not have a lot of infirmation on popular American girls' styles yet. We do not the popularity of sailor styles.

Garments

American girls like girls in other countries wore dresses throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century. We do not know a great deal about dresses at this time. We believe dress styles were largely set in Europe throughout the 19h century. We do not, however, know to what extent American and European dress styles varied. We want to develop information on fashion trends over time. We also want to see how girls' dress styles compared to adult women's styles. This will be very useful in improving our ability to date old photographs, many of which are not dated. Not only did girls wear dresses in the 19th century, but so did younger boys. Girls continued to wear dresses in the 20th century. Only after World War II do we commonly see girls wearing other garments. We begin to see girls wearing pants in the 1920s and 30s, but mostly in casual situations. Only in the 1960s do we see girls commonly wearing pants. Here American girls led the way for a trend that would be followed in ther countries. Gradually in the 20th century it became popular for girls to wear boys' styles like shirts and jeans. In sharp contrast to the 19th century, boys' did not wear girls' styles.

Hair

we also notice American girls wearing a wide range of hair style. This included short, boyish styles as well as long hair styles, both curled and uncurled. we also notice the frequent use of bows. Many of the girls' sty;es were also worn by boys, but usely not at the same time. A good example was long ringlet curls. They were also worn by boys, especially during the Fauntleroy era. We note that mothers who did their sons hair in ringlets, often refraimed from that style with their daughters. There were of course major differences chronologically in the popularity of different styles. There was one consistent element over time in girls's hair styling. hat was a center hair part. It is the most valid element in assessing unidentified images. Boys attimes had center parts, but the primary trend in boys hair styling was and continues to be a side part. Girls on the other hand durng the 19th anf 20th century genrally had center parts. A factor here is that girls and women often had long hair and a center part is the most fuctional way of styling long hair. Both short and long styles.

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Created: 12:43 AM 9/18/2007
Last updated: 1:46 AM 12/16/2011