*** historical girls' clothing fashion costume styles countries

Africn girls clothing
Figure 1.--This is an African girl from German East Africa (probably modern Tanazania) in 1906. The textile looks to have been woven locally. We are not sure about the styke of the dress. Most African girls at the time did not civer their tops. But ciaral Tanazanania was influrnced by Aran traders and this girl's family may hace been ibfluenced by German mussionaries. Source: Bundesarchiv / German Federal Archive.

Historical Girls' Clothing: Countries

We are just beginning out sdtudy nof girls clothing. As with the boys, girls since time menorial wore the scaled down clothing of their mothers. Clothing specufucally designed for children are amodern cioncept first appearing fairly recently (late-18th century), first for boys. This was part pf the recognition that childood was a distinct phase of human development with their special behavior and needs. Dedicated girls clothing took longer to develop. All of this took place first in Europe. We do not yet know much about girls clothing in individual countries, but have begun our investigation. Until the 1960s this primarily mean dresses. We do not know dress styles varied chronologically or by country. We keep hoping a reader will assist us with this enterprise. In the interim we will begin to collect images and information from various countries. There are quite a number of images archived in the HBC site that can be useful here. We will eventually index the outfits being collected in the chronology section by countries. We will wait, however, until we have a more extensive number of entries in the chronological section. Here are the pages with discusss girls clothing in different countruies around the world, both traditional and modern styles. As with boys clothing, the traditional styles ahd given way to Western styles. In some coiuntries, children wear Western styles before changing to traditional styles as they move toward adulthood.


We are just begimming our assessment of African girls clothing. A historical assessment is very difficult because photography is very limited until the Scranble for Africa ked Europeans into the African interior. Thus we are not entiresly sure what Afrcan giels were wearing before this time. And even before this time Western trade goods inclusing in expensive cotton textiles had reached the remoterest interior of Africa. Thus we simply do not know what girls were wearing before the arrival of Europeans. The earliest African textile from sub-Saharan Africa we know of is kente cloth which originated in the area of modern Ghana. A popular Ghanaian legend assugns the creation of kente cloth to Asantehene Osei Tutu, the Asante kingdom's first leader. Tutu named the cloth 'kente', meaning basket, and adopted the fabric as a royal cloth for special occasions. Tutu (1660-1712/17), conquering several small kingdoms and selling captives into slavery--creating the Asante Empire. He accomplished this in part by the wealth associated with his participation in the slave trade. He is credited with expanding the Asante throughout most of Ghana and introducing his subjects to the gold and slave trades along the West African coast. He was heavily involved in the slave trade. Interesting that Democratic Congressmen kneeling in the Congress were wearing a cloth assocuated with an African leader so strongly involved in the slave trade. African clothing is the traditional clothing worn by the people of Africa. In all instances except rural areas these traditional garments have been replaced by Western clothing introduced by European colonialists. Wealthy African women might have wirn kente cloth. Children are another matter. Younger children in tropical Africa commonly went naked, especcially the boys. Girls even younger girls were mnore kilely to have were more likely to have some sort of basic clothing. And this was thhe general situation until the mid-20th century. There were two foreign clorhing infliences. Along the coast of East Africa from a n early point, Arab and Ibdian fashion has some impact, but only along the coast. Much later beginning in the mid-19th century, Euroopean missionaries began trying to get children and adults to dress more modestly. Today traditional African clothing has largely disappered, and has been replaced by Western styles introduced by Europeans. The only significant holdouts are peimitive tribes in remote areas. We see African women dressing up in elaborate fashions with luxurious fabics for special events. In most cases these are very modern creations. Any attempt to use the internet to reserach the subject leads one to countless modern creations using western styled dresses with textiles attempung to create African looking textile patterns that have very little foundation in actual historical styles.

Latin American girls clothing
Figure 2.--These Mexican children are dressed up in colorful traditional garments for a patritotic parade looking to commemorte the Mexican Revolution. The girls are wearing beautifully embroidered huipil blouses.

America, Latin

Latin American clothing is quite diverse as a result of the many different influences. The two most important influces are of course Ameri-Indian and Iberrian. The Amerindian infliences are endlessly diverse because there were so many different civilizations spread over a huge area. The Unca in parucuklar were nasrer wevers and had luxueuous guanaco and alpaca wool to work with. Primitive tribes in the Caribbedan area largely went naked, but the more advanced civilizatiins dressed oppulently and some of their styles have survived. Naby Latin American styles tiday are Ibreraian styles with Aner-Indian touches. Most of the region was settled by Iberians (Portugal and Spain) and thus left a much less diverse, but dominant influences. Iberian influences meand Portugal and Spain, but here the styles of thise two countries were very similar. Portugal has only one colony in the Americas--Brazil, but it is half of South Aneuca. Brazilian fashions have more African influences than Spanish America. Brazil was the primary destination for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. There are other European infliences than Portugal and Spain, but none so imoortant until modern times. The bowler hats Bolivian women wear are a tribute to British salesmanship. American views of Latin American styles are heavily inflience by Mexico, our southern neigbbor. Many of these Mexican styles are not worn in the Caribban and South Anerica. There are many destinctive Latin American garments. A shoirt list includes the Bahiana dress, chamanto (a poncho variant), flamenco skirts, gaucho, huipil, lace (such as nanduti), lliclla, mantilla, mestizaje dresses, nontera, pallera (wide skirt), pollera colora, poncho, rebozo, ruffled dresses, Rumba dress (bata Cubana), and trencilla costume. We also notice peasant tops with large ruffles and off the shoilder sleeves, but do not know the proper term. Notice the many Poeruguese/Spanish terms, a testinony to the Iberian influence. Independence many more diverse influences have become important, styles from Europe and eventually the United States.


We note Argentine girls wearing European fashions. We notice two Argentine girls wearging fashionable dresses in 1932.



We have very little informtion on Uruguay. We suspect thht girls fashions were very similar to those of Argentina with a common Spanish foundation and similar levels of European migration in the late-19th and early-20th century. We bote an unidentified Uruguayan girl wearing a smocked fress and striped long stockings in 1877.

American girls clothing
Figure 3.--This is a portrait attributed to Americab artist Joseph Goodhue Chandler (1813-40) wjo was active in New England. We would estimate that it was painted in the 1840s. The children are wearing European styles.

America, North

North America is dominated by the United States demographivally, evomovally, and geographically. Anerican fashions were dominated by European styles through the 19th century. In part becase of the huge growth of the American economy, including the fashion industry, the United States began to diverge from Europe. Fashion is closely associated with economucs. The diffence with Europe, however, more prounounced with boys' clothing than girls' clothing. It is often possible to identify the nationality of children based on their clothing--especially boys, but much more difficult for girls. The United States shares North America with Canada to the north and Nexuco and Central America to the south. As the prumary fashion influence in Canada and the United States was Britain, differences between the two countries were not significant. American influences became increasingly important in the 20th century. We have chosen to archive Mexico and Central America under Latin Ametica as the cultural influences are more important than geography. We see real differences in dress styles which were strongly infienced by Iberian, especially Spamish styles. This began to change with the the Mexican Revolution (1910). The Revolution was part of the reason, but the growing Amerivan economy was certainly more important. A result of the commectins between weakth and fadhion. From that point American styles become increasingly important. The primary factor here was the large Anerican fashion industry and onvreasing trade and commerce with the United States. Even before migration became importany. Hollywood and then television were important cross border infliences.

Asian girls clothing
Figure 4.--Here we see Japanese school girls. Sailor outfits are the standard school uniform for girls in Japan. There are many different styles. This of course was a Eiropean style.


In the world of fashion, surely the most fascinating and diverse womens' clothes come from Asia. And of course for a Westerner, they are the most exotic costumes we note. And for a long period only Asian women had access to silk, a particularly important fabric for beautiful, luxurious clothing. Of course Asia is a huge, diverse continent where we see a dizzing variety of styles. Asia is the largest continent in both area and population. And until modern times the wealthiest continent as Marco Polo repourted to the anazement of Europeans. And wealth from time menoirial has been a key factor in fashion. Important Asian geographic features separated populations, creating the possibility of such diverse fashions to develop in all their variety and spendor. Unlike Europe, there is not the same detiled artistic tradition of painted depictions. So we know less about historic eras. And the photographic record is not nearly as extensive as it is for the West, eppecially during the 19th and early-20th century. Many of these historical, traditional styles have disappeared as Western fashions have been so wideky adopted, especially for children. Many traditional styles are rather like folk costuming in the west, worn more for special occassions than every day. In other countries they are still everyday dress. We do not note special styles for children. Girls wore small editions of their mothers' outfits. Today girls in many countries are more likely to wear Western styles, especially for school. Some of the most important styles come from China, India, Japan, and Korea. There are also many fascinating styles in Southeast Asia. Of course in large countries like China and India there are many regional differences. In additionn to the bright colors and beautiful styles in much of Asia, we also notice drab cover everything approached in many Muslim countries of western Asia. At this time we have just begun our assessment and would be inteested in reader input.

Euopean girls clothing
Figure 5.--Here we see a studio portait of a Serbian girl in 1937. She wears a simple dress with a lkarge white collar with white socks and strap shoes. Notice her huge hair bow.


The fashion history of Europe is a well-covered topic, at least women's fashions. It was of course in Europoe that dress and other fenale fashions were created. The dress was the standard garment for women for several centuries. The history of the dress was largely a European story, although by the 20th centuty, Asian influienced began to seep in. Gender conventions were very strict. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in part for wearing men's clothes (15th century). And for centuries girls wore small sized dresses styled like their mother's garments. The basic woman's garment is the dress. It evolved from the robes that both men and women wore in the medieval era. We begin to see modern dresses (15th century), Fortunately this was also by the time that Western art was producinh very realistic depiction of costuming. There is a huge body of evidence including vintage clothing, art, fashion magazines, and photographs. Even before the invention of photography, there were large numbers of art work showcasing women's fashions. Most of this evidence relates to adult women. The dress and skirt continued to dominate women's fashions until after the mid-20th century even girls began wearing various boys' garmnents. We have less information about girls until photography. We are slowly adding country pages to our HGC fashion site. Here we are looking forwaed to reader contributions to build our country section. At this time much of our information comes from England, France, Germany, and the United States, but we hope to expand these country pages as our HGC site grows. There used to be vast differences between popular fashions from country to country, although elites tended to follow the same fashion trends. As popular fashions became more standardized, a few countries emerged as fashion setters, espoecially England, France, and Germany. France was especially important as during the medieval era it was such a rich country. And in more recent years it continued to dominate female fashions. The United States became important after World War II. As far as we can tell, girls's styles were less country specific than boy' styles, but this is just our initial assessmen.

Middle Eastern girls clothing
Figure 6.--Here we see traditiomally dressed Saudi women with their young girls in 1979. The girls wear modern Western clothing. Girls were required to dress like thie mothers upon reaching puberty. Parents often took this step earlier so the girls could be acostumed to the hijab earier. This varies from country to country. The 'Koran' does not soecify garments like the hijhab, only that men and women must dress modestly.

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa include two of the river valley cradles of civilization (Mesopotamia and Egypt). Civilization meant that the socities were generating wealth and far more attention was given to clothing and fashion than hunter-gatherer societies. Persia and Turkish tribes later emerged as another force and genrator of fashion. Much of the arrea was dominated by first Greece abd then Rome/Byzantium which also exerted fashion influences. Other fashion influences were exerted by Arabs and Bedouin tribes. The entire area would be dominated by Islam as a result of the Arab outburst from the Arabian Peninsula and military conquests. And Islam had very definite attitudes toward fashion. Fashionnin the area developed as almagum of Islamic teachings blended with Arab and local trends, including bedouin fashions. Turkish fashions became important as the Ottoman began to conquer the Arab lands (16th century). These early fashion trends sre important because they carried over to modern times which was ot the case in the West. Western fashions began to have some influence, especially after Europeans began to colonize the area (1830s). Western fashions became very imortant in urban areas (early- and mid-20th centutry). Peole in rural areas continued to wear traditional garments. This continued into the de-colonization era after World War II. This began to change with the failure of Arab socialism (1970s) and many in the region began to turn to fundamentalist Islamic movements which was reflected in fashion and dress conventiins, in some cases enforced by Islamic clerics and the fashiion police.

Oceania girls clothing
Figure 7.--Oceania included some of the most isoalted places on earth. It was largely colonized by Europeans, but in most plaves the European touch was light and native culture was domimnated until World War II. This inclided clothing styles. Only after the War ehen decoloniaztion began fud Western dress become more widely adopted. Grass skirts were the standard attire for girls and women and not just tourist attractions.


Oceania is the islands of the vast Pacific Ocean. While the Pacific is the largest ocean and covers a huge area, it is the southwestern quadrant where most of the more than 30,000 islands and much of the populatiom lives--the area southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. Most of the population in that quadrant is found in the tropical area. This warm tropical climate meant that people did not have to wear heavy bulky clothing, pr actually any clothing at all. The climate provided all the warmth necessary. Thus many inhabitants wore very little clothing. The women and girls tended not to wear tops. Boys often did not wear any clothes and at all and men very little. Women and girls often wore only a skirt made of plant fibers of some kind around their waists. The famed grass skirt originated in Oceania. Weaving developed, but most of the inhabitants did not have weaveable fibers like wool and cotton or any real need for them. Instead of clothing, the people of Oceania practive all kinds of elaborate body decoration, more so than any other region. The major exceptions were in the exreme south with tempeate climates (Australia and New Zealand). These islands were settled by Europeans. All of oceania was colonized by Europeans but except in Hawaii the European touch was basically light, in many cases not significatly alring the native culture until after the War. The Philippines was an exceotion. The Spanish did have an impact on native cilture, exceot in the south among the Mulsim Moros.


Australia was founded as a Btitish colony in the late-18th century. Girls fashions were essentilly the same as fashions in Britain. The only important difference we can detect is that it was more common for children to go barefoot in Australia. We see the same styles and fashion chnges over time. Australian children spent more time outdoors which affects the clothing chosen, but the stupes and basic garments were the same. Girls only wore dresses and skirts throughout the 19th century. In the 20th century, especilly after World War I we begin to see rompers and shirts, but dresses continued to be the standard garment. World War II was a turning point for Australia. Contacts widen with other countries especilly the United states. We see american styles becoming popular, especially active wear. Dresses comntinue to be stndard wear. Girls only wore drsses to school. By the 1960s we begin to see girls commonly wearing garments other thn dresses. As many Australian schools have British-style uniforms, dresses and skirts coninued to be standard schoolwear.


New Zealand

Europeans did not arrive on New Zeland in numbers until the early-19th cerntury and as in other countries, proceeded to dispossess the native Maoris. The British Government set upon annexatiion and colonizatiion (1839). This kled to conflict with the Maoris. New Zealand aas at first ruled from Australiam, but quickly became a separate colony. As in Austrakia, clthing styles were basically British with some cobcessiion to the local climate. Noth Island is much warmer than Britain, but South Island as a climate more similar to Britain. We do not yet have much infornmation on girl's clothing in New Zealand, but we expect to find little difference from Britain. New Zealand of all British colonies ha tended to have the greatbafinitywith Britain. World War II had a huge imopact on New Zealand and we begin to see as in Australia some American impact on fasion. One major difference with New Zealand is the Maori, a more advanced natuive populatiion than Ayustraian aboriginies. The Maori had destinctive clothig styles.



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Created: 12:18 AM 3/17/2007
Last updated: 11:58 PM 4/29/2024