*** historical girls' clothing fashion costume styles

Historical Girls' Clothing

childrens clothes 1920s
Figure 1.--These two American children, perhaps in South Carloina, look like they may be headed for a 4 of July parade. The photograph was probably taken about 1920. Note that collar bows wre more for boys than girls.

HBC has received so many request by readers for information on girls' fashions that we have decided to provide an index of pages with images of girls' fashions. We had hoped that someone would launch a sister site so to speak. While we do not have the time to persue the styles involved in detail, the images illustrated may prove helpful to readers. We welcome reader comments on the styles illustrated and will post any comments received on the styles involved. We have just recently decided to do this. It will thus be some time before we can list the HBC pages allready loaded. We will try to list all the appropriate new pages as we create them. We will just load pages with particularly clear or noteworthy pages here.


We have done quite a number of biographies of notable women. Quite a number are illustrators and artists as well as literary figures like Elizabeth Barrat Browning. There are also many historical figures like Sakajewea. We also have done a number of biographies of ordinary inviduals. A hood example here are two community girls.


Here is a chronological listing of images posted in HBC showing girls' fshions over time. Note that the image we have elected is not always the image at the top of the page. Note that ther are many images we have not listd here. If you come accross an image in HBC showcasing girls' fashions that you think should be linked, please let us know. Great care has to be taken with 19th century images of unknown provinance because youger boys can often be mistaken for girls. Unfortunately the discussion on the page is often not about the girls dresses and other outfits. We would be glad, however to post any fashion comments about the girls outfits that readers may wish to submit.


There were substantial differences between boys and girls clothing. One of the major differences between boys and girls clothing. One of the major differences was color. Unfortunately much of these differences was lost in the black and white photograohy of the day. Some information is available in paintings, but the number of images was amall fraction of the phoyographic images. Girls' clothing involved a much wider range of cloors than boys clothing. We see mabny bright colors andc pastel hues. The greatest array if colors was ysed in dresses. Other garments like blouses abnd shirts, pinafires, and smocks usualy did not employ the brugter colors. oys tended to wear dark muted colors. Girls also wore clothes with these muted colors, but boys did not wear the brught colors and pastel hues popular with the girls. We see coloorized imagfes aalmost as early as phoyography appeared. It is only with the 20th century, however, that we begin to see actual colored images, althiough it was not until the late-20th century that we see any substbntual number of these color photiographs. Some authors use the modern associations between colors and genders as a way of determining gender in old paintings. There is much reason to believe, however, that the blue-for-boys, pink-for-girls idea is a fairly modern one, even a 20th-century convention. Other colors such as the idea that wedding dresses must be white are fairly recent, many dating to the Victorian era.

Country Trends

We do not know much about girls clothing in individual countries. 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 there are both HBC pasges with discusss girls and children's clothing as well as actual HGC pages sch as the German sisters page.

Difficult Images

HBC has acquired some images that we have found dificult to identify. Readers interested in girls clothing may want to have a look at some of these images.

Gender and Clothes

Clothing and hair style are strongly associated with gender. There are strong conventions involved. Girls wear dresses and long hair and boys wear pants and short hair. These differences are useful in interpreting old photographs when the persons are not idntified or the dates and countries unknown. The problem is that the conventions change over time. Today for example girls commonly wears pants like boys. Many girls in fact dislike dresses. Some conventions are stronger than others. The fasshion trends tend to be one way, girls adopting boys' styles, rarely boys adopting girls styles.


We have not yet done a lot of wirk oin styles yet. Sailor stules were very populsr and a range of garments were done with sailor styling. We have a page on American sailor styling.


Many garments have strong gender connotations in our modern world. The general rule seems to be that girls can wear boys clothes, but boys canot wear girls' clothes. This was quite different in the 19th century when young boys and girls were dress similarly, often in clothing more assocaired with girls. Girls on the other hand were not allowed to war boyish garments like pants. HBC has addressed the topic of just who wore specific garments and styles. We have primarily done this from a boys' point of view, but in fact these discussion contain insights on just what girls were wearing. We will this provid the pertinent links here. Readers should be aware here that there are significant differences over time and among countries. Until after World War II, girls in most countries generall wore dresses and assocaited garments like smocks, pinafores, and pantalettes.

School Uniform

We plan to develop information on girls school uniform. There is some information on girls in the HBC-SU section on boys school uniform, but our information on girls' uniforms and schoolwear is still quite limited. We have begun a gender section in HBC-SU section, but have not yet worked on it to any extent. We have also begun to work on England. England is particularly important because so many school uniform styles originated in England. Garments like blazers, ties, jumpers, gym frocks, school sandals, all seem to be English in origin. Some garments were worn by both boys and girls. Others are destincly for girls only. We note garments worn in other countries, but some have not held up as well as the English styles. We are hoping that a HBC reader interested in school uniform will help us develop this section or even link with a reader with a separate site on girls' school uniforms. Interested readers should contact HBC.

Hair Styles

HBC has some information about girl's hair styling. HBC has collected this information in an effort to help identify who is who in old photographs, but readers specifically interested in girls' hair styles may find it useful. Interestingly boys and girls over time have had some of the same syles, but often not at the same time. One particularly importnt element is the part. Boys have had long hair, even ringlet curls. Girls have had short hair, but not the cropped hair styles worn by European boys in the early 20th century. We have collected information on both hair stules and hair bows.

Photo Interpretation

Readers interested in girl's clothing, may find the information HBC has collected on photo interpretation of interest. Sometimes information is available identifying the children depicted in drawings, paintings, and photographs. Such information is extremely helpful in establishing actual fashions and trends. More often, however, many available images lack accompanying information. This makes it very difficult for HBC to assess trends or even determine the gender of the children depicted in the images.


The information HBC has collected on sisters as part of brother sister coordinated outfits and family coordinated outfits also provides information on girls' clothing--mostly dresses.

Brother-sister outfits

Monthers over the ages have liked dressing their children in coordinated oufits. This usually meant coordinted outfits for brothers or sisters. Some mothers have coordinated the outfits if brothers and sisters.

Coordinated outfits

One fashion popular with mothers was to dress brothers and sisters in identical or coordinated outfits. ome mothers took this one step further. Some mothers chose to dress all of the children in the family identically, even children of different ages and genders. Some mothers in the late 19th and early 20th century had quite large families and all of the children in identical or similar outfits was quite a striking site. This practice was most common in the late 19th century. Some mothers would actually choose identical or similar outfits. More common was some clothing differences based on gender or age, but having the children wear pinafores and more commonly for boys--smocks. This gave the entire family, both the boys and girls alike, a common look.


HBC of course is designed to collect and archive information on clothing. We have decided, however, that many decissions on clothing are made or stongly influenced by the parents. The increasing influence of children over the clothes they wear is, im part, a reflection of changing family patterns and the weakening of parental authority. The family is a key institution that needs to be better understood if we are going to fully access clothing trends. Here we will archive full family images with parents or grandparents or imges which show all of the siblings in a family. This will help to show the types of clothing being worn by other family members in different countries over time. We have begun to build family pages in several differnt country sections of HBC. We hav not yet begun to assess the family and clothing trends here but will when we have archieved sufficent numbers of images. We would be very interested in comments about the family trends in the various countries of HBC readers.


An American reader has provided an interesting assessment of woman's fashions and clothing styles over time. It is a nicely-done student student essay. HBC is extensively used for a range of school projects and we like to post some of the better essays both for the informaion developed as well as to show how young people view fashions.


Many activities required specialized clothing. This includes many activities engaged in by girls. We habe begun collecting information on some of the fashions and uniforms worn for such activities. These include: band, choir, gym, religious services, school, and a variety of other activities.

Fashion Magazines

It is interesting that NMFS receives so many requests for information on girls' clothing. Usually it is girls' and women's clothing that receives more attention than boy's and mens' clothes. A Swiss reader points out the relative desinterest in boys' fashions. He reports that a typical fashion magazine of 100 pages might have 80 pages devoted to ladies fashions and 10 for girls. Only about 3 pages were for boys and 2 for men. A French reader reports a similar situation. In looking through old French magazines, he finds about 20 pages for girls, 10 pages for girls, and 10 pages for babies. He reports that French fashion magazines before the 1970s, French fashion magzaines used to give more attention to children's fashions than is the case today.

Girls Literature

Actual childrens' literature did not begin to emerge in quantity until the 20th century. Until that time children would read adult literature with gender specific themes. Boys might read exciting tales like James Fenamore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Gradually books written specifically for children appeared. This literature also has some useful information on historical boys' clothing. We have received so many inquiries about girls' clothes that we thought it would be a good idea to create a page on girl's literature. Not only will the books have information on girls' clothing, but there may be information on boys' clothing as for the different eras that these books were written.

Girls' Historical Clothing

We here at HBC have always hoped that someone might create a site on girls' clothes and we could coordinate our research efforts. We have found so much material that we can not even handle well the topics we have already addressed. We continued to be interested in finding a partner and would be pleased to assist someone that would be interested in creatung a site on historical girls' clothes.

Girls uniform site

A HBC reader tells us, "I greatly enjoyed visiting your site several times of late, reading all that I could about the use and impact of uniforms in youth programs. I am writing because I have been researching girls uniforms. I own and (frequently) update the Vintage Girl Scout Pin Museum, an online resource of historical pins, badges, insignias, uniforms and more. It now covers 5 websites and continues to grow. However, my interest has grown to include other girl programs and their uniforms, insignias, etc - such as the Sunbeams, Girl Guards, 4-H (co-ed), American Heritage Girls. I would like to develop a website devoted to such an idea. I have scoured internet websites, program handbooks and history references." -- Nancy White, Rosary-Maker


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Created: November 26, 2001
Last updated: 4:58 AM 10/24/2007