*** boys clothing: American literary characters

Costumes of Literary Characters: America

Little Lord Fauntleroy
Figure 1.--Higgins thanks the Earl for his kindness, not knowing that Cedric was responsible. The velvet suit and lace collar illustrated here became a popular party suit for American and European boys.

Many famous liteary characters are boys, especially in American and English literature. Many American novels are set around a boy's experiences or have boys as important characters. The costuming of these characters, especially the contemporary books, offer important insights into historic costuming. This is especially true of the books with illustrations. Less useful, but more available, are modern books written with histoical settings or recent editions of historical books with modern illustrations. American authors appear to have focused on byhood more than authors in other countries, except England. There are many important American boyhood characters, but few from other countries--except England. Perhaps my greater faniliarity with American literature. Hopefully HBC visitors from other countries can assist us on this issue. Some of the most famous American characters are:

Brown, Buster

The comic strip character Buster Brown was one of the most popular characters in turn-of-the-century America. His characteristic wide-brimmed sailor hat, red tunic, floppy bow, and strap shoes worn with bangs made the tunics worn by boys at the time an even more popular style.


The Brownies created by Palmer Cox were not boys, but they were males. They were perhaps the nost popular literary characters for younger American children during two generations (1883-1930s). The Cox Brownie stories appeared in the famous St. Nicholas Magazine and the Ladies Home Journal. His his series of funny verse cartoons about the mischievous, but kind-hearted Brownies proved enormously popular. The Brownie stories are meant for younger children to introduce nooks to them. They are meant to be read aloud. Thus they are great for both teachers as well as parents reading stories at bed time. Many American children webt to sleep with these warmheated, but fun creatures in their heads. There are many characters in each Cox Brownie picture. The children have fun follow the adventures of their favorite Brownies. The Brownies are today virtually unknown to modern children and their parents.

Charlie, Brown

>p> A reader suggests, "The discussion of American literary characters might mention Charlie Brown and his shirt with one horizontal zigzag stripe, since it is probably the most recognizable article of clothing in the comics. A few times in the last few years, I've seen people who looked college age or a few years older wearing T-shirts designed to look like the one Charlie Brown wears. They probably wear it as a way to be ironic.

Cheyne, Harvey

Captain Coureageous written by Rudyard Kipling is one of the best known boys' sea saga--after perhaps Treasure Island. The author was decidedly British--Ruyard Kipling. Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on December 30, 1865, in the J. J. School of Arts, of which, his father, Lockwood Kipling, was then head. At the age of 6 years, he was left in a foster home in England. He was extremely unhappy at his foster home, but stayed there until 1878, when he entered a boarding school in England. His later writings indicate that he was happy at school, where he started writing. He returned to India in 1882 and joined his parents in Lahore where he worked as a journalist with Civil and Military Gazette. In 1887 he joined The Pioneer in Allahabad as an assistant editor and overseas correspondent. Before he went back to England and settled in London in 1889, he had already become famous for his verses and satirical writings such as Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and Soldiers Three (1892). By the last decade of the 19th century Rudyard Kipling had become enormously successful as a poet and writer, and was seen as a successor to Charles Dickens. He married Caroline Starr Balestier in 1892. His two novels, The Jungle Book (1894-95) have now become widely translated classics. His other novels include Kim (1901) and Just So Stories (1902). He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907. Rudyard Kipling died on January 18, 1936 in London. He was buried in the Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. His autobiography Something of Myself appeared in 1937. Captain's Courageous was not Kipling's best known book--but it is an excellent tale. The changing relationship between the captain, his son make for some compeling character studies. This wonderful classic combines three unbeatable elements: a sea story, vivid characters, and a protagonist who undergoes a character transformation. Harvey Cheyne is the pampered son of a multi-millionaire who falls off an ocean liner and is rescued by a small fishing boat. After being punched in the nose by the captain of the small vessel for smart-mouthing him, Harvey quickly learns respect, toughness and gratitude. He steps up from self-centeredness into the difficult but fulfillng realm of unselfishness, and he inspires us to do the same.

Erol, Cedric

Cedric Erol is of course the main character in Francis Hobson Bennett's Little Lord Fauntleroy, published in 1885. This novel probably had more influence on boy's fashions than any other single book. While Bennett provided limited describition's of Cedric's outfits, the accompamying illustrations by Reginald Birch caused a sensation. For three decades, Americam, British, French, and other European boys were outfitted in the velvet kneepants outfits harening back to the Van Dyck paintings of 17th Century with large lace and ruffled collars.

Finn, Huckleberry

Mark Twain's saga of the pre-Civil War American boyhood is one of the classic's of American literature. It is as close as you can get to the American epic. Despite its current controversiality, it is arguably the most powerful anti-slavery novel ever written. The book was a sequal to Twain's imensely popular Tom Sawyer and was published in 18??). It was, however, a very different book. Twain arrgues powefully for the esential humanity of Black Americans. Strangely the book is often a target of Black groups demanding it be removed from school libaries and required reading lists. The book is set in the 1840s and uses realistic dialog of the day. Huckleberry's characteristically bare feet and rough clothes are a realistic look at how the average boy in pre-Civil War America dressed.

Mitchell, Dennis

A classic American boyhood character is Dennis the Menace who appeared in the deawings of Hern Ketchum in 1950. Dennis and his run ins with grumpy old Mr. Wilson have since become a part of our national experience as well as appearing in newspapers all over the world. Dennis' bip-front overalls have changed little over this time, but he no longer dresses up in short pants like he used to.

Figure 2.--Booth Tarkington's Penrod was a delightfully humerous look at American boyhhod in the 1910s. Penrod was about 11 going on 12 and wore knickers buckled just above the knee.

Sawyer, Tom

Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer may be the most popular book ever written about the American boy. Mark Twain published it in 18??. It does not have the darker aspects or the moral conumdrums posed in Huckleberry Finn. Tom is often pictured in dressier clothes than his erstwhile companion. Thus images of Tom give an indication of how boys may have dressed up in the dys before the Civil War(1851-65). Tom was also pictured in school and play clothes.

Schofield, Penrod

The 1914 book, Penrod. was written by Booth Tarkington. It chronicled the travails of an American boy, duely outfitted in knickers--usually buckled above the knee. Penrod is confronted with the normal trials of pre-World War I American boyhood. He has to dress up in an enbarassing pagent costume, attend dancing school, face bullies, and many other problems. Apparently sailor suits by the 1910s were just for little boys and chaps like master Roderick Bitts outfitted by his parents in a crisp white sailor suit were in for trouble when they cross Penrod's path.


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Created: October 17, 1998
Last updated: 1:29 AM 6/5/2010