Shoulder Bows on Dresses

Figure 1.--I have little information on this image, except that the child is a boy. His name is "Stevie". I'm not sure when the photograph was taken. The quality of the image suggests perhaps the late 1870s or early 1880s. The Dutch boy hair cut was not unknown the, but less common than the 1900s.

We note some dresses done with decorative bows at the shoulders. This was done on dresses worn by both boys and girls, but was probably more common for girls. There are many examples of this archived on HBC. We believe this was a decorative touch done, in part to symbolize the leading strings once worn on dresses. eading strings were a style prevalent before the 19th century. The fashion in the 19th century was to use these bows, a symbolic reminder of leading strings, as a decorative touch.


Mid 19th Century

Shoulder bows were also used on dresses for small children. This was common through the 1850s and 1860s. A good example is the dresses worn by two unidentified New York children, probably in the 1840s. The lowcut dresses used with these bows look decidedly girlish to modern eyes. It should be remembered, however, that little boys at the time wore dresses until brreching at 4-6 years of age. The dresses they wore were little different than those worn by their sisters. In fact, if they had older sistets, they might be the same dresses worn as hand-me-downs.

Late 19th Century

The shoulder bows became less common in the 1870s as open collars and low cut dresses, for boys and girls, became less common. By the 1880s children's dresses and other clothes employed tightly buttoned collars often with large elaborate collars.

Early 20th Century

The fashion of shoulder ribbons and bow declined in the early 20th Century as boys less commonly wore dresses. Boys and girls wore tightly buttoned dresses and suits at the turn of the century. More comfortable styles began to develop during the 1900s and early 1910s. Children still often wore fancy uffled collars, but often with open collars. Low cut dresses for very young children, even boys, began to appear again--but only for the yoinger boys.


Fairly slender ribbons were used. They look to be about 1/2 inch in width or less in most of the available paintings and photographs.


Mothers appear to have been fairly consistent on the type of bow tied. It appears to have been a simple bow, like the one used when tieing shoes.


Some authors have suggested that the color of the dress bows can be used to establish gender. The color is available in paintings as well as early photographs that have been colorized. This may be the case, however, I can not yet precisely determine just when the popular acceptance of the current gender identificalion of certain colors became widely accepted.


Most of the shoulder bows were solid colors. This was in part because they were generally ribbons of narrow width. There were, however, some ribbons with patterns. The most common were stripes.


I am not positive about the color of the bows involved, but assume they were modtly silk or satin.


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Created: March 17, 1999
Last updated: 3:24 AM 2/14/2007