*** coordinated family outfits

Coordinated Family Outfits

brother-sister outfits
Figure 1.--This brother and sister are wearing coordinated, but not identical tartan outfits dresses. The image looks to have been taken in the 1870s.

Generations of mothers dressed their children, in some cases both sons and daughters, identically or in similar outfits--convinced this was a charming fashion. This was a simple matter in the 18th and much of the 19th Century. As little boys wore dresses just like their sisters, it was easy to ooutfit the boys and girls in identical. At the time it ws considered in appropriate to outfit girls in boys clothes. As distinctive dress styles for little boys developed in the late 19th Century and the fashion of dressing little boys in dresses disappeared after World War I (1914-19), this became more difficult. Many nothers, however, still wanted to dress their children similarly. Thus styles outfits with girls dresses and coordinate boys outfits were developed.

Family Relationships

A variety of factors affected the fashion nof dressing children in a family in identidal or coordinated outfits. One of these was the family relationships involved. Dressing children alike varied from family to family and was affected by the number, relationship, and age of the children. Twins most commonly have been dressed alike. Usually this style was for twin brothers or twin sisters. However, in many cases fraternal brother and sister twins were dressed alike. This appears to have been a popular fashion dating back to earliest available photographic images. Dressing twins alike is still a common fashion today, although sometimes as they get older they like to dress differently. Mothers also liked to dress brothers alike, even if they were not twins. This sometimes created complications, especially if the boys were not about the same age. The older brother may have objected as many mothers did not want to dress little boys in big boy clothes. Thus the outfits chosen were often the ones suitable for the youngest brother--to the displeasure of the older boy. Often mothers would choose the same basic outfit, but make minor changes to recognize the age of the older boy. Other mothers insisted on dressing all the boys exactly alike. Sometimes 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 often for boys--smocks. This gave the entire family, both the boys and girls alike, a common look. This allowed mothers to given the children a common look--even though the boys and girls wore different clothes under their smocks.

brother-sister outfits
Figure 2.--This brother and sister are wearing identical white dresses with long black stockings. Notice the boys short hair in contrast to the dress he is still wearing. The only other difference is the girl's perky hair bow.


I am not sure when the idea of dressing the children in a family identically first began. Preumabky it may be anient in origin. GHB has noted that dressung the children alike was a opular fashion in the raly 19th century. Brothers and sisters in the early 19th Century, especially if close in age, were very commonly dressed alike in identical dresses. This would have continued until the boy was breeched. I have, however, few images to substantiate this. Many mothers in the late 19th and early 20th century elected to dress their sons and faughters in identical outfits. At the time, some boys were still being outfitted in dresses. Specialized boy dresses had become available by the late 19th Century, but some boys still wore the friller styles made for girls. Sometimes the age of breeching the children may be affected by the desire to dress children identically. Many early 19th century portraits, for example, show brothers in matching skeleton suits (Westwood). After World War I (1914-18) it became less common for little boys to wear dresses, but some mothers still like the idea of dressing their children at least similarly. As a result, clothing sets with similar styling was developed.


The style of dressing the children in a family identally or in coordinated outfits was popular in many different countries. We do not yet details yet on the relative popularity of this practice or distinctive styles in specific countries. One factor here was the popularity of the sailor suit because it could be worn by boys of a wide range as well as both boys and girls. We have a good deal of information on both America and Germany, largely because we have substantial image archives. We see quite a few American and German children dressed alike or in coordinated outfits. The convention seems more popular in Germany than any other country. The popularity of sailor suits was a factor here, but these coordinated outdits did not always involve sailor suits. Our assessment of Germany is only preliminary at this time. We are collecting information on other countries as well and we note children in identical or coordinatee outfits in many other countries. The convention seems most pronounced in these countries during the 19th and early 20th century, although declining family sizes after the early-20th century may be a factor. All of the European and North American countries where we see these coordinated outfits were industrizing in the 19th century and with the related urbanizarion meant smaller families and fewer opporotunities for coordinating children's outfits.

brother-sister outfits
Figure 3.--This brother and sister wear coordinated sailor suit outfits for formal occasions. It is a good example as to how outfits can be coordinated.


Brothers and sisters have been dressed alike or at leasted dressed in coordinated fashion in several different garments and styles. Some garments are more common than others. The most common has been smocks and sailor suits, but many other identical styles have been worn by the children in a family. In the 19th Century some mothers outfitted their children in identical dresses, at least when the boys were younger. The age for boys wearing dresses, however, varied widely from family to family. Most boys were breeched at about 5 years of age. Some boys, however, were breeched earalier and others kept in dresses longer. Some boys still wore dresses at 10 years or even on rare occasions older. Thus there were some families that had several children wearing identical or similar dresses. We have noted some mothers outfitted their children, at leat the younger ones in pinafores. Smocks were widely worn on the continent, but less so in England and America. They were a ueful style for mother wishingbto dress the children alike, a least for informal home wear. They were also widely used in orphanages and work houses for dressing all the children alike. Families in the late 19th Century were often quite large. Mothers enamored with the Fauntleroy style had the decission to make of how to dress all of the children. The mothers of the day adopted all sorts of alternatives from identical or coordinated outfits for all children to completely different outfits for each child.


We are not entirely sure why these coordinated family styles proved so popular over time. We assime that a mahor factor was fashion. Presumably motherscand in some cases fathers judt like the look. The reasons that they liked the look surely varied. Some may have thought that childeen wear the children looked cute . Others may have thought that it may some kind of family statement. Modern payments are all concerned about pyscilogical matters and issues of individuality. There were surely more practical mattes involved. A reader writes, "I know that my mother used to dress my brother and I alike because she found shopping for us difficult and once she found something she liked on one of us, she would buy it for both of us. We were 3 years apart but my older brother was smallish for his age and I was large so we looked about a year or so apart. So sometimes dressing children alike had more to do with ease for the parent than a particular notion of style."


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Created: March 6, 1999
Last updated: 4:09 AM 2/10/2011