** Coordinated Family Outfits: Country Trends

Coordinated Family Outfits: Brother and Sister Country Trends

Figure 1.--The convention of dressing children in coordinated are identical outfits seems particularly popular in Germany. This often, but did not always involve sailor suits.

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.



We see a number of popular styles in Bulgaria. One important style ws sailor suits. Wether or not a country had a navy does not eem to important. Sailor suits seem popular all over Europe. We also see folk embroidery work on vrious garments giving common European styles a Bulgarian look. As was the case in many countries, we note some parents dressing childen in identical or coordinated outfits. Our Bulgarian archive is not large enough to give an idea of how common this was. And as common in many European countries, we note that sailor suits were one of the most popular styles for these identical family outfits. This was especially true for mixed gender groups.


We have just begun to assess the convention for coordiating the dress of sibling in England. We note three Plymouth brothers in matching sailor skirts, we think during the 1880s. A factor in England was that mostly younger boys wore sailor suits. Well-to-do boys after starting at their preparatory schools at age 7-8 years no longer wore sailor suits. And this affected the popularity of the suits for less afluent boys who did not attend private schools. As the sailor suit was such a populr grment for dressing children in coodinated outfits, this convention my have been less common than in other countries.


We motice Finnish children being dressed in identical outfits. We notice nothing specifically Finnish, just the standard decision of oparents in many countries. We do not yet know just how common this was in Finland. Of course both Russian and Swedish influences are important in Finland. Our Finnish archive is still fairly limited which means we do not yet have enough images to make any real assessment.


No information available yet.


We have noted that many German mothers liked to dress their children in identical outfits. We have noted this practice in many countries, but it seems to have been especially popular in Germany. We do not have any subtantiation that this practice was more popular in Germany than other countries yet, but we have noted numerous photographs of brothers and sisters wearing identical or coordinated outfits. The sailor suit was one of the most popular styles used for coordinating the outfits of brothers and sisters. While sailor suits were often used for coordinated outfits, we note very manu other outfits beig used as well. It was most common to dress brothers or sisters in identical outfits, but sometimes both brothers and sisters had coordinated outfits. The children might for example wear identical middy blouses, but with pants for the boys and skirts for the girls. We do not have a complere chronology yet, but we begin to note this practice in the 1870s and it continued to be popular into the 1950s.


A reader writes, "My Granny brought my sister and I matching brother and sister outfits. My outfits was blue shorts and a fancy white middy blouse. Her outfit was a blue dress with a boddice matching my middy blouse. We both wore white kneesocks with our outfits. I'm not sure about material of the shorts, but I remember wearing a blue belt with them. We both wore matching sandals. Her dress was sky blue, the same colour as my shorts. It was the early 1980s. We lived outside Dublin, Ireland. We were a relatively wealthy family. My sister was about a year and a half older than me. At the time, I dodn't remember minding the matching outfit. I don't recall my sister objecting to it either. Our parents dressed us up good deal as they were active socially. So we were used to dressing up. My parents must have liked the idea of dressing us alike as they later brought us another brother-sister outfit. I rember visting family and my parents' friends. I also remembering wearing the suits on my 9th birthday. I didn't really wear short pant suits that often but my parents did dress my sister and I up a lot. I remember owning at least two sailor suits and a few knee pants suits as well as little tuxedos. When my parents had dinner parties we would always be dressed up as well as the other kids. I have to say I always enjoyed dressing up."


No information available yet.


At this time we ae unsure about the popularity of dressing chidren alike in Tsarist times. We do not yet have a substantial archive of Tsarist era. German fashions werevinfluential, we are not sure avout this convention. We have not noticed it in the images we have archived. Of course the Tsarina did dress the princesses alike. A factor here is school uniform which expalains why some children are dressed alike. Another factor is the popularity of the sailor suit. We alo do not notice this commonly in Soviets times as well. Fashion was not a high priority in the Soviet Union. Actually it was considered bourgeoisie. That said there were design bureaus that pubkished fashion magazines. These were uniquely Soviet publications. People could not order the fashions depicted nor were they avaialble in stores. One largrly unitended impact of Sovuert rule was a decline in the size of Soviet families. And of course wityh sdmall famoliesd there was less oppotrtunity to dress children simaslarly. There was more interest in fashion in the later Soviet period. And even in Soviert times, it was hard to entirely difuse the fahion sence of Soviet mothers. During the Stlinist era it wsas dangerous to stand out too promonently. This was less true on the post Stalinist era. The Sovires even invited French fashion icon Christian Dior to Paris (1959). But we do not see a lot of children dressed alike in family portraits. Modern Russian families tend to be small.

United States

We see quite a number of American children wearing identical outfits in the photographic record. The sailor suit was an important garment used in these identical or coordinated outfits, but it was only one of many. We do not think that corrdinated dressing was as common as in Germany, but we have found quite a few examples. Many are in the 19th or early-20th century, in part becausecfamilies tended to be large. One of the best known example of brothers and sisters dressed alike is Ernest Hemmingway in the early 1900s. His mother Grace loved to dress him and his older sister in identical frocks. At the time it was not unusual for sometimes quite big boys to wear dresses. Often the dresses worn by boys would have some boyish touches, perhaps the color or plainer style to identify the boy's gender. Grace Hemmingway, however, dressed Earnest and his sister in absolutely identical outfits. This fashion was passing, however, and Earnest's younger brother Leister, named after his uncle, was not outfitted in dresses.


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Created: 3:42 AM 9/20/2010
Last updated: 11:46 PM 10/8/2021