Boys' Jewelry: Lockets

Figure 1.--This boy in a photograph probably taken in the 1880s wears a locket with an elaborate lace collar. This was not real common, but we do see a number of boys wearing lockets before breeching.

HBC has noted that many young children wearing dresses also wore lockets. This includes boys and girls. Interestingly, only boys not yet breeched wore lockets--at least visibly. Once a boy was breeched and began wearing kneepants or trousers, he no longer wore his locket. This as the case regardless of the outfit worn, Fauntleroy suits, sailort suits, or other outfits. Long hir is also associate with lockets. We also note boys wearing lockets with tunic suits, mostly fancy tunic suits. This is a bit of a complivation. We are not entirely sure if this constitutes breeching as the boys wore bloomer knickers under their tunics. Note tht yunics became very popular at the turn of the century at the time that the convention of younger boys wearing dresses.

The Bulla

Roman children wore a special locket around their necks, given to them at birth, called a bulla. It contained an amulet as a protection against evil and was worn on a chain, cord, or strap. Girls wore their bulla until the eve of their wedding day, when their bulla was set aside with other childhood things, like her toys. Boys wore their bulla until they day they became a citizen. Boys bullas were put aside and carefully saved. A boy's bulla could be wore by the owner again, if he won special honors. For example, if he became a successful general, and won the honor of triumph, he would wear his bulla in ceremonial parades, to protect him from the evil jealously of men or gods.


We do not yet have a good fix on the popularity of lockets, especially for boys. We note them being eorn in the late-19th and early-20th centuy. A good example is Bert Cross about 1905.


Lockets seem most common for younger boys.


The locket is generally see as a girl's jewelry item, but we see some younger boys wearing them in the photographic record. The wearing of lockets by boys seems strongly associated with dresses boys worn before breeching. We see boys wearing lockets with dresses, skirts, tunics, kilts and other skirted garments. Our archive is till limited, but this seems to be the case as regards the portraits that we have so far collected. This seems to have been a jewelry item for boys, but only before they were breeched. After breeching we rarely see boys with lockets. Hair was more varied. We see boys wearing lockets both before and after their curls were cut.

The Lockets

A locket is a small case, usually containing a minature portraits, lock of hair, or other keepsake. They were usually worn on a necklace. Note the similarity of the word with lock meaning a small portion or tress of hair. HBC at this time does not have any details on the lockets worn by these boys. Presumably they did not wear them for day to day play. Rather they were brought out for formal occasions like portraits. The questuin HBC has, were they really the boy's lockets and if so what happened go them after a boy was breeched. Hopefully further investigation will provide some details on this custom.

Poem: "The Locket"

It was tarnished and old with a broken clasp.
I tossed it into the drawer.
Why did my mother give it to me,
And what would I want it for?

She said I liked it long ago
When it was shiny and new.
But why she thought I'd like it now,
I really wished I knew.

The years passed by, and my little girl
Was going through my things,
Slipping bracelets on her arm
And trying on my rings.

"What's this?" I heard my daughter ask
As she held it for me to see.
"Why, it's just an old locket," I replied,
"That your grandma gave to me."

"Oh, Mommy, isn't it beautiful?
It's shaped just like a book
With pages you can turn inside
And pictures... Oh, look, Mommy, look."

I saw it then through a child's new eyes,
What I should have seen from the start,
The reason my mother treasured it so
And wore it close to her heart.

Now when I'm tempted to look at the surface,
Discounting what's broken or old,
I think of the locket all tarnished outside
With an inside of purest gold.

Author Unknown

Personal Accounts

We note boys wearing lockets in several of the images archived by HBC. Almost always the boys involved are youngr boys and not yet breeched. It is much more common for girls to wear lockets and other jewelry, but some yonger boys were given lockets as well. We have found quitte a number of boys who are wearung lockets. Some are identified. Others are clearly boys, but not unidentified by name. We have found even more photographic portraits in which the child may be a boy, but tere is no way to tell for sure. We do not yet have enough clearly boy portraits to be able to make definitive assessments on issues such as age and social class. Our preliminary assessment is that Lockets seem to be most worm by unbreeched pre-school boys from comfortable circumstances.

Reader Comments

A French reader writes, "Yes! It will be interesting to have more detail. What sort of treasure one can find into these little cases and how were they chosen? Who contributed the lock of hair? Probably his mother. Perhaps later the boy hid his locket inside his shirt? Personaly, as a little boy, I would have chosen a small portrait of my mother. It may be possible to ask some elderly person who may remember this charming custom. In France it was only the adult person having sometimes a locket with a small portrait."


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Created: April 7, 2000
Last updated: 2:31 AM 11/4/2011