Breeching Boys: A circa 1890 California Boy

Figure 1.--This California boy was photographed about 1888-1890. He wears tightly done ringlet curls with a Fauntleroy skirted outfit, including a ruffled blouse and large plaid bow. The ball he holds clearly shows that he is a boy.

This California boy was photographed about 1890. He wears tightly done ringlet curls with a Fauntleroy skirted outfit, incliding a ruffled blouse and large plaid bow. The ball he hoods clearly shows that he is a boy. Boys photographed before breeching commonly had boyish props to help identify them as boys. Although his curls were not cut, on the same day he was photographed in a new kneepants suit, although he wears the same Fauntleroy blouse in both images.

The Boy

We know nothing about the boy or his family. There is no information written on the back of the cards. Given the fancy suit and elaborate hair style, you would think that he came from a comfortable middle class family, but perhaps not a wealthy family given the material in the suit does not look like velvet or other expensive fabric.


Cpmparing the two portraits it looks like they were talen on the same day in the same studio with mother dressing him in hos new knee pants Fauntleroy suit. Perhaps this was his last portrait while still in petticoats. We are not sure, however, just how the breeching process was conducted. Were all his skirted garments immediately dome away with or was it a more gradual process. The knee pants Fauntleroy suit seen below was his party outfit for best. It is possible that he continured wearinf smocks or dresses around the house until they wore out or could be passed toma younger sibling.


All we lnow is that the prtrait was taken in the "Moore" photographic studio in Nevada City, California. Necvada City is a small California town. Nevada City is in northern California, west of lake Tahoe and the Donner Pass.


There is no chronological infornmation on these cards. HBC estimates that the portrait was taken about 1890, perhaps a years or two eralier. Mrs. Burnett's Book Little Lord Fauntleroy was published in 1885-86 launching the Fauntleroy craze which was in full foce by 1887. Nevada City was a small town and you would think that it would take a year or two for big city fashions to reach there. Thus a date of about 1888-1890 seems likely. The kilt suit jacket clearly shows the influence if the Fauntleroy craze. Note the cut of the jacket, how a "V" is cut into it, this looks more like a 1880s than a 1890s style. So a date in the late 1880s seems more likely than the 1890s.


Both the kilt suit outfit anmd the fauntleroy suit appear to be made out of a light-weight material. The suit in particular appears very light weight. We are not sure to what extent this reflects a seasonal approach, note that in both cases the boy wears haevy stickings. Another possibility is that mother did not want to spend money on luxurios fabrics like velvet.


The boy seems like rather a young little fellow, probably about 4 years of age.


The boy wears tightly done ringlet curls. Rather tjan bangs his hair is swept back at the forehead and he has a side part. There appears to be no difference with the the hair styles in the two photographs. The only exception I can see is that the coloted hair bow in the the "before" kilt suit portrait has been removed in the "after" Fauntleroy suit portrait. HBC is not sure about the conventions for kilt suits, weather they were commonly worn by a boy, or just added for special occasions. This was presumably the last time a hair bow was added to this boys curls, although he may have worn his curls for a year or two more.

Figure 2.--Notice that the boy's ball is no longer needed once he has been breeched. The suit looks to be a light-weignt summer material. I'm not sure what color it would have been. Note the jaunty pose.


The portrait here looks like a fairly standard studio portarit. The boy's pose in the second ("after") portrait is worth noting. His pose does seem to show that he has been breeched! Accept for the facial expression, it is almost a jaunty poise! I would guess the photo studio convinced the parents that this was a good pose for a breeched boy. I doubt if occured just by accident. Almost ceratinly he was posed this way to emphasize his new more boyish status.


The boy was photographed with a ball. It looks to be a rubber ball which I think at the time would havebeen a realtively expensive toy. Notice that the ball was not deemed mandatorty once he had been breeched. This, the boys outfit, and tthe fact that he is having his portrait taken by himself suggests that he came from a comfortable family.


The boys wears a kilt suit with a fancy Fauntloy blouse in the fop photo. In the bottom photo, the kilt suit has been turned in for a fauntleroy suit, the other garmenrs are the same. Often the boy could wear the same jacket, but in this case th jackets are different.


We do not know what type of hat the boy wore with his outfits, The most likely was a wide-brimmed sailor hat. He could have worn that with both his kilt suit and his Fauntleroy suit.

Kilt suit

The boy wears an interesting kilt suit. It looks to be a suit because the jacket and kilt skirt look to be made of the same material and color. The small jacker appears to be more similar to a Fauntleroy jacket thab a kiltsuit jacket. Notice how small it is and cutvopen to dispplay the fancy ruffled blouse. The parallel buttons now the front pannel of thye kilt skirt were a various common device. I'm not sure about the color or material. It does not appear to be pleted.


He wears a large plaid floppy bow. It appears to be the same bow in both portraits.


Thr fancy ruffled blouse has a large collar with what looks to be back flap. There are matching wrist ruffles. There does not appear to ne any lace trim, but rather all ruffles. He appears to be wearing the same blouse in both images.


The boy i the secnd image has been breeched with a brand new kneepants suit. Ot is not a verlvet suit, however, I not sure just what material it was, but it eems to be a very light-weight material. I'm also not sure what color it was, but it is clearly a light shade. Notice that the boy's ball is no longer needed once he has been breeched. The jacket is not a Fauntleroy jacket. Noticevhow it buttons up the front, hiding much of the blouse.


HBC notices the ornamental button on his pants. Presumably there are three and only one is visible. This suggests that they are knee pants.

Long stockings

The boy wears long black stockings in both portraits.


The boy wears the same high-top button shoes in both portraits.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: Septemkber 21, 2001
Last updated: Septemkber 21, 2001