Bodice and Bodice Kilts

Figure 1.--.


A bodice is the portion of the dress above the waist. Victorian children might wear stays, corsets, or stiff child's waist or bodices. Both boys and girls might wear them. By the 1830s, corsets for young children had gone out of style, though there were a fewdie-hards who insisted on keeping children in stays from infancy, so they would developstraight backs. Most physicians, however, and magazine consultants, argued against this as being too confining, and in fact inhibiting of a strong body. Free exercise of the little muscles was better. For this reason, they advised against swaddling infants, as had long been the custom. While corsets for boys went out of style, this was not the case for girls. Mothers when theie girls reached the age of 11 made them start wearing corsets . Every year the waistwould become smaller by about an inch, so that by the time theywere 16 their waist would only be 16 to 18 inchs. If a girl didn't wearher corset, her mother would sometimes make her wear one at night withher hands tied behind her back to keep her from undoing it. As one modern fashion analyst wrote, "And you thought your Mom was tough." Luckily boys were spared this fashion.

The term bodice also was formerly used to mean a stiffened garmet with stays like a corset. Both boys and girls might be dressed in these garments in the 19th Century. The Brotherof Oscar Wilde says, for example, that both his he and his brother wore corsets until they were sixteen.

Bodice Dresses and Kilts

Many dresses and kilts for boys came with bodices. The bodice kilt was a two piece garmet. It had a bodice topsewn on to the kilt. Bodice kilts were more like a complete dress, however, rather than just a skirt. The second piece was a blouse in a variety of styles. The bodice had buttons which were fastened at the back. This simplified dressing the small boy and most importantly, thebodice held the skirt or kilt in place. Thebodice kilt was common for boys aged between about 4 and 7 years.

Boys wearing a bodice kilt had to wear blouses because shirt tails could not be tucked into the kilt.

Young children, both boys and girls, in the Victorian period mightwear a bodice kilt rather than a regular kilt. The bodice dress or kilt has several advantages for yoing boys. The greates advantage was that very young boys do not have a sharply enough defined waist to hold up aproper buckle kilt, in Scottish they say nae bum). The bodice kilt also had the advantage that it could also be let out in length (indeed most came with a bit that you could let down) and because it fastened loosely at thefront it was easy to accomodate changes in girth. Because any kind of kiltswere (and still are) expensive, the more years wear that could be got outof a garment the better. Also kilts don't really wear out no matter whathard wear the boy gives it. So the only reason for replacement is onlysize. For this reason, boys kilts were often passed around families so that many could wear the same kilt.

Cub Uniforms

Scottish Cubs and Scouts often wear kilts on dress occasions. Currently it is primarily the Scottish scouts who wear kilts. Cubs used to wear

Figure 2.--These Scottish cubs in a picture taken during the 1950s are wearing bodice kilts.
kilts more commonly and often would wear bodice kilts.

Advertisement: Sailor Bodice Kilt


Note: Advertisemet fo a boys bodice kilt from a 1890s fashion magazine.

FIGURE No. 397 A. This illustrates a Little Boys' costume. The pattern, which is No. 4715 and costs 18 or 25 cents, is in six sizes for little boys from two to seven years of age, and is shown in four views on page 257 of this magazine.

The costume is here represented developed in blue and white serge. The skirt is arranged in a broad box-plait at the center of the front, and at the back and sides in well pressed kilt-plaits that turn toward the front. The lower edge of the skirt is finished with a hem, and the top is joined to a sleeveless body, which is shaped by shoulder and under-arm seams and closed at the back with button-holes and buttons.

The usual shaping seams enter into the adjustment of the blouse; it is closed at the center of the front with button-holes and buttons through a box-plait made in the left front. The lower edge is hemmed for a casing, in which an elastic is run; and the garment droops with the customary fulness over the skirt. The fronts are cut away to disclose a facing of white cloth applied to the front of the sleeveless body, and short, V-shaped facings are arranged upon the backs of the body. The sailor collar falls deep and square at the back, its long, tapering ends are joined to the cut-away edges of the fronts, and upon tne facing revealed between is an embroidered star. The collar is trimmed with fancy braid, and the cuffs which finish the full shirt-sleeves are decorated to correspond. A patch pocket having a pointed lap is applied to the left side of the blouse; it is trimmed with two tows of fancy braid and holds a whistle, which is attached to a lanyard worn about the neck.

Blue-and-white striped flannel, serge and cloth are fashionable For costumes of this kind, and there are numerous cotton fabrics that may be satisfactorily used, such as seersucker, percale, and gingham. Braid embroidered nautical emblems or machine stitching will contribute tasteful garniture, although a plain completion will be in perfect taste.

The hat is a blue sailor banded with white ribbon.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: October 25, 1998
Last updated: October 25, 1998