Breeching Boys: Individuals

Figure 1.--This California boy was photographed about 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. Click on this image to learn more about the boy.

HBC has collected some information on inividual boys. Some of the information is written accounts about the breecing experience. At this time we have collected few such accounts, but we hope to collect more to better understand this process. We have had more success in collecting photographs of the breeching process. Many mothers lovingly recorded their son's breeching by taking him to a photographic studio. In some cases we have the boy's name and in other cases all we have is the photographic images without any additional information. One of the interesting aspects of the boys clothing seen here is how styles like kilts suits and Fauntleroy suits had swept the nation. It was not just boys in fashionable big citiesm but also boys in the hearlandm places like Fargo, North Dakota or Nevada City, California where boys wore drsses and skirts adoened with lace and ruffled trim and floppy bows.


We have some leads on the breeching experience from contemporary correspondence. This tends to provide insights into the mothers feelings as most of the relevant correspondence is between the women in the family. Some of the correspondence also offers insights into how the boy felt--depending on the mother's train of thought. Rarely is the father mentioned--except when older boys are involved.

"I've no baby now!" Katherine Bragdon wrote in a 1869 diary, when her son was 3-years old. "Put pants and a little blouse on my little Darling Boy. He looks as sweet and cunning as need be and is as proud and happy a little lad as ever wore pants and is so careful not to soil them by getting on the floor...'"

Photographic images

Some information came from the analysis of old-time photographs rather than actual accounts of breeching. Many mothers liked to have their sons photographed before and after breeching. This evidence, however, is only available in any significant numbers from the 1870s.

The 1860s--Unknown: Two images show the ame boy photographed, probably in the 1860s. One phitograph shows him in a dress, another in a long pants suit. Presumably he has just been breeched. He stull has long hair, although it does not appear to have been curled. He appears to have been photographed with a hoop stick--a hoop and stick were a popular toy of the day.

The 1875--Thomas Estley: One image date 1875 shows an American boy nearly 9 years old still wearing a dress or skirt suit outfit with longish, but not curled hair. I'm not sure how it was advertised, but his outfit does appear to have some boyish features.

The 1880s--Leroy: Two images from Fargo, North Dakota taken by photographer Authur Bentley appear to preserve for prosperity the day that Leroy D. Gifford was breeched. We know nothing about Leroy, except that he appears to be about 10 or 11 years old. A close analysis of the photograph, however, does provide some interesting conclusions. Please let me know if you agree or if you have any thoughts on these images.

The 1880s--Ernest: Ernest Shepard wrote a lovely little book about his childhood. He clearly remembered wearing dresses as some of the drawings pictured him in frocks. He makes no mention, however, of his breeching.

The 1880s--A Virginia boy: My grandfather came from a wealthy Virginia family. I was surprised to find photographs of him in dresses. At the time I had no idea that boys ever wore dresses. I found out that his doting mother attired him in dresses until he was 6 or 7 years old. She also kept his hair long and sometimes rolled it into ringlets.

1888--Percy A.W. Summers: We do not know anything about Percy's later life, but we have two fascinating portraits when he was 6 years old. The portraits are breeching images from Scotland. The photographer is from Lamb late P. Devine, Artist. Edinburgh. I think that means Lamb took over the Devine studio. The advertisement on the back states that they maintain all negatives and have enlarging and painting of photographs. The portraits are phjotographs that have been painted over in color. The child is Percy A. W. Summers, 6 years old. The second photographs was taken on Feb. 7, 1888. He looks domewhat younger in the first photograph, so it may have been taken earlier. However, the hair and props look identical in both photographs, which implies that he changed clothes at studio. He probably was breeched on 6th birthday at the studio.

About 1890--California 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 Fauntleroy suit.

1891--Percy Brown: This cabinent card portrait of Percy Whiting Brown (sp?) was taken in 1891. It was taken at the Emerson studio in Lowell. We assume that is Massachusetts. It is unusual for an American cabinet card not to indicate the state. We know nothing else about Percy and his family. He looks to be about 5 years old. There is an inscription on the back in ink script "Percy Whiting (Brown?) and dated 1891 with the notation "My first pants!". This means that Percy was just breeched. We do not know how he was dressed before he was breeched. He wears a tam and knee pants sailot suit with a light-colored scarfe. There is a pocket in the middy blouse with a hanfkerchief. He has his hands in his pocket, unusual in these portraits. This shows us how the pants were constructed in period knee pants.

The 1890s--New York boy: Photographic records beginning about the 1850s begin to provide us information about the breeching of boys. Often no information is available on the boys pictured, but some information, however limited, can be gleaned from the photographic images. I have little information on this boy. I do know he is an American. Based on the photographic studio he lived in Auburn, New York. Based on the elegant clothes I would say that he cam from a wealthy family. The photographs appear to have been taken in the 1890s.

The 1890s--James Martin: A HBC reader has submitted two fascinating portraits of James Martin. We do not know a great deal about James, except that he was was 5 years old when the portraits were taken and that he had a particularly adoring mother, even by 19th century standards. We assume that the portraits commemorate the day he was breeched as they were taken before and after--presumably under the watchful direction of his teary-eyed mother. As was often the case, breeching did not mean James' curls were cut, this would be done when he was older. His mother did, however, remove his hair bow--perhaps for ever. Before breeching he wears a simple white summer frock or shift and after breeching he wears a very boyish sailor suit. HBC dates the portrait to the mid-1890s, but can not be more specific.

The 1895--Virginia boy: This card is a double image. The boy in one pane image is wearing his Sunday best outfit--presumably his first pair of pants. It is a classic Little Lord Fauntleroy suit with an unsusal bow and leggings. He also has ringlets and curled bangs. He is wearing gloves and holds a whip behind him. A sailor style cap with an anchor insignia completes his outfit. Great detail in the lace work on his cuffs and collar can be seen. In the other image pane he is posed with his older sister. In this one he has the same hairdo but is wearing a skirted sailor outfit. Both photographs are from the same sitting. This could be the occasion of his breaching, but may be just two fashionable outfits that he wore. Clearly he had not outgrown his sailor outfit. Notice that it is Christmas and not his birthday. The card reads: "Naramore, King St, Alexandria, VA". The back is plain. Handwritten in ink in old script is "Xmas 1895".

The 1900s--Unknown American location: We do not know this boy's name. He appearsto be an American boy. The photogrphs of this boy are undated, but we think they may be from the 1900s, in part because the photographs appear to be snap shots rather than studio portraits, but we are not at all sure about this. His wide brimmed sailor hat looks more like a style worn earlier. He wears a white dress in one photograph and long pnts in others. Here are some breeching photos. The hair in the pant photos is longer than in the dress photo. So I guess they were not taken when he was breeched.

The 1900s--Ohio boy: A HBC reader has fowarded two images to us of what we believe may be the same boy, although the connection is not as obvious as in some images. All we are really sure is that the portraits were taken by the same studio photographer in Findlay, Ohio. The images are undated, but we would guess were taken in the early 1900s. We will tentatively archive these images here, but will be interested in reader comments.


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Created: September 19, 2001
Last updated: 8:05 PM 1/26/2007