Dresses and Frock Suits: Assessing Old Images

Figure 1.--This American images looks to have been taken in the 1890s. The child despite the curls and dress may well have been a boy. While there is little in the dress style to suggest a boy, the fact that the child is holding a whip is an imporatant indicator.

Photogrtaphs are marvelous depictions of period dress. Unfortunately often basic information about a photograph is not available. As boys were often kept in long hair and dresses, even identifying gender can be a difficult exercise. Thus it is frequently difficult to identify who is who among the childern in early images. Some basic tips like the toys are artifacts they are playing wit h help. Sometimes the faces give clues, but this is difficult as young boys can have girlish looking faces and visa versa.

Difficult Images

Many of the images that have been posted on HBC have been acquired with out the important details on who the people are and where and when the photographs were taken. Often we are forced to deduce the date from the style rather than use the date to follow style trends. Some of you have forwarded information and asked if I have any insights. In the case of children in dresses it is often difficult to determine gender. I am posting some particularly difficult images to assess. Please let me know if you have any insights.

Photo Guides

Sometimes information is available identifying the children depicted in 19th century drawings, paintings, and photographs. Such information is extremely helpful in establishing actual fashions and trends. More often, however, images are available without any accompanying information. Boys in the 19th Century, in some cases fairly old boys, wore dresses, skirts, and kilts. Thus it is often very difficult to determine the gender of children with any certainty. It hard to establish what younger boys wore simply because it is difficult to distinguish them from the girls. To help evaluate some old-time photographs, I have prepared some guidelines which HBC believes offer some basic indicators in assessinf old photogfraphs. These are, however, tentative guidelins and HBC incourages readers to carefully consider these guidlines and suggest alterantive interpreations or additional guidelines.

Additional Information

Some period movies depict boys in long hair and dresses or kilt suits. Movies of course can vary greatly in historical accuracy. It is likely, however, that those who have gone to the trouble of depicting boys in dresses and long hair, probably ercised considerable attention to detail.

Other interesting insights may be noted by taking an HBC quiz:

Christopher Wagner


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[Difficult images] [Movie dresses]

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Created: November 21, 1999
Last updated: November 21, 1999