Figure 1.--These Peerless Patterns show three different styles of Russian-style dresses for boys. Note that the style on the right for the younger boy does not have a belt. They appear to have been 1890s patterns.
HBC only has limited information available on Russian blouse dresses at this time. They were worn by young boys as early as mid-century, especially in France. They were also popular in America, especially in the late 19th century. HBC knows less about other countries.
The key feature of the Russian-style dress was the collar, much of the rest of the dress incorporated features from other styles. Sailor collars or motiffs and other elements might even be employed. Belts were common, but not always used, especially on the dresses for younger boys. Buttons were another common feature of a boys' Russian-style dress. The Buttons were always placed in the front, although often offset to the side.
The Russian style included both tightly button collars and a square open collar. Most Russian style dresses employed the buttoned collar style while the open collar style was more important for blouses.
The Russian styled dresses and tunic suits were at their peakn of popularity around the turn of the century. Judging from the photograpic record I would say from about 1895-1915, but this needs to be confirmed.
Figure 2.--This American brother and younger sister were photographed around 1905. He appears to be wearing a Russian dress while his sister has a rather large colored hairbow and a much fancier dress with their mother must have thought was more suitable for a girl. They both wear long white stockings.
Many styles of Russian dresses looked somewhat like Russian blouse tunics. They are often difficult to discrimiate between the two in the old photographs. The primary difference was that boys wore knicker-like pants with the tunic, but not with the dress outfits.
While only young boys wore Russian-style dresses, these dresses were worn by girls of all ages.
Details on garment construction are sometimes difficult to assess from period photography and drawinmgs. Details from old patterns or modern photographs of actual historical clothing often provide much more detailed images. The color is one importantbpiece of information lackibg in contemporary photography. Close up on the sewing and enbroidery are also often lacking in period photograpy. While they are not perhaps as interesting as actual period photography, such information is important in assessing historical clothing.
The belt was an important element in the these Russian dresses. HBC has no written sources describing the conventions involved with the belt. It does appear that the belt was often empoloyed for boys wearing these dresses, except for the very youngest. This was entirely an ornamental use of the belt. There was no practical purpose for wearing a belt with these dresses. Girl's might also have belts on their dresses, but they were generally not as large or as prominent. The belts boys wore varied. Usually they were cloth either contrasting with the dress or of the same material and color. Some also appear to have been leather belts.
A HBC reader comments, "I note that the boy wearing the dress in figure 2 has a thick leather belt. Do you think it is the original belt or did they change it for some reason. Most contemporary advertisements seemed to have loose cloth belts." HBC comment: HBC is still assessing belts worn over these dresses and similar tunic outfits. In the case of the boy in figure 2, note thast their are belt loops. This suggests to HBC thaat the dress came with that belt or was made to be worn with it.
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