Boy Dresses: Gender Approaches

Figure 1.--This child is dome up to look like a flower girl. One wonders if he had a role in a wedding. I'm not sure, but I think that is his hat on the chair. Also notice the hair bows. We know that the child is an American boy. His name is Fredrick James Robb and he is 3 yrs and 2 months old. He was born June 17, 1897. The portrait was taken in 1900. We know nothing about Frederick, but the portrait was taken in Nashville, Tennessee by L Laury. Image courtesy of the RG collection.

Many mothers when dressing boys in dresses would add boyish touches. We assume they did this of their own volition. Fathers would probably not get to involved with dress styling, although they may have suggested breeching at an earlier age than mothers. Thus we see plainly styled dresses or dresses with boyish features. Perhaps dresses dome in plaid were meant to suggest kilts. We also note portraits of boys in dresses where boyish props like drums/buggles, farm implements, whips, and others were added to indicate visually that the child is a boy. These boyish touches were very common, but they were not always present. Some mothers took an entirely different approach. We see some boys wearing frilly dresses and sometimes even girlish props. One wonders about the mother's motivation. Perhaps she wanted a girl rather than a boy. Care shold be taken in assessing motivation here. Even in the 19th century there was criticism od such approaches, especially beyond the todler years. It should also be understood that a common attitude at the time was that younger children were essentially genderless. Here Freud of course began to change attitudes, but it took some time for his work to percolate down to popular attitudes. We can sometimes idntify boys when mothers have used boyish styles or props. Of course the only way to tell that a child is boy when mothers have used girlish styles and props is when the portrait is marked in some way identifying the child.


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Created: 2:02 AM 6/8/2006
Last updated: 2:02 AM 6/8/2006