Dresses and Frock Suits: Personal Experiences

Figure 1.--We have acquired some information about the experiences of boys who wore dresses. Unfortunately many of the old photographs we have acquired come wiyj out provinance such as this portrait. It looks to have been taken in the 1880s, but we do not know who the child is, even if the portrait is of a boy or girl. Nor do we know where the portrait was taken.

One interesting question is what the boys involved thought about wearing dresses. Here our informatin is very limited. Unfortunately most of the boys involved didn't describe their experiences. Many were too young to write and as adults often forgot. Some boys, however, did rembember. Or perhaps their sisters and mothers jotted down notes. Family letters are a rich source of such information. There are some interesting acciunts in some biographies. Here is some details on the experiences of actual boys or a detailed analysis of pertinent images. If in your reading you have come across actual accounts, please do forward them to us. This is an interesting section that we hope to expand. me. Here is what I have collected so far:

Short References

Here are some short references to wearing dresses.

Brother and Sister (United States, 1840s)

This American portrait of an American girl and her little brother was painted in 1843. Unfortunately we do not know the painter or the location. The children were dressed similarly. We do not know if the mother made a concicous effort to do this, but the similarities seem to pronounced to have been meerly accidental. Even so there are some major and more subtle differences in their outfits. Some of the differences were conventions of the 1840s while others were simply the preferences of their mother.

The Allinghams (England, 1880s)

English watercoloist Helen Allingham was born near Burton on Trent. Her family settling in Birmingham, after the untimely death of her father in 1862. Allingham studied art at the Birmingham School of Design. She is widely recognized as an important English watercolor painter of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Most of her work is exteriors, but a few are of her children, often in formal clothes. This provides a rare insight into play clothes in the late 19th Century as most of the available portraits and photographs show the children in their dress party clothes.

Leroy: Breeching (England, 1880s)

Two images from Fargo, North Dakota taken by photographer Authur Bentley appear to preserve for properity 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. This scene looks to have occured in the late 1880s or perhaps the early 1890s. The Fauntleroy styled sailor suit would have had to had been after 1885 and the publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy. It looks to me like an older 1880s image, but the early 1890s are possible

London Boy: Ernest Shepard (England, 1880s)

Ernest Shepard, the artist who illustrated Winnie the Pooh, in his childhood memoirs, Drawn from Memory provides a great deal of information about the clothes he and his brothers as well as other boys wore during the 1880s. Ernest was born in 1879 and both he and his brother wore dresses as little boys. Most of the book is set around the mid-1880s when Ernest was wearing Fauntleroy suits and sailor suits. Some of the drawings, however, show Ernest in dresses.

Alexander, Harold Rupert Leofric George (England, 1890s)

ield Marshal (Alexander, Harold Rupert Leofric George) was born in London during 1891, but grew up on the family estate in Ulster. He was trained at Sandhurst and during World War I commanded a battalion of Irish Guards on the Western Front. After the War he bought the Bolshevicks in the Baltics with a unit of largely ethnic-Germans. He cpmmanded the British 1st Division and as commander of I Corps oversaw the Dunkirk evacuation. He is nenowned for the North African campaigns against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel during World War II (1942-43). Under Eisenhower he oversaw the Allied drive on Tunisia and the invasion of Sicily and Italy. He was one of the few commanders that was able to work amicably with Montgomery--a major accomplishment in itself. He later commanded the Italian campaign (1943-45). He was Governor General of Canada (1946-52), granted the rank of Earl (1952) and becoming the Minister of Defence under Winston Churchill (until 1954).

New York Boy (United States, 1900s)

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.

Dresses and Curls: Stephen Tennant (England, 1900s)

Those years before the Great War were 'sweet and carefree', according to Osbert Sitwell, then a young man in his early twenties. 'Never had Europe been so prosperous and gay.' He saw in the flowers that decorated the grand houses a symbol of lustrous epoch, 'a profusion of full-blooded blossoms ... that lent to some houses an air of exoticism'.' Wilsford was one such place. All England seemed like a hot-house, and Stephen was growing up in this perfervid environment, bottle-fed by Pamela on a rarefied diet of culture and beauty.

Dresses in the 1940s: Alexander Mosley (England, 1940s)

Alexander and his brother Max had very well known parents. In fact they were to of the most hated individuals in England. His mother was immortalized by an aunt in a popular novel. She was better known at the time as the wife of Sir Oswald Mosley--the head of the British Fascist movement. The clothes that Alexander and Max wore were a good example of how upper-class British boys were dressed.

John: Dresses (United States, 1940s

I was born near the end of 1942. In my earliest baby pictures I am wearing dresses and "soakers." When I got married, my mother gave me one of my old baby dresses. It had been lovingly hand made and was lightweight, pink, had scallops around the short sleeves and hemline, and hand embroidery around the yoke.


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Created: March 7, 2004
Last updated: March 7, 2004