Boys Dresses: Underwear

Figure 1.--This unidentified American boy is pictured in a CDV portrait. He wears a dress with what looks like to us, knee pants done in the same material as his dress. Notice the long stockings in a color matching the dress and the low-cut shoes. The CDV is undated, but looks like the 1870s to us. The studio was L. Van Blarcom of New London, Wisconsin.

We do not know a great deal about the underwear boys wore with dresses. This is because our primary source of infotmation is the photographic record which does not provide a great deal of information about underwear. The underwear boys and girls wore was similar and in some cases identical, but there were some differences. The basic choices in addition to union suits were petticosts, pantalettes, and pants. We note all three. Both boys and girls wore petticoats and pantalettes, but pants were exclusively for boys. Pantalettes could be fanct, but some were plain and mihht be called drawers. The primary difference between plain pants and pantalettes was the material used. Presumably boys wearing pants wore some kind of underwear under the pants. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between pantalettles and pants--primarily meaning knee pants. Here a helpful factor is that underwear was usually, but not always white. Our ability to assess this is limited because children commonly wore dresses and other skirted garments at rather long lengths. Here there were differences over time and among countries. And to the extent thhat hem lines rose we have more information about underwear. European mothers seemed more infortable with higher hemlines showing more of the child's legs than American mothers. This convention can also be seen in hosiery choices. With long hem lines we commonly have no idea as to the underwear being worn. Chronological factors are also important. A reader writes, "From catalogs at that time, children under the age of 6 or 8 usually wore pantalets or drawers that buttoned to an underwaist. This makes sense because children still had toileting issues. I notice that in some catalogs from Best & Company that boy's wore drawers (miniature version of men's style) with yoke front button closure and a fly. The pantalets did not have a fly so at some point when a boy could toilet without help, they graduated to drawers. The age seemed to vary greatly as mother's seemed to be more dominant then." We believe that our reader is correct for the early 20th century, but we have much less catalog information available for the 19th centurty.


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Created: 4:46 PM 12/15/2010
Last updated: 5:55 AM 12/16/2010