Classic Little Lord Fauntleroy Suits: Family Conventions

Figure 1.--.

The Fauntleroy rage began in 1885-86 after the publication of Mrs. Burnett's s famous book. Fancy velvet suits for boys began appearing in the early 1880s, but did not begin to take its final form in the popular mind until the population of Mrs Burnett's book Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1885-86. Families in the late 19th Century were often quite large. Mothers enamored with the Fauntleroy style had the decission to make of how to dress all of the children. The mothers of the day adopted all sorts of alternatives from identical or coordinated outfits for all children to completely different outfits for each child. The alternatives were further complicated by the need to breech boys as they got older and related choices on hair styles

Figure 2.--Fauntleroy suits were also worn with bodice skirts and Scotch plaid kilts like these brothers. Note the large lace-trimed blouses covering much of the velvet jacket. The only difference between their outfits are their bows.

Identical Styles

Many mothers liked the idea of identical styles, although many practicalities as well as gender differences often meant that many differnt forms of identical styles emerged.

Completely identical

Some mothers were quite insistent on identical styles for the entire family. This usually was not possible with Fauntleroy suits as while a velvet Fauntleroy suit was de rigor for a fashionable boys' party suit, a black velvet dress, while commonly worn by girls, was not nearly as prevalent because girls had so many more options. Thus when mothers decided on identical styles, often the only viable option were smocks--a popular choice for well to do families. This alternative was less common for working class families.


The most common type of identical dressing was of course twins. The number of existing images show that mothers just loved to dress their twin sons, especially identical twins, but also fratenal twins, in identical Fauntleroy suits. The fact that twins were the same age avoided complications such as age-appripriate breeching and hair cuts as all of this could be done at the same time for both boys. The same would of course be true for other multiples, but this was much rarer in the 19th Century.

Fraternal twins are a bit more complicated. If they were both boys, they could be treated like identical twins. I am not sure how mothers approached the clothing for fraternal twins of different genders.

Figure 3.--These two brothers wear identical Fauntleroy suits with emaculate lace collars and large bows. The older brother looks to be about 12 years old. Clearly their mother liked to dress them identically.


Mothers also liked to dress brothers in identical Fauntleroy suits, even if they were not twins. This involved, however, some difficult decisssions. It was fairly simple if both boys were about the same age. If several years separated their birth it was more complicated. Their mother had to decide to either dress the younger boy more maturely or the over boy in more juvenile styles.

The first two difficult decissions were breeching and hair styles:
Breeching: Boys in the 19th Century generally wore dresses while young. There were generally, however, substnatial differences between families atb what age this was done. The most cimmon age was was about 4-5 years, but some mothers decided to breech their sons earlier or later. The Fauntleroy suit offered some flexibility in this area as the jacket and blouse could be worn with either kneepants, skirt, or even a plaid Scottish kilt. Thus the older boy could be breeched and the younger boy left in skirts, while both kept wearing the same lace collar, blouse, and velvet jacket. Of course nothing would dtop the younger brother from complaining about being left in skirts or kilts while his older brother wore more mature looking kneepants. Another unknown factor is while a boy graduating from skirts to kneepants would be unlikely to wear his Fauntlrou jacket with a skirt again, a mother might use both kneepants and Scotish kilts for different occasions.

Figure 4.--These three brothers, despite the differences in ages, wear identical Fauntleroy suits with black stockings. Note the buttons at the hem of the knee pants.
Hair styles: A similar complication is the boys' hair styles. Again there was considerable difference among mothers over their sons' hair styles. (HBC stresses mothers here, as most but not all fathers, generally left such decissions to their wives for younger boys. The father might, however, intervene if their wive delayed cutting their sons's curls or breeching him beyound what he felt was the appropriate age. Of course appropriate varried widely from family to family. Also some boys might be raised by their mothers or aunts without a father present.) There was no established convention as to weather a boy should be breeched first or his curls cut first. Thus you have young boys in Fauntleroy suits in ringlet curls and older boys in Fauntleroy dresses with short hair and just about every other complicated alternative.

Brothers and sisters

The alternatives were more complicated when deciding how to dress brothers and sisters. As mentioned above smocks were one alternative, although this the smock was an informal garment for play wear or around the house. The same was true for pinafores which by the 1880s were becoming less common for American and British boys. Mothers might dressesd thecfirst few mixed gender siblings identically, but by the time their sons reached the age of 5 or 6, this became less common.

Figure 5.--These brothers, despite their age were dressed identically. Many families at the time would not yet have breeched the younger boy and kept him in dresses. He does wear a small open jacket to show his fancy blouse while his brother wears a closed jacket.

One alternative was to dress the boys in Fauntleroy suits, skirts for the younger boys and kneepants for the older boys and velvet dresses for the girls. Dresses were more common for girls than the jacket and skirt dresses often worn by young boys. Yonger boys also often wore full dresses. Such Fauntleroy coordinated outfits, however, do not appear to have been a popular family style, at leasrt there appear to be relatively few images confirming families were dressed this way. Perhaps the Fauntleroy style, while too fancy for the boys was not fancy enough for the girls.

Figure 5.--The sisters of the boys above were outfitted in white dresses rather than coordinated velvelt dresses. Frilly white dresses were very popular for girls at the time.

The more common option was to outfit the boys in Fauntleroy suits and the girls in dresses, often white dresses to contrast with the black or dark colored velvet of the their brothers' suits. White dresses loaded with lace and ruffkled flounces were very popular in the latec19th Century. A younger brother might even wear one of these fancy drsses, as it was very common in large families to wear hand me downs. Noteably it was not until the 1880s that dresses specifically designed for boys appeared. Many dresses were identified as children's dresses meaning that both boys and girls could wear them. Beginning in the 1880s one begins to see dresses identified as boys' dresses in the fashion magazines and catalogs.


Often mothers dressed their sons identically or similarly, but then introduced minor difference. Some of these differences are inexplicable. Usually they were small touches to recognize the elevated status of the older sibling. These differences might include the following as well a a huge variery of other differences.
Skirts/knee pants: The major difference was of course whether a boys wore skirts or the more mature kneepants.
Hair styles: One very common difference was cutting the curls of the older boys. Many written accounts indicate that often boys objected to wearing curls and the bother every night with rolling ringlets than wearing the fancy Fauntleroy suit and lace collar.
Collar: Many mothers allowed older boys to substitute lace collars with wide white rounded collars or even Eton collars. Again written accounts suggest that the part of the Fauntleroy suit that was most unpopular with boys was the fancy lace or fruffled collar.
Blouses: The yonger boys most commonly wore the fancy lace trimmed blouses with small open jackets. Older brothers might more commonly wear closed jackets.
Bow: A large floppy bow was an important element of many Fauntleroy suits. Often older boys were alloswed to wear smaller bows or in somd cases no bow at all.
Hats: Younger boys often wore wide-brimmed sailor hats with their Fauntleroy suits. Older boys were often allowed to wear sailor hats with smaller brims or other styles of hats.
Other: There were many other differences, some very small, among the Fauntleroy suits worn by brothers. I will add the more important ones here as I become aware of them.

Figure 5.--These two English brothers pictured in the 1890s show the clear age differention in dress. The older boy is wearing his Eton suit school uniform. The younger boy who has not yet been set off to boarding school wears a Fauntleroy suit.

Different Styles

Some parents dressed their children completely differently. Based on the available photographic images, however, this alternative was less common than some attempt to coordinate their outfits. More common of course were differences steming from the different ages of the children. The divide in ages was often particularly noticdeable in England. The modern age destinctions between different age groups were becoming increasuinglty fixed in the 1880s. Boys would be sent off to their boarding preparatory schools at about 8 years of age. It was at that age that boys stped wearing sailor suits, Fauntleroy suits, and kilts and would have their hair cut short. The fancy styles were quite common for younger boys and quite rare for older boys. Similar patterns existed in other countries, but the dividing points were usually not as noticeable because it was not as common to send boys to boarding schools.

Coordinated Family Outfits

Long after the Fauntleoy suit had passed from the fashion scene, mothers have loved to dress their children in identical, or coordinated brother-brother, 'sister-sister, and brother-sister outfits. Usually, but not always, this meant younger brothers and older sisters.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 24, 1999
Last updated: August 14, 1999