*** clothing and costues worn by child actors

Clothing and Costumes Worn by Child Actors

#Bobby Driscoll
Figure 1.--Bobby Driscoll was the best known child star of the late 1940s. Here he plays a boy in the post-Civil War South, "The Song of the South". He gets teased about his lace collar. The film is perhaps the most controversial of all the Disney films. Unfortunate as it is a lovely and in many ways sensitive film.

Information about child actors also privodes a great deal of fashion information. Both clothes these children wore as well as the costumes they wore in their films and shows provide much valuable information. These children often dressed very fashionably so information about them provides insights into contemprary fashions and conventions. The costumes they wore in films also provides useful information--although it must be treated more cautiously. HBC is preparing an alphabetical listing of child actors in movies, plays, and television.

Child Actor Clothing Conventions

Several factors need to be considered in assessing the way child stars dressesd when not costumed for movie shoots. The available images are interesting, but in most cases they are not candid shots and can not be readily accepted as evidence of popular styles. HBC suggests the following factors be considered.

Career factors

Child actors were and continue to be valuable commodities. A successful child actor could support the entire family. A child who achieved star status could earn much more than his parents could earn. Some parents took advantage of their children and spent the child eanings wastefully. The besr examole of this of course is Jackie Coogan. Clothes were chosen that emphasized their childhood. The income of these children was for the most part only possible while the child was a child. Only a few child stars made the transition to adult acting careers. Childhood is of course fleeting. Thus parents and guardians often dressed them in juvenile styles--even as the boys got older. A similar phenomenon can be observed with child prodigies. This phenomenon was especially pronounced in the early days of the movie industry, but has declined beginning in the 1940s.

Family background

In many cases successfull child stars came from families of modest circumstances. Wealthy families usually did not want their children involved with the movies. Once a child began earning a substantial income, parents (usually mothers) wanted to dress their successful actors in fancy expensive styles. Often the boys would up wearing styles their mothers thought reflected how wealthy children were dressed. In many cases, however, they were often not quite the usually conservative styles often preferred by well to o families.


The clothing worn by child stars could have considerable influence. This was initially primarily true of girl stars. Many mothers in the 1930s wanted their children to look like Shirley Temple complete with short dresses and curls. Probably many Amerivan mothers would have liked to have dressed their sons in the short pants suits worn by many boy stars--although here they met considerable resistance from their sons. The situation has changed in receny years. Child stars are no longer dressed in the fancy clothes once so common. They are both affected by popular styles as well as help to set fashion trends in the clothes that they wear--both boys and girls.

Alphabetical Listing of Child Actors
























Child Stars

Especially detailed information is available on the clothing and costumes worn by the especially well know child actors who reached star status. The boys that appeared in these productions were often smartly dresses, especially for publicity photographs. In some cases, parents and guardians liked to dress them in juvenile fashions so as to prolong their child movie careers. Others were dressed in clothes approapriate for their age. Thus they reflect popular styles for boys from well to do families. Many affluent mothers often dress their clothes in very conservative fashions. Generally speaking the child stars did not wear the more conservative styles. The images depicted here will eventually be the costumes worn in movies, unless they were movies set in contemporary periods. Temprarilly, HBC will use a movie still as most of the available images are from movies. As photographs of these boys in their non-costume roles become available, these will be usedas much as possible.

Unknown Child Actors

HBC has some photographs with child actors that we can not identify. Often it is possible to identify the actor as we know the title of the film. Some times, however, we do not even know the name of the film. Thus we have no idea who the child actor is. In other cases the photographs are studio publicity shots not associated with any particular movie. HBC must confess that are not really expert on movies and actors. Thus there are quite a number of these unidentified actors. It is important, however, to identify them. Otherwise we can not accurately date the photograph to help assess chronological trends. Any help readers can provide in identifying these actors would be apprecaited.

Theatrical Child Actors

We have created a section for child actors. The children archived there are primarily 20th century movie actors. We have also included TV actors in the same list because children often have worked in both film and TV productions. Some began there careers on the stage. Brandon de Wilde here is a good example, but there are many others. We see no real purpose, however, in having a separate list here. We also have some limited information on 19th century stage actors. Most of the individuals we have found have been children playing the part of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Because of the costumes, these are the easiest to identify. Of course these children presumably played other parts as well. We will alsocompile a separate list of child actors who played in other productions, before and after Mrs. Burnett wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1885.


We are not sure at what age children begin to want to be actors. They are certainly exposed to actors including child actors at an early age through television and the movies. We suspect, however, that most boys rather than wanting to be child actots, want to be the heroes they see depicted in TV and the movies. As a young boy, I didn't want to be a child actor, I wanted to be my TV hero--Hopalong Cassidy. I suspect that is how most young boys think even today. Perhaps readers will have different ideas. Of course age is a factor here. By the teen years one has a more realistic appreciation of what is on the screen and of personal possibilities. We suspect that girls are a little more connected with reality than boys and at a younger age. Some children may push their mothers. But the primary conduit into acting for children is through their parents, usually but not always their mothers. In previous eras it was primarily theatrical parents that led their children into the profession. In our modern age of movies and television it seems to be parents besotted with Hollywood galamor that have treied to get their little treasures into acting. If they can't be Hollywod stars, they have dreams for their children. They try to get their children into local dramatics and have them take lessons in song and dance to improve their channces. They send photogaphs to the studios and even hire theatrical agents. The children may get interested after their mothers' efforts. There are other routes. Some producers/directors do talent searches, but usually this is only reaches the children who have agents or very active stage mothers. Some producers take other routes such as going to actual schools. Ensign Blakely ('Masters and Commanders') was found at Eton College, but most child actors get into acting pushed by their mothers.


Several useful sources exist on child actors. HBC has just begun to research these sources, but hopes to devote some attention to this to add to our understanding of the clothes and costumes worn by these children which fascinated the movie going public. Please let us know of interesting sources which should be consulted.


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Created: October 17, 2000
Last updated: 5:34 PM 5/19/2019