There they are, in portraits, paintings and engravings, with earnest faces and cute clothes. But what did they wear underneath? Surely not the whole understructure their parents wore? Just like their mothers, both boys and girls would have worn a chemise. This basic garment was usually made of linen, and followed the lines of the adult version, with one exception: Children’s chemises often omitted the side gussets, which added width to women’s chemises, thus being basically T-shirt shaped. On the other hand in well-to-do families they did even sport lace ruffles at the decollete and sleeve seams. Over the chemise followed a pair of stays. During the earlier Georgian period current medical opinion held that the tender bodies of infants had to be protected and shaped by stays, and in many costume collections we find heavily boned specimen made for children not even one year old. Towards the last quarter of the century, when enlightenment finally won the upper hand and children’s clothes began to show signs of classical influence long before they made their first appearance in ladies’ fashions, the small corsets became less resticting and less rigid, most of them being almost entirely unboned. The garment itself was retained, however, serving a new purpose now: Since the children no longer had artifcially formed “hips”, other ways to keep the petticoats up were needed and found in buttons attached to the stays, on which the petticoats could be fastened. Infants’ stays, 1780 – 1810, showing cording on the front (more…)
From Petticoats to Skeleton Suits…
Over a year ago I read a fabulous blog post on the Regency Redingote entitled Boy to Man: The Breeching Ceremony. The article is thorough and I was quite satisfied with its information until I ran into this quote, written by Jane Austen in 1801 to her sister Cassandra:
Mary has likewise a message: she will be much obliged to you if you can bring her the pattern of the jacket and trousers, or whatever it is that Elizabeth’s boys wear when they are first put into breeches; so if you could bring her an old suit itself, she would be very glad, but that I suppose is hardly done.”
This short passage told me much more about the topic and I decided to pursue it further.
During the 18th century boys and girls were dressed alike in baby clothes during their infancy and in petticoats as toddlers. In Beechey’s image, our modern eyes would not identify the infant as a boy unless he was labeled as such.
The boy’s costume here is known as a “Skeleton Suit” which would have been worn up to age 8 or 9, after which he might be put, a the beginning of the period, into breeches and waistcoat, with a relaxed long jacket. Later in the period, the boy of this age would wear a short, tailless jacket and long trousers, [the Eton suit], and this style continued throughout the 19th century and beyond. Boys were put into the skeleton suit at about 3 or 4 years old; before this they wore a frock, which sometimes makes for difficulty in distinguishing them from theirs sisters in portraits.
The skeleton suit was usually made of heavy cotton or linen, which were both practical washing fabrics. Blue was a favorite colour, but examples in pea-green and occasionally scarlet or mustard are also documented. Charles Dickens described, in 1838, some time after they ceased to be worn, “A skeleton suit, one of those straight blue cloth cases in which small boys used to be confined in ingenious contrivance for displaying the symmetry of a boys figure by fastening him into a very tight jacket and then buttoning his trousers over it so as to give his legs the appearance of being hooked just under the armpits.” Continue reading Regency Children’s Clothing: Daywear and Playwear