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Children’s Underwear in Regency England

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…)
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The Regency Fashions of Childhood

the fashions of childhoodThe Regency Fashions of Childhood While children are not usually thought of in the world of high fashion, with his debut of The Repository of Fashion… in 1809, Rudolph Ackerman provided modern readers with a record of what was worn by even the smallest of the Ton during the 20 years his magazine was published. As fashion evolved during the Regency, and figure hugging corsets gave way to loose, diaphanous gowns, so too, the fashions of childhood became simpler and while they still mimicked the clothes of their elders, a new style of short dresses and easy to wear pants and jackets came into vogue with overtones that can be seen even in today’s children’s wear. What Ackermann did, in showing his “models” engaged in many different types of activities with their children, was prove motherhood to be fashionable- or at least something not to be hidden away and relegated to the attic nurseries of country estates. In doing so, he also left a legacy of the fashions of childhood unequalled by any other period source. Aside from fashion plates and art prints, the only other visual reference to the time that we have are portraits from the period. These, too clearly show relation between the changing attitudes in parenting and clothing styles over Jane Austen’s lifetime. Even a cursory glance at those below will prove the point. The first, by Joshua Reynolds, shows Margaret, Lady Spencer and her daughter Georgiana (later to be the famous Duchess of Devonshire) in 1759, (more…)
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The Breeching Ceremony of a Young Boy and His Rite of Passage

The alternative was a skeleton suit

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.

Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800 , Sir William Beechey, R.A. Image @Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of William Ellis Gosling, 1800 , Sir William Beechey, R.A. Image @Wikimedia Commons

 

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.

Continue reading The Breeching Ceremony of a Young Boy and His Rite of Passage

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Regency Children’s Clothing: Daywear and Playwear

Boys

Children's Clothing 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

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Dressing the Part: Children’s Clothing in Regency

Children’s Clothing in Regency and how it evolved For the first time in History, around 1770, children began to have clothes that were designed just for them; they were no longer dressed as miniature adults. This is very noticeable in portraits of the time, the adults still wearing stiff formal costumes, while the children appear relaxed and free; the boys in shirts which are open at the neck, the girls in simple gowns with a sash at the waist. Many experts attribute this, at least in part, to the influence of Rousseau. In ‘Emile’, published in 1762, translated into English the following year, he dealt not only with methods of raising children, but also with their clothing. “The limbs of a growing child should be free to move easily in his clothes: nothing should cramp their grown or movement; there should be nothing tight, nothing fitting closely to the body, no belt of any kind. The plainest and most comfortable clothes, those which leave him the most liberty, are what he likes best.” How different from the boned and panniered dresses for girls and the satin suits for little boys of previous times. Naturally, this process was not an instant change, but by 1800 it had permeated all levels of society. The most significant fact is that what the children wore gradually became the model for adult clothes. Thus, a young girl born about 1770 would wear almost the same style until she was 50! The “trousers” which were part (more…)