For centuries little girls were dressed like small versions of their
mothers. This dressing of children as miniature adults in every detail
continued until the early C18th. Formal paintings often
show children in elaborate silk clothing with skirts supported by
paniers and multiple petticoats.
Silk was an important fabric as it was used by the richer people in
society to show off their wealth through their dress. Poorer people
whether adult or child wore
simpler practical clothes made from linen, cotton, wool
and lesser coarser fibres out of practical necessity.
During the late 1600s the English Textile Industry began to produce
cheaper silks in Britain in the Spitalfields part of London. This was because persecuted Huguenot
designers and weavers had fled to Britain. They brought
their excellent silk production craft skills with them to the east end of
London. These refugees were able to reproduce the highly ornate designs
previously sourced from the continent at greater cost. So wealthy
children were dressed lavishly as many family portraits suggest. Poor
children wore tattered hand me downs or clothes made of coarse woollens and rougher cottons
or mixtures like fustian.
As the C18th progressed dress for both girls and boys became
less formal and less stiff, giving way to more comfortable practical clothes
children could move about in. With the rise of the industrial
revolution and relatively cheaply produced cotton goods children began to
wear lighter weight softer washable cottons.
Regency, Victorian and Edwardian girls all wore pinafores and smocks to
cover up and keep clean their dresses. The volume of decoration of smocks,
aprons and pinafores depended on the occasion. Party aprons being made of
fine lace and heavily trimmed were ornate and lavish with embroidery.
By the 1800s clothes for
children were more relaxed in appearance, but so too were the fashions of
adults of that era.
As the C19th moved on, children's
fashions were often in imitation of adults, but were never so cumbersome as
in previous eras. By the mid Victorian
era children's clothes were often featured in fashion magazines and
ultimately on fashion plates.
One feature common through much of the C19th
were an under/outer garment called pantelettes.
the early 1800s, as soon as they were running around, girls wore dresses of
muslin, dotted Swiss, white percale, lawn and nankeen - a yellow buff
coloured fabric from China. Empire line gowns following the fashion of the
day were usual. Simple lightweight muslin dress styles with a high cut
empire line bodice seam of the early
1800s were worn with a slip. The dress was drawn together with a ribbon
or sash just beneath the chest.
These dresses right in the painting called 'The Sisters' circa 1800, are
very typical of muslin and fine lawn fashions that adults of the early C19th
wore. (This painting is attributed to John Opie 1761 to 1807 and also
John Hoppner 1758 to 1810),
By 1825 fashion conscious elements had crept back into the styles and girls
soon looked liked mini adults again.
Fashion trimmings returned with a vengeance in the Romantic era.
Profuse decoration in the form of ruffles, flounces, and fur trims with the
waistline moving down in the same ways as adult dress had, was topped by ornate
hats and bonnets. The gigot sleeves of adult women were repeated in
the styles of girl's dresses.
The skirt length on an individual child was a
sign of her age. This lovely fashion plate right is from a book
sold by an antiquarian Fashion Books bookseller
Jon Edgson at eBay.
This image shows children of 1837 and you can see how closely these children
look like mini adults of the era.
As children's clothing has evolved over time, so too has
as you can see here. Today there
are many options for consumers to choose when it comes to costumes for
children. One great source is Halloween Express.
In the C18th all girls wore floor length gowns. In the early
1800s young girls began to have their skirts shortened. A seventeen and eighteen year girl was considered to be a young lady and
wore skirts ground length just like adult women did. Most sixteen year
old wore gowns to the ankles, a fourteen year old skirts to the calves, but
a 12 year old wore skirts to just below the knee.
Not even the youngest child escaped the wearing of a crinoline supported
skirt. By the 1840s those skirts were true crinoline style. They
were pushed out with stiff starched petticoats and horsehair crin fabric
petticoats in layers. Later a wire hoop cage crinoline, a mini version
of adult crinolines, liberated youngsters as it made lighter work of the job.
This image is of a fashion plate dated 1863 and from
Fashion Books at eBay.
Modesty meant that
all girls wore long full length pantaloons beneath these skirts so
that onlookers saw glimpses of lace white frill peeping beneath hemlines.
A breeze or gust
of wind could easily tip a crinoline off balance and reveal legs, but ones
fully clothed in broderie anglaise. Even the poor followed this
fashion and used a simpler leg covering of white linen or cotton frilled
tubes which were called pantelettes.
The visibility of these
items actually became a fashion. Other undergarments meant to be seen
included drawers with attachment legs for easy laundering and to accommodate
This image is of a fashion plate dated 1863 and from stock held at
Fashion Books at eBay.
Just as the crinoline on adult dress moved toward the garment back so
did the crinoline on little girl's dresses. When the adult bustle came
into fashion little girls wore long waisted dresses atop a false pleated
This fashion and variations of it for 30 years or so. This fashion
plate of 1881 to the right is from a book sold from
Fashion Books at eBay.
shows how the dress of girls followed the slimmer styles of the early 1880s.
As time passed this style continued but with
the top part of the dress often bloused over a deep dropped waist sash. It
heralded the S-bend pouched blouse adult styles of the Edwardian woman.
By the time of the second bustle girls sometimes wore a softer less
restrictive polonaise lighter weight version. Despite the fact that
there was often a strong resemblance to adult female dress there is no doubt
that garments for girls although still restrictive by today's standards had
progressively become lighter and less cumbersome.
Various fads of fashion with children's clothing included a love of
tartan fabrics or sailor elements. If you click this thumbnail right
left you will see the tartan dress more clearly. This children's fashion
history book is typical of books sold by
UK seller Jon Edgson at the
Fashion Books shop at eBay.
Sailor styles in various forms were
especially popular once the seaside visit became the norm.
Large sailor style collars and contrast rows of braiding decorated both
girls and boys clothing through the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Quartermaster jackets were also worn over a plastron dickey
false front instead of over a complete blouse. These last two
illustrations show the large collars and jabots.
Ornate frilled dresses for girls of age 5 or more were popular in the early
Edwardian years. Often the dresses had a heavily frilled yoke and either a
flowing smock skirt, which ended in a frill, or a bloused bodice.
might be either loosely bloused, or bunched with a sash into a blouson low waist effect.
Flounces were popular too as skirts layers or as a decorative trim.
Throughout the C19th girls wore lavish flower and ribbon
trimmed hats or bonnets always when out of doors. On occasion when
dressed for school, outdoor walking or when wearing sailor dresses, they also wore
berets or pompom finished tam-o'shanters. Left girl wearing a red coat
and a tam o'shanter in 1916.
The children's costume colouring-in pages in this section, reflect the variety of clothes
styles that girls mostly wore through the Regency, Victorian and
My thanks for use of images to UK seller
Jon Edgson of Fashion Books
where you will find a continuous and varying collection of
fashion history, costume history or textile related books.
note this site DOES NOT provide information on Boy's costume in any way.
find many colouring in images of girl's dress in the list below and a page on
Victorian Christening dress here.
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
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