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 Children's Costume History

 Children's Costume History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for


Girl's C18th, C19th & Early C20th Costume History General Information


Please note this site DOES NOT deal with Boy's costume in any way.1791 Woman with children - costume history.

Little Women

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. 

Silk Fabrics

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. 

Less Formality in C18th Dress for Children

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.

Girl's Clothes in the Early 1800s

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. 

Typical Early C19th Fabrics and Fashion Elements

Children in Early 1800sEarly C19th children.

In 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),

Fashions for Children After 1825

By 1825 fashion conscious elements had crept back into the styles and girls soon looked liked mini adults again. 

1837 Costume PlateFashion 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 kids costumes 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.

Skirt Lengths and Hoop Styles for Victorian Young Girls

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.

Pantaloons and Pantelettes

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. 

1858 Pantaloons and Pantelettes 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 lengthening.

This image is of a fashion plate dated 1863 and from stock held at Fashion Books at eBay.

Polonaise Styles

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 skirt.1881 Fashion plate with children

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. 

It 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.

Book cover showing C19th Children's Fashions - The Tartan LookC19th Children's Fashion Fads - Tartan and Sailor Looks

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.

1903 - Dress with sailor collarSailor 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.

Bloused dresses for children in 1902Early C20th Edwardian Fashions for Girls

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. 

The dress 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.


Girl wearing red coat and tam o'shanter hat 1916.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 Edwardian eras. 

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.

Please note this site DOES NOT provide information on Boy's costume in any way.  

You can find many colouring in images of girl's dress in the list below and a page on Victorian Christening dress here.


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This Children's Costume Drawing and Fashion Page Updated Sept 2006

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About 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.Fashion History can take no responsibility for any information on the site which may cause you error, loss or costs incurred from use of the information and links either directly or indirectly.  This site is owned, designed, written and developed by author: Pauline Thomas and Guy Thomas. This site is designed to be viewed in 1024 X 768 or higher.

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