Children’s Clothing

Boy's Three-piece SuitBoy’s Three-piece Suit
jacket, skirt, knickerbockers

Wool flannel; cotton; silk velvet ribbon; metal buttons
American, circa 1862
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. L. Ferris, 74.78.2a-c

Worn by Harry Daniel, father of the donor, the suit includes a jacket with sewn-in vest, skirt and knickerbockers. An illustration from a French fashion magazine, La Mode Illustré, depicts a similar outfit described as a suit for a 3-5 year old boy in blue wool with black velvet trim. It was not unusual for boys to wear both pants and overskirts. Dresses were not considered inappropriate wear for boys. In fact, the decorative ribbon and button styling of the jacket reflects the influence of military uniforms.

Boy's Two-piece DressBoy’s Two-piece Dress
Cotton; machine-made trim
American, circa 1884
Gift of Alice Mary Count, 67.9.4a-b

Infants of both sexes wore long white dresses for the first years of life. This dress was worn by Ralph Downs Count and made for him by his grandmother who lived in Middletown, NY.

During the last half of the 19th century, children were depicted in art and literature as innocent, almost angelic creatures to be protected from corrupt influences. White, with its symbolic connotations, was the preferred color for infants and toddlers. Both boys and girls wore dresses or skirts in combination with pantalettes or short pants.

During the 20th century, gender again became significant in dress as the angelic unisex child dressed in embroidered white linen gave way to the identifiably young male in blue or female in pink.

Play SuitBoy’s Play Suit
American, circa 1922
Maker: “Katzenjammer Rompers, Enterprise Mfg. Co., Cleveland”
and “Mandel Brothers, Chicago”
Gift of Mary Elizabeth North and Mary Gaylord North, 84.43.11

Rompers, creepers and playsuits were popularized at the beginning of the century, as was dress derived from worker’s clothing such as overalls, jumpsuits and jeans. This clothing was well suited for the child’s rough and active play.

As attitudes towards clothing changed in the 1920s, clothing manufacturers began to design more casual, practical fashion for children. People began to view childhood as a carefree age. The dressed their children in “playclothes,” that were made expressly for comfort and enjoyment.

Pink DressGirl’s Dress
Cotton: appliquéd
Label: “Julie Tennant, Dallas”
American, early 1990s
Gift of Mary Dutton Boehm, 94.38.7

20th century children’s clothing is continually striving to be novel, cute or charming to adult eyes. Here, a bite taken from a watermelon slice forms the neck opening.

Today, children are dressed more and more like adults, or perhaps it is the adults who have adopted the more casual comfort previously associate with children’s dress. One need only look at the scaled down versions of the same outfits sold at The Gap and Baby Gap to see this trend.

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