Clothes for Tots
I read an article in the Wall Street Journal ( Sat-Sun March 18-19, 2017) entitled “Kid’s Style: The New Order” by Kari Molvar. According to Molvar, there are on-line couture sites dedicated to children’s clothing and accessories for parents ( and presumably grandparents and other gift givers) specializing in the very high end , and price!, attire for the kiddie set. While there are retail outlets for children’s clothing at the mall, the variety is, admittedly, somewhat limited. I remember shopping in Lisbon, where nearly every third shop specialized in clothing for infants and children. This got me thinking of the history of clothing for children and the lack of information available, especially in the times prior to the 17th century.
After the 1700’s there is more information on this subject of youth fashions ,which can be found readily on the Internet. It was not until the mid 1800’s that journals gave detailed descriptions of children’s wear.
However, before that time there is scarce reference to the costumes worn by children. We get information of the past through paintings, drawings and literature created at the time. While not always totally accurate, there is a tendency to put on a “good face” when rendering life styles, these sources do give clues from which historians can draw plausible conclusions. Herein lies our problem. There are few pictorial references to children in early history. One of the few references I found was a painting now in the Louvre “The Dauphin Charles Orland” 1495 by Maitre Des Moulins. According to Francoise Boucher, ( 20,000 Years of Fashion), in the 16th C children’s costume “was still largely practical: flannel gowns, linen bibs, caps with turned up flaps worn over *‘beguins’. In the course of the century they began to be dressed like miniature adults”.
Harry Abrams, Inc, NY
It is reasonable to assume that before the emergence of the middle classes in the 1800’s, few had the financial ability to hire portraits of their family. Most paintings that were not of religious nature were those commissioned by nobility and, therefore, not an accurate representation of the general populace. There is, sadly, another reason that children were generally not represented in early times. The rate of infant mortality was extremely high. Many infants did not survive to childhood, many children did not survive past the age of five years. Perhaps, it was not deemed necessary to provided anything but the basic clothing of tunics and stockings and caps. Until children reached an age when they were put to work in the fields (or later in factories) there was no perceived need for children’s costumes. Even as they aged, as referenced by Boucher they were dressed in scaled-down versions of clothing worn by their parents.
Now, even the young toddler has a sense of what they would prefer to wear. As I have said previously, I volunteer in the Children’s Room of our public library. Every week for Pre-school Story-time 2-5 year olds attend dressed in costumes of their fictional heroes, or dress as seen in the media, choosing their dress and accessories for themselves. Occasionally, their choices are humorous, albeit, whole hearted. Nevertheless they are confident in their fashion style.
*Beguin- a folded piece of linen worn as a hood, under a cap, in the Flemish style.