My past few blogs have explored how babies used to be swaddled, how small boys were made to wear dresses in the eighteenth century, and how nineteenth century kids dressed in sailor suits. In part four of this children’s fashion series, today’s blog is about that most unfortunate trend in boys’ fashion, the Fauntleroy suit.
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was published in 1886 and was an immediate hit. The book started a wildly popular fad among middle-class American women to dress their young sons, generally aged 3 to 8, in Fauntleroy suits of velvet, bedecked with lacy collars. Perhaps most unfortunately, many of these boys sported flowing curls that tumbled fetchingly about their shoulders.
Evidently Burnett modeled her fictional character, Cedric Erol, after her own son, Vivian. (Yeah. Not going there. It’s too easy.) The upside, if you call it that, was that mothers began breeching their boys earlier (see my blog from last Friday) and the fashion for dressing small boys in dresses declined. On the downside, boys seemed universally to hate the fashion. (Yes, as I’ve blogged about previously, people rarely smiled for their photos back then, but the mugs on these poor boys seem more dolorous than usual, don’t they?)
The suits were a status symbol for middle-class families, an ostentatious demonstration of a family’s wealth. Obviously a child dressed in expensive velvet, silk, and lace, did not labor in a factory or on a farm. With the growth of the middle class, many well-to-do women had a lot of time on their hands. Many (like Burnett herself) sewed these suits for their sons themselves.
I debated putting this one in. It’s a little haunting. I’m not entirely certain the little girl is alive. (See my blog about such photos if you’re interested.)