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Boys' Clothes: 18th Century

Boys at the beginning of the century continued to be dressed in dresses until 5 or 6 years old. After enmerging from dresses they were atired in minature versions of their father's clothes. In the early 18th century men's coats were made with fuller skirts, and the sleeves were made with wide cuffs. The sleeved vest be- came shorter and was often richly embroi- dered ; after a time the vest was made without sleeves. Another 18th-century addition to male costume was the buckled knee breeches.

It was in England in the first quarter of the century when someone had a novel thought, that boys might be dressed in distinctive juvenile clothes, in this case long trousers or pantaloons. Someone had the inspiration that boys might wear sailors' trousers. Men and boys at the time wore knee breeches. English seamen (not officers) had, however, been dressing in pantaloons since the seventeenth century and English boys adopted trousers a half century before their fathers did.

English children were the first to be emancipated, little girls changing to soft, unlined frocks in the 1770's with France and the Colonies following next. Some well-known writers had taken the age to task for its manner of confining infants' bodies in tight clothes, among them John Locke, the English philosopher (1632-1704), who was probably the big influence in the change. He was followed by Jean Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher (1712-1775), who carried on the crusade and was forced to flee Paris for England because of his revolutionary ideas.

The French Revolution which erupted in 1789 had a major impact on fashion. The changes brought by the revolution affected all areas of French life including fashion. The middle class provided the firmest support for the Revolution and had the most to gain from the changes. When the Sans Culottes (without knee breeches) first appeared in 1792, the costume consisted of a pair of trousers and a Carmagnole, a short jacket based on naval working dress. Suspenders were worn for the first time. The Sans Culottes wore also the red cap of shame symbolizing the new found liberty and freedom. Knee breeches lasted into the next century, but soon men would dress in longs. It wouldd take a few more years before the transition of boys into knee pants would take place.

The change over to trousers began late in the period, knee breeches were still worn for dress as can be seen in contemporary portraits and well know historical figures, such as American Revolutionary figures.

The French Revolution brought about a number of changes in the costume of women, including the "Directoire" dress which had a high waistline, a low neck- line, puff sleeves, and a long, tight skirt. The "Empire" dress, which succeeded the Directoire, was much like it except for the skirt, which was full. These changes in womnen's fashions were paralleled in changing dress for men. Civilian dress for men during this period consisted of a waistcoat over which a long-skirted coat was worn, and the pantalon, breeches that closely fitted the thigh and reached to the ankle.

The writings of the Age of Reason were having an effect in putting children into comfortable-clothes, the trouser costume known as the English sailor's dress being a short little jacket v an open-necked blouse, a waistcoat without skirts and the long breeches. The little girl's frock was usually a sheath of muslin with round neck and short or long sleeves. From the 'seventies on, the floor-length skirt slowly shortened to the ankles revealing the soft little slippers of kid or fabric instead of the earlier, heavy buckled shoes.

Infants' swaddling clothes lasted well into the eighteenth century. The baby also owned a complete set of dress clothes which were worn for the christening ceremony and any other public occasion. Such garments were exquisitely made and beautifully embroidered. The skirts attached to the tiny bodices were invariably a good four feet in length. Yellow was the traditional color for the christening dress with embroidery in silk, or gold for an "upper class baby."






Christopher Wagner

histclo@lycosmail.com


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