Boys' Clothes: 15th-16th Centuries

Children have not always been dressed in distictive clothes. Children in the 16th and 17th Centuries, once out of their swadling clothes and baby/todler dresses, were dressed virtually as minature adults. The portraits of children of earlier centuries the tiny figures their rich dress-up clothes look like dwarf adults. And adults were what their elders were trying to make of them, not only in appearance but mentally -). In the homes of European upper classes, infants were often put to study under tutors and governesses when about 3 years old. From contemporary letters and diaries, one learns that education was concentrated upon so early .at it was not unusual for a child of four or five to be able to read, write and understand as well as to speak several languages.

Dressing children in adult styles came about during the Renaissance with the increase of wealthy merchant families, especially in the cities. Thus developed love of finery that in earlier times had been accessible only to nobility. And since costly clothes have ever been the outward sign of affluence, it was important that the children be as richly dressed as their parents. However, indoors "en famille" the garb consisted of a coarse, unbleached linen chemise or smock which was the undergarment worn under the handsome dress. This undergarment whether of linen or woolen cloth was the sole piece of underwear worn by men, women and children of both sexes. As the general body garment for babies, it came to be known in the thirteenth century as the "gertrude," the name still in use today for the flannel petticoat of the new baby. Research reveals that a Saint Gertrude of German birth was "Gertrude the Great," an abbess of Nivelle in Brabant who lived from 1256 to 1311. She was famed for having received supernatural visions but certainly, too, must always have worn a woolen piece of underwear.

Medevil fashion began to give way to more modern fashion during the mid-15th Century. The loose draping of garments based on classical times gave way to tailoring or closely adapting clothes to the body. The garments worn by nobels and wealthy merchants were tailored and then elaborately adorned, either with passemeteire or trimmings, or by quilting. The hose were the only article of clothing not adorned with decorations. By the 16th century the hose were divided into trunk hose or hauts-de-chausses, which consisted sisted of a number of rings or puffs of material passing horizontally around the thigh; and stockings or bas-de-chausses. The trunk hose in time evolved into knee breeches. About the year 1660 the coat and vest were introduced in France and brought to England by Charles II. The vest reached to the knees and had sleeves. The coat reached a little lower than the vest. From these garments the present- day coat and waistcoat gradually developed. As boys were dressed as their fathers, these fashion trends extended to them as well.

Dress-up clothes were for occasions of entertaining and visiting and like those of the adults, were of satin, velvet, brocade and occasionally of white satin worked with gold and silver thread. Since the heavy fabrics were reinforced with buckram glued to the under side, underwear was of little consideration except as a protection for the gown in touching the body. The coif or bonnet of linen was always worn during the Middle Ages indoors and out because it was considered wise to keep the head of a child covered, a thought that applied to adults as well, the coif being worn for centuries.

Little boys wore the incongruous busk-front doublet and little girls were dressed in the stiff stomacher of the period. There were the same dark colors, principally green, and brown, and the same hard, board-like corset underneath. Corsets in those days were of heavy, boned canvas or of "cuir bouilli" which was boiled leather.

A custom which lasted into the eighteenth century in Europe and the Colonies was that of dressing little tots, both boy and girl in the same ankle-length dress. Boys wore the dress to five or seven years when they were "breeched." It is amazing to find when studying the contemporary portraits of children that one cannot tell boy from girl except by name. Over the elaborate frock as protection was worn a "pinafore," an apron pinned to the front, often of sheer linen, embroidered and lace-trimmed.

Swaddling clothes or "bands" were what babies were bound up in. the new baby encased in a sort of pocket with board back, of quilted cotton cloth ornamented with frills and elaborately embroidered. The child's hands and feet were held in place and the ears held close to the head by its cap. The contraption resembled the American Indian's packsack for carrying around the papoose. One could carry the child on one's back, could place it on its back in the cradle or hang it on the wall.

A fashion of the days when fashions lasted for a hundred years or more was "hanging sleeves." An extra pair of sleeves often slashed, hung unused in back as a purely ornamental feature of the rich costume of man, woman or child. A mode of the Renaissance, it carried over into the seventeenth century, worn in Europe and in the Colonies. Hanging sleeves were seen longer in children's dress especially on the very young. After it passed, one would come upon the expression in literature of the eighteenth century, "hanging sleeves" being applied to an infant or an elderly person signifying either childhood or second childhood.

In Europe, England and America there developed a tendency to brighten youngsters' clothes with touches of scarlet, a color which took hold among the subdued Quakers. It became a favorite accent especially in linings that revealed themselves as in capes and sleeves and in ribbon bow knots and tassels.

Christopher Wagner

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