Little Lord Fauntleroy Suits

Figure 1.--There were many variations to Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. These brothers are dressed in matching Fauntleroy suits. They have lace collars sewn on their jackets rather than a fancy blouse.

Francis Hodgson Burnett helped popularize a style of dress for boys that proved exceedingly popular among doting mothers in the late 19th and early 20th century. The author modeled her famous fictional creation after her own son, Vivian, and thereby condemned a generation of "manly little chaps" to the picturesque romantic outfits. The actual descriptions of Little Lord Fauntleroy suits were limited in her book, Little Lord Fauntleroy. Perhaps even more influential than the text were the pictures drawn by Reginald Birch, the artist who illustrated the story. The book and illustrations were responsible for an enduring vogue of boy's clothes in the style of the Cavalier or Van Dyck Period worn by the young hero of the story.


Fancy velvet suits for boys were not the creation of Mrs. Burnett. She was born in England and lived for a time in France. Thus she got many of her ideas from European fashions that were worn by boys from affluent families. The clothing styles popularized in her book were based on the styles she adopted for her two sons, Vivian and his older brother Lionel. She made the boys' clothing herself. It became a labor of love, enhanced by the young author's romantic imagination. The result was the flamboyant page-boy costume popularized in her book and accompanying illustrations. The drawings pictured a kneepants velvet suit and deep lace collars red or black satin sash, long hair, and a picturesque plumed hat.

The Book

The story first appeared in St Nicholas Magazine in November 1885. The first book edition of Little Lord Fauntleroy was published in 1886. She described Cedric's appearance in the book: "What the Earl saw was a graceful, childish figure in a black velvet suit, with a lace collar, and with love locks waving about the handsome, many little face, whose eyes met his with a look of innocent good-fellowship." It was an instant success. At the time it was not considered a child's book, but read as a serious novel. The popularity of the book on both sides of the Atlantic indelibly popularized the elaborately trimmed velvet suits.


Velvet suits with lace collars were worn by small boys as party dress before the publication of Ms. Burnett's novel. It was her book, however, that put these suits on the fashion map and gave them their instantly recognizable name. While mothers were enchanted with novel and elegant suits, they were not popular with the boys, especially when mothers selected them for boys much beyond 6 or 7 years. The sons of countless impressionable American mothers, however, were condemned to velvet page-boy suits, short pants, lace collars, and the crowning burden--long flowing curls. The ringlet curls were especially popular in America. Little Lord Fauntleroy had arrived on the American sartorial scene with a vengeance. The desire of American mothers to show demonstrate their economic position by emulating their concept of the dress of English aristocracy played an important role in the Fauntleroy craze which swept the nation. England played a major role in setting American fashion.


Boys beginning at about 2-5 years of age who wore dresses and kilted suits often were outfitted in Fauntleroy suits as their first boyish outfits. Most stores offered Fauntleroy suits in sizes from 2/3 to 8 years. This meant a boy receiving a new suit at 8, might still be wearing it at 9 or 10. Boys as old as 13 in rich or aristocratic families are known to have worn them. The heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, for example, was still wearing velvet suits at 13. Most boys, however, only wore them up to about 6 or 8 years of age.


The Fauntleroy rage began in the 1880s and was wide spread during the 1990s. The popularity of the classic Fauntleroy suit continued through the turn of the century. Fauntleroy suits were still worn in the 1910s, but generally declined in popularity after the 1900s. Lace collars were generally replaced with ruffled collars. The classic velvet Fauntleroy suit became much less common after World War I (1914-18). Less elaborate Fauntleroy suits continued into the 1920s, but with mostly with short pants. Mothers on the Continent, especially in France or Italy, chose very short short pants for boys with lacy blouses, although not as elaborate as those worn during the height of the Fauntleroy craze in the late 19th Century. They were often worn with white stockings or knee socks and black patent strap shoes. The white stockings or knee socks seemed especially child-like as such stockings were more commonly worn by girls. Boys wearing these Fauntleroy suits during the 1920s were unlikely to have the long curls common in the 1880s-90s, but they might have bangs or somewhat longer hair than fashionable for boys of the time.

Stylistic Elements

The most distinguishing feature was an elaborate lace collar and fancy blouse. Many of the early suits also had lace at the hem of the knee length pants. Very young boys might be dressed in a Fauntleroy jacket and lace collar with a kilt or frock instead of pants. Some particularly doting mothers might keep an older boy in a kilt Fauntleroy suit, a lacy blouse and collar, velvet jacket, but a kilt instead of short pants. An older boy would generally be outfitted in a plaid rather than the solid color kilt suits worn by the younger boys. The suits at first had mostly knee or below the knee pants worn with black stockings and shoes. As time past the use of white stockings, shorter pants, and black patent strap shoes was introduced. Some mothers even kept boys wearing Fauntleroy suits in long hair with ringlet curls.

Styles varied, but one clothing catalog described the following Fauntleroy suit:

In this instance the costume is pictured made of dark-blue velvet, white silk, cambric and all-over embroidery. The trousers reach a little below the knees and are shaped by darts and the customary seams along the inside and outside of the leg; and the closing is made at the sides with button-holes and buttons. The trousers are attached by means of buttons and button-holes to a cambric shirt-waist.

The shirt-waist is shaped by shoulder and under-arm seams and closed at the center of the front with buttonholes and buttons, a box-plait being arranged in the front edge of the right front. The fullness at the waist-line is collected at the back and at each side of the closing by two rows of shirring made at belt depth apart; a belt is applied to the waist between the shirrings, and buttons are sewed to the belt for the attachment of the trousers. The shirt sleeves are of comfortable width and are finished with wristbands, to which deep, round cuffs arc joined; and a stylishly deep sailor-collar mounted on a band is at the neck.

The back of the jacket is nicely conformed to the figure by a curving center seam, and joins the fronts in shoulder and side seams. An opening to a side pocket is made in each front, and the closing is made at the center of the front with button-holes and buttons. The coat sleeves are of comfortable width and are shaped by the usual seems along the inside and outside of the arm. The sailor collar and round cliffs of the shirtwaist roll prettily over the neck and wrists of the jacket, and the waist is encircled by a silk sash. The long edges of the sash are seamed, and the ends are gathered up closely and finished with tassels. The sash is knotted at the left side, and its ends fall to uneven depths.

Fauntleroy costumes are still fashionable for little men, and are developed in velvet, serge, flannel and cloth. Silk is used for the sash and the collar and cuffs may be of Irish point or point de Gene embroidery or Hamburg edging.

We have pattern No. 471.6 in six sizes for little boys from two to seven years of age.


Various materials were used for Fauntleroy suits. The most popular for dress suits was rich velvet. Other materials appeared both for seasonal wear and reasons of economy. Velvet was too heavy for summer wear and very expensive. Fauntleroy suits appeared in serge, flannel, and a variety of other material.


Most Fauntleroy suits were black. The black and white photography of the day, however, and be misleading. There were also many colored suits as well. Dark blue was a popular color. HBC has also noted other colors such as burgundy, forest green, and brown also offered in catalogs.


Fauntleroy suits in the 1880s and 1890s were often worn with various accessories. They almost always worn with hats. The most common were broad-brimmed sailor hats, but some boys also wore tams. Most boys wore large bows, especially in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The bows were of varied colors and patterns. A less common accessory was a silk sash, to add a spot of color. The knee-length pants which ended just below the knee were initially worn with long black stockings. Most of the photographs from the time show the boys in rather heavy high-top shoes.


Even in the 1880s when Little Lord Fauntleroy was published, velvet suits and lace collars for boys were not received with unbridled enthusiasm. Some neighbors had criticized the clothes in which that her two sons were dressed. The Washington press alleged that she was posing the two charming children to impress guests and further her budding literary career. Mrs. Burnett answered her critics:

That the little fellows have worn velvet and lace, and being kindly endowed by Nature, have so adorned it as to fill a weak parent with unbridled vanity, before which peacocks might retire, is true, but I object to their being handicapped in their childhood by stupid, vulgar, unfounded stories, and I advance with due modesty the proposition that my taste for the picturesque has not led me to transform two strong, manly, robust boys into affected, abnormally self-conscious, little mountebanks.

Figure 2.--Some mothers continued dressing boys in Fauntleroy suits even after the turn of the century. The style endured through the 1920s, but with generally less elaborate blouses than in the late 1800s. This older boy, pictured here with his older sister, is wearing a blouse with a ruffled rather than a lace collar. White knee socks and white long stockings also became more common after the turn of the century.

Boys during the Victorian and Edwardian period generally wore what was selected by their mothers. They generally had little say in the matter. But that is not to say they did not have opinions of their own. It is probably safe to say that of all the common styles, Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, especially those with elaborate lace collared blouses, and kilts were among the most disliked by the boys that had to wear them. Only limited information is available on boyish preferences. As a result, it is unclear which were more disliked. Available information suggests, however, that Fauntleroy suits and kilts were some of the most disliked by the boys dressed in them. Many an American youngster secretly hated the author of the book for creating the vogue compelling him to wearing lace collars and black velvet suits.

Social Background

The 1880s and 1890s were a time of great economic expansion in the United States. Great fortunes were made. It was the era of the industrial robber barons. Many Americans shared in the economic expansion. Americans who came from modest circumstances found themselves achieving an affluent middle-class life style. These newly affluent Americans desired to show off their social status with luxurious homes and finishings as well as elegant clothing. Mothers of the day had very limited job opportunities. Thus there attention was focused in their home and family. This volatile combination meant that great attention was given to the children which were also used to show case the family's social status. In fact a veritable arms race ensued. Less affluent mothers tried to copy the Fauntleroy style which simply caused wealthier mothers to create ever more elaborate outfits by heaping on finer and fancier lace collars wore with larger and larger bows.

Fashion Impact

Some authors have speculated that the Fauntleroy craze of the 1880s and 90s helped to create the movement in the 20th century for more practical, casual styles. Fathers may have remembered their Fauntleroy suits and determined that their sons would be dressed more practically and comfortably. World War I was another powerful factor. The demands of the War forced people to adopt a series of War measures such as less formal serviceable clothing. These and other factors helped to create a trend toward casual clothing beginning in the 1920s that has continued to this day.

HBC Expanded Site

Note: Space limitations do not permit us to provide more information on Little Lord Fauntleroy suits or historical photographs. There is, however, additional information and many historical photographs on the expanded Boys Historical Clothing web site. The photographs include those taken during the main period that the suits were popular (1886-1899) and the revival using less elaborate styles, but long white stockings and knee socks (1910-1925). Some of the Continental styles are particularly interesting. Along with the expanded chronological and country coverage, we provide a much more detailed historical and sociolgical asessment of this important style.

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[Dresses] [Kilts] [Smocks] [Pinafores] [Sailor Hats] [Blouses]
[Ring Bearers] [ Curls and Bangs]

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Created: March 3, 1988
Spell checked: August 7, 2001
Last updated: August 7, 2001