M20939 | Boy's dress

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Boy's dress
About 1860, 19th century
67.2 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Dress (85)
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Keys to History

Prior to the 20th century, gender in dress was considered irrelevant until the age of five or six, and young boys in well-to-do families often wore dresses that differed little from those of their sisters. Only simpler trimmings and a cap instead of bonnet distinguished boys' clothing from girls'.

The boys' fashion for unisex styles that strike us as girlish persisted into the 20th century, despite the lack of enthusiasm on the part of boys. In the 1880s, a brief fashion for lace-trimmed, velvet Fauntleroy suits, worn for special occasions, was the final manifestation of highly feminized clothing for young boys.

Feminized styles were finally abandoned in the early century when changing notions of childhood and gender development made long pants, the colour blue and miniature versions of men's clothing the rule for boys.

  • What

    This silk dress is likely a boy's dress, because of its relative simplicity and lack of trimmings. It would have been worn with petticoats.

  • Where

    Boys did not wear dresses once they were old enough to enter the public sphere on their own, generally when they started school.

  • When

    The styling and material of this dress indicate that it was made in the 1860s.

  • Who

    A boy under the age of five or six would have worn this dress.