In the 1942 Edition of Etiquette, The Blue Book of Social Usage Emily Post clearly states that children should be dressed as they like. Ms. Post wrote entire books about proper behavior for children, but when it came to dress she decided two paragraphs were enough.
“Clothes of children need no comment because children should be allowed to dress like their friends. Nothing makes even a young child, especially a boy, more self-conscious than to look “strange” to the children he plays with.
“Long curls that used to so mortify the small boys of long ago are happily past, but the mother who loves to beribbon and lace trim her daughter like a doll and dress her son in picture clothes when all their friends wear gingham jumpers or jerseys and reefers is not making her darlings look beautiful, but ridiculous.”
Ms. Post’s harsh words were in reaction to the customs for the late 1800s and early 20th century. There were indeed very strict rules of dress for middle class and upper middle class children. This juvenile dress code was carefully followed by many and was indeed a sign of ‘good breeding’.
Babies and toddlers were often dressed in gowns which were often very feminine with both lace and ribbons when they were taken out in public. A baby boy’s hair could grow long and curls were prized both in boys and girls. Gender identification through clothing and hair styles was discouraged until the child was three or older.
Most women’s magazines from this period devoted several pages to current fashion and advertised patterns for these featured styles. It was very common to include dresses and frocks for children mixed in with the women’s clothing. The featured children’s clothing was often elaborate, filled with ribbons, ruffles, satin, and lace.
It was popular for young boy’s formal outfits to have an international theme. Satin sailor suits were also very popular. Boys wore short pants or bloomers and many of these “suits” looked like dresses by today’s standards.
It was a common belief that a child’s clothing was a direct indication of the parents, especially the mother’s, attention and abilities. In a full page advertisement for children’s clothing in the November 1922 edition of ‘The People’s Home Journal’ this idea is clearly stated. It is titled “The Well-dressed Child reflects the Loving Mother.” Sunday clothing and clothing for outings often were designed to coordinate with the siblings or the mother. Many of these outfits were meant to be seen and not played in. Elaborate trim, design, and material could not endure romps outdoors, so children were encouraged to sit quietly and behave.
Emily Post’s words in 1942 were a direct reaction to these practices. Today kids dress in jeans and tee shirts in public. The thought of dressing up a child so he or she would be presentable in a public park sounds odd, yet labels and logos have gained importance and show status. A pair of Michael Jordon running shoes or Calvin Kline jeans is a statement even young children ask for. Maybe these expensive name brands have taken the place of satin sailor suits and ruffled and pleated dresses. Let me know what you think.