Victorian Farmlife

Victorian Farmlife

Children’s Clothing

Children’s fashions underwent a number of changes during the Victorian period. In the 1850s and 1860s, fashionable little girls wore crinoline petticoats, like their mothers, with the important difference that their skirts were short instead of long. In the 1870s and 1880s, narrow skirts that were much more restrictive became popular. Fauntleroy suits (named after a character in a best-selling novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett) were very fashionable for boys at this time. The suits consisted of a velvet tunic or jacket with matching breeches and a lace collar. In the 1890s, however, it became acceptable for girls to wear loose fitting dresses and separate skirts and blouses. Sailor suits, first seen on Queen Victoria’s eldest son, had become extremely popular for both boys and girls. Although these clothes were an improvement on some of the earlier fashions, they would still have been quite restrictive by modern standards. Perhaps the biggest difference between Victorian and 21st century clothes is in the number of layers worn underneath. A girl would start with a chemise (a loose fitting shift), then drawers (long knickers), stays (a softer version of a corset), stockings and at least two petticoats. For centuries, boys had worn dresses (instead of breeches or trousers) as babies and up until they were around five years old. The most likely theory for this is that it was easier to change babies’ nappies and for little boys to go to the toilet as breeches and trousers often had complicated fastenings. Apart from babies’ and toddlers’ dresses, which were usually white, boys’ dresses were often in darker or brighter colours than girls’ were. They were often also more tailored with metal, rather than fabric covered, buttons. Children from poorer families wore patched and mended clothes that had often been bought second hand, and then passed down through the family. Even children from relatively comfortable backgrounds would have owned very few outfits: perhaps two for weekdays and one for Sunday best. The invention of the domestic sewing machine in 1851 meant that clothes could be made at home quickly and easily. This was a great help to many, but the poorest could not afford them. Some children went barefoot, even in winter, when they would pad their clothes with newspaper to try to keep warm.

 
 

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The Village, Church Farm and the project Victorian Farm Life documents a wealth of information exploring rural Lincolnshire.

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