In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children’s Clothes and Costume

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • North America
  • Europe
  • Global Identities

Childhood Studies Children’s Clothes and Costume
Clare Rose
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0079


For a topic so fundamental to establishing an individual’s gender, age, and social identity, children’s clothing has been unevenly studied. Histories of children’s clothing in Britain and the United States emerged from object-based museum catalogues and often paid insufficient attention to the historiography of childhood or historical methodology. Studies of images of children emerged from the history of art and were sometimes more focused on concepts than on practices. Studies of the production of children’s clothing, using economic history methodology, sometimes sidelined the consumer. Thus, each of these areas has its own bibliography. Different approaches to the study of children’s clothes are also apparent in the literature of different time periods; historians of the 18th century, rejecting the elitist focus of Ariès 1996 (cited under Practices before 1800), have examined the records of orphanages to understand the practices of the poor. Historians working on the long 19th century (up to 1920) have used the records of state schools for the practices of the majority population, and the records of retailers for evidence of consumption. For the period after 1920, there are few historically based studies, but some investigations of contemporary practices provide models that could be extended backward. Of the issues encoded by clothing, gender is perhaps the most fundamental. There are several studies of practices before 1920, and many texts examining contemporary practices; unfortunately these do not always intersect, although emerging work may resolve this. Another issue of great interest is the role of clothing in establishing membership of social groups, especially when this is imposed as a uniform. Again, the historical and contemporary work on this topic does not always overlap, but this is a fast-developing field, with interesting research on Japan and China. Most of the work listed above has been based on the majority practices of Britain and North America. However, there are important differences in the practices of minority groups, and some indicative titles are listed for each. The section Global Identities covers both non-European cultures and some key issues around dress in multicultural societies, such as Islamic dress codes for girls. As the history of children’s dress is still underdeveloped, the final section of this article, Historical Sources, outlines some original sources that might be of use for future work. These are divided into Childrearing Guides; Dressmaking and Tailoring Books; Fashion Magazines; Autobiographies and Oral Histories; and Retailers’ Catalogues. These are rich sources of information, although each presents problems of interpretation.

General Overviews

Histories of children’s clothes in Britain emerged from studies of Surviving Garments, and the authors of Buck 1996, Marshall 2008, and Rose 1989 all worked as museum curators, while the authors of Cunnington and Buck 1965 were the founder and first curator of the Gallery of Costume, Manchester, United Kingdom. Detailed knowledge of historic garments, images, and texts informs each of these books, although this is sometimes at the expense of a critical engagement with the historiography of childhood (Ashelford 1996). The reliance on surviving garments can be problematic, as it tends to prioritize middle- and upper-class practices; Rose 1989 attempts to redress this balance. Ewing 1977 contains many useful images, but the commentary on these is limited and does not inform the text.

  • Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500–1914. London: National Trust Enterprises, 1996.

    Chapter 7 gives an overview of elite British children’s clothes from 1600 to 1920, illustrated with paintings and garments from the collections of the National Trust. The contextual information is largely taken from Cunnington and Buck 1965 and Ewing 1977.

  • Buck, Anne. Clothes and the Child: A Handbook of Children’s Dress in England, 1500–1900. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1996.

    This builds on the author’s work with Cunnington (Cunnington and Buck 1965), with additional research and illustrations of surviving garments, images, and original texts. The commentary on different garment types is authoritative, but its organization in sections makes it hard to see overall themes.

  • Cunnington, Phillis, and Anne Buck. Children’s Costume in England, 1300–1900: From the Fourteenth to the End of the Nineteenth Century. London: A & C Black, 1965.

    The founding text for studies in English, based on historic texts, images, and garments. Some of the illustrations are sketches after the originals and can be hard to interpret.

  • Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Children’s Costume. New York: Scribner, 1977.

    A narrative history focused on elite practices, with paintings, photographs, and texts that illustrate rather than informing the argument.

  • Marshall, Noreen. Dictionary of Children’s Clothes. London: V&A, 2008.

    Based on the collections of the V&A Museum of Childhood, well illustrated with original garments, photographs, books, and advertisements. An introduction gives a chronological overview, and appendices discuss underwear, infant layettes, and youth movement uniforms. Its usefulness is limited by the dictionary format.

  • Rose, Clare. Children’s Clothes Since 1750. London: B. T. Batsford, 1989.

    Relates changes in clothing practices to changes in social attitudes and manufacturing techniques. Illustrates many unpublished garments, images, and texts, including some for working-class children.

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