BOY’S SUIT OF CHECKED HOMESPUN COTTON
American, ca. 1800-10
In the latter half of the eighteenth century, changing attitudes towards children and their upbringing resulted in a corresponding change in their clothing. No longer viewed as miniature adults, young boys and girls were acknowledged as separate individuals with their own needs. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile (1762) as well as other writings on the subject were enormously influential in advocating loose, comfortable clothing appropriate to children’s physical well-being and their pursuit of out-of-door activities.
Found in Salisbury, Connecticut, this charming boy’s suit reflects the more informal style of children’s dress characteristic of the turn of the nineteenth century. The double-breasted coat is similar to an adult man’s and contains a deep interior pocket on the right of the tails—perfect for carrying small toys or treasures. The easy-fitting trousers, however, were adopted from working men’s wardrobes and allowed for greater freedom of movement than restrictive knee breeches. The use of blue-and-white checked homespun cotton, a durable and washable fabric, also attests to the suit’s practicality for a young wearer. Plain and simply patterned textiles were produced throughout New England in this period, and were staples of domestic clothing consumption. To complete this outfit, a boy would have worn a white cotton or linen shirt with a soft, ruffled collar—in marked contrast to the high, stiffly starched collar bound with a cravat seen on men’s shirts.
A man’s blue checked linen coat, probably from New England and similar in cut and date, is in the collection of the Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1997.508).