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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).

boy's suit of checked homespun cotton
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