Antique Detective: Children’s Early-Made Clothing a Hot Collectible

clothing3By Anne Gilbert

 

   Do you know that children’s clothing has a long and fascinating history dating back to the 16th century? Boys and girls wore gowns, robes or tunics. Totally sexless. Fast forward to your own early childhood! What did you wear when you were from six to ten years old? Maybe its’ collectible.
   Clothing made for babies. little boys and and girls has radically changed over the centuries. This is one of the many reasons that there are collectors who compete with museums for the most interesting examples.    Many collectors are creating their own family heirlooms from the handmade children’s clothing from the past and adapting it to the present. It offers a charming alternative to the acrylics and mass produced contemporary children’s clothing.
   Some collectors display it as an art from, mounted. framed and hanging on a wall. Others photograph their children wearing an example for a special occasion. For those who aren’t fortunate enough to inherit lacy christening gowns and bonnets, buying a vintage or Victorian example, from a dealer or auction, is the answer. However there are many treasures lying forgotten in attics awaiting discovery.
   Victorian christening gowns, so popular with today’s collectors, were meant to be handed down from generation to generation. They had tiny drawstrings at the neck and waist. That way they could be let out or taken in to fit the next baby.
   These days the christening gowns lavished with the finest lace work can sell for hundreds of dollars. They could include hand bobbin lace inserts and various types of needlework embroidery.
clothing1   Historically, children’s fashions in the early decades of the 19th century often preceded similar changes in adult clothing. For instance, simple frocks for girls reflected the then high-waisted, neo-classic style for women. Trousers for young boys were popular long before they were adopted as adult male clothing. However, prior to the 19th century, children were dressed as miniature adults. Social reforms at the end of the 18th century inspired changes in clothing designed for the special needs of children’s christening gowns and accessories.
   Ever wonder why “blue” is the color for boy babies and “pink for girls?” The color code for genders became standardized in 1910, and is still in use these days. Who knows why?
   Children’s fashions were first mentioned in fashion magazines in the 1870s. At the same time ready-to-wear clothing for children was sold. By the 1920s there were patterns for childrens’ clothing. These patterns are a popular collectible these days since they are scarce.
   Collectors also like to add bibs, bonnets and other accessories to their collections. For small children a matched set included a dress. Some bibs tied around the waist. Even the humble bib was often trimmed with lace and cutwork.
   Rompers are a long forgotten word and item. In the 1890s, these bloomer-like pants were worn by creeping infants of both sexes. They can be classified as the first uni-sex childrens’ outfits. Later in the century they became decorated with drums and soldiers for boys and dolls and flowers for girls.
   Collectors separate and specialize childrens’ clothing into design years during which major changes occurred. For example, the “Mod, hippie and disco” years are 1965-1976. Fabrics and designs define the eras.    Like other vintage and antique textiles time has often created problems. Many times they have been stuffed into trunks and drawers, resulting in stains and wrinkles. Often all they need is a delicate washing to bring out details such as embroidery and lace.
clothing2   The most collectible items are christening dresses, childrens purse and accessories. People have discovered that purses and bonnets make wonderful decorative accessories when framed. Workmanship, condition and rarity determine the price as well as eye appeal.
   You may be surprised to learn that little boys wore dresses in the 19th century. The clue to if they are boys’ are the buttons on the front.
   Another surprise is that children’s fashions in the early decades of the 19th century often preceded similar changes in adult clothing. For instance simple frocks for girls reflected the then popular high-waisted, neo-classical style for women. Trousers for young boys were popular long before they were adapted as adult male dress. Social reforms at the end of the 18th century inspired changes in clothing designed for the special needs of children’s christening gowns and accessories.
   Most collectors like to add bibs, bonnets and other accessories to their collections. 19th century babies wore fine silk embroidered bonnets with matching bibs. For small children a matched set included a dress for girls. Some bibs tied around the waist. Fine lace and cutwork were used.
   By 1900 there were children’s beach fashions: dresses of course.
   Historically, children’s fashions were first mentioned in fashion magazines in the 1870s. At the same time, ready-to-wear clothing for children was sold.
   By the 1920s there were patterns for childrens’ clothing. They make an interesting addition to a collection when framed.
   Collectors also look for Mod, Hippie and Disco items dating 1965-1976.
   Check out sellers on eBay and at flea markets. Prices are down these days and good buys are available.    PHOTO: (1) Antique christening gown. PHOTO CREDIT: LuvMeTwoTimes PHOTO: (2) Boys romper. PHOTO CREDIT: Etsy.com PHOTO (3) Childrens patterns, 1940s PHOTO CREDIT: Leachway UK 40s, 50s PHOTO: (4) Child’s bonnet, 1920s. PHOTO CREDIT: Etsy.com

 

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