When Little Boys Wore Dresses, and It Wasn’t Controversial [Genealogy]

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When Little Boys Wore Dresses, and It Wasn’t Controversial [Genealogy] –

Today gender issues in children are a controversial topic. If a little boy wears dresses all the time, it might get him a trip to a daytime talk show, but there was a time when all little boys and little girls wore dresses for the first several years of their lives.

I’ve been sharing photos from the rescued Ward/Pettyjohn album for the last several weeks. You can read more about how these photos came into my possession in Rescued Photo Album – Ward and Pettyjohn Families of Randolph County, Indiana. To view a family tree I compiled for some of these individuals, click here.

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This photo was originally shared on a blog I had years ago but abandoned after a few posts.

Riggins Boy Before & After Haircut – Savannah, Missouri

The next two photos are my favorites from the Ward and Pettyjohn Album.  According to the labels, the photos display a young boy (surname Riggins) before and after a haircut.  I think without the labels one would assume the first portrait to be a girl.  The young lad does not appear to be all that happy about his new hairdo.

When Little Boys Wore Dresses, and It Wasn't Controversial [Genealogy] - Riggins Child Before & After Haircut #genealogy #familytree #familyhistory #ancestry

18th & 19th Century Children’s Dress Norms

While these photos of the Riggins child may seem odd to us today, this child was dressed in a way that was quite normal for his time. Little children were dressed the same for the first several years of life regardless of gender. With just a bit of online research, it seems a couple of conditions came into play to influence this way of dress.

In an attempt to preserve childhood for these children in a harsh world, they were basically treated as genderless for the first several years. “Sexless” was equated with innocence at that time, and parents wanted their small children to remain pure and innocent as long as possible. You can read more about the history leading up to these attitudes in The Herald Bulletin’s article In History: Why Little Boys Wore Dresses.

More practical reasons for dressing little boys in gowns stemmed from the reality of diapering babies. Pants, more officially known as breeches, were very difficult to unfasten and fasten in those days. Trying to change a diaper several times a day, under those circumstances, would have been completely impractical for mothers.

Wikipedia’s article on Breeching (the practice of moving a young boy into pants instead of gowns) says “breeching” would have occurred between the ages of two and eight and was often celebrated with a party. In some areas, the little boy would go around to all the neighbors to show off his new breeches and collect gifts along the way.

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When Little Boys Wore Dresses, and It Wasn't Controversial [Genealogy] - Riggins Child Before & After Haircut #genealogy #familytree #familyhistory #ancestry

So what do you think? Should we return small children to this style of dress?


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Rescued Photo Album - Ward and Pettyjohn Families of Randolph County, Indiana [Genealogy] - Margery (Ward) McKew - #genealogy #familytree #familyhistory #ancestry #ancestors #indianahistory #oldphoto

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