Artifact Corner: Victorian Child’s Gown

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a lovely child’s gown. This gown is made from white wool and is both machine stitched and hand stitched. It is also beautifully hand embroidered. The fact that there is machine stitching means that it is likely from the late Victorian period. Based on the size of the gown this belonged to a toddler and not an infant. Let’s learn more about this history of young children’s clothing.

The first clothing children wore when they were infants was a long linen shirt or slip, and a cloth diaper. For thousands of years infants were swaddled. Swaddling is the practice of wrapping infants in blankets or similar cloths so that the movement of the limbs is tightly restricted. Babies were taken out of swaddling at between two and four months and put into “slips,” long linen or cotton dresses. The practice of swaddling began to fall out of favor in the late 18th century, and so babies were dressed in slips for the the first few months of their lives. As the children began to crawl and subsequently walk their out ts reflected their need for mobility. The slips or gowns were shortened to ankle length allowing them more freedom of movement. Both male and female children were dressed identically throughout their early years, so all young children wore slips or gowns. This was very practical, because changing a diaper was far easier when all you had to do was lift up a gown. Gowns or slips were also easier to sew, and since most clothing was handmade, it was the most efficient. The most common color for babies and young children’s clothing was white. This was due to it being the easiest to wash and bleach, removing most of the stains that were inevitably going to be all over their garments.

The practice of little boys leaving o gowns or dresses was the practice known as breeching. This was when boys would start wearing trousers or pants, and typically happened between the ages of three to four years old, or around the time the child was no longer in diapers. After WWI this practice started to change, and the breeching process started to get earlier and earlier. By the 1920’s clothing for children started to tend more towards colors and less stark white. One piece garments, like rompers became all the rage in the 1920’s as well. For girls, dresses remained the fashion, but were shortened to allow more freedom of movement. Now dress or gown lengths went to just below the knee, rather than to the ankle, and would be worn with long socks to keep their legs warm. Today, we are spoiled for choice, as we have endless options for colors, materials, and designs. The children’s clothing industry is projected to make $279 billion dollars worldwide in 2024, and those figures are projected to rise in the next five years.</p

This gown is in good condition. There is almost no staining, and looks like it was either rarely worn, or laundered very regularly. There are a few small holes, but overall it is in fantastic condition. The hand embroidery is really quite lovely. This is a darling glimpse into the world of children’s clothing in the late Victorian period, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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