In contrast to today’s fun and colorful baby clothes, children’s attire back in ye olden days were a little less ‘aww how cute!’ and more ‘oh my god that’s mildly terrifying’. I mean, we get it, it was the fashion of the times, and back then, children of all ages (yes, even infants) had societal roles to play that were mirrored in the clothes they wore.
Yes, back then, both here and in Europe, even babies were expected to have some role in society, even if it’s just being cute. Here’s a brief overview of the history of baby clothes and why we should thank our lucky stars they’re no longer in fashion.
It Started with Swaddling…
The idea of swaddling a baby –that is, keeping them wrapped tight like a burrito –had been in place for centuries, with medieval folk believing that babies’ limbs needed to be kept straight and supported as much as possible, lest they grow bent and out of shape. By the early 1800’s, however, many doctors (taking their cue from John Locke’s book Some Thoughts Concerning Education) believed that swaddling was bad for children and advocated for their abandonment entirely.
…And It Slipped into, Well, Slips
By the eighteenth century, parents kept their children swaddled only for the first 2 months, after which, they were dressed in long dresses made of cotton or linen called slips. Slips were designed with fitted bodices and full skirts that extended almost a foot beyond the kid’s feet.
Once the baby started crawling, the long slips were replaced by “short clothes”: a combination of ankle-length petticoats and fitted, back-opening bodices. The bodices were usually boned or stiffened to help the child develop a more ‘natural’ form. This style of clothing was worn by girls from infancy all the way to adolescence. Meanwhile, boys had to wear something else.
Unto the Breech
While the fashion choices of girls back in the 18th and 19th centuries were limited, boys were expected to wear something else entirely. By the age of four or seven, boys were expected to be ready for ‘breeching’; that is, they were expected to wear child-sized version of adult male clothing. The age of breeching varied depending on how ‘mature’ the child was, usually determined by how ‘masculine’ the child looked. Breeching was a very important part of a boy’s development back in the early days, as this meant that they were ready to take on more mature roles as was befitting of their gender (remember, gender roles were a thing back then!).
Colors for Gender Were Reversed
Nowadays, it’s almost universally-accepted that boy’s clothes/toys have to be blue, while girls have to be pink. But this was actually a modern invention: prior to the 50s, pink was actually meant for boys and blue was for girls, with a 1939 article of Parent Magazine making the rationale that pink was just a paler shade of red, which was the color of the God of War Mars, and blue was the color of Venus. Strange times!