Today’s photo is from the family collection of my good friend Mary. She recently scanned a number of old photographs from her in-law’s house, and this fancy pants (or should I say fancy shirt?) little boy, named George, was one of her husband’s relatives.
His clothing style, while typifies the 17th century, was popularized by Francis Hodgson Burnett’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy, published in 1886. The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s museum describes this phenomenon perfectly:
Though the book was extremely popular, it was after the 1888 stage adaption that the “Little Lord Fauntleroy” look became widely popular for young boys. By 1893, variations of Little Lord Fauntleroy’s velvet jacket and breeches were featured in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and Peterson’s Magazine. Surely little boys weren’t flipping through Harper’s Bazaar for fashion inspiration, so it is perhaps more accurate to say that the look was popular with parents who could impose their sartorial will on their sons. Written accounts suggest that “many a boy in the [eighteen]nineties was seared by this weird pestilence. Its contagiousness was heightened by maternal pride. Matrons dressed up their unwilling sons in the way of Master Cedric, and fondly exhibited them…”1
The Little Lord Fauntleroy style remained popular into the first decade of the twentieth century and was well-documented by photographers. Photographic evidence is particularly informative, because it allows us to see how the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit was worn and interpreted by real people. This provides a dimension of knowledge beyond that obtained by looking only at an extant garment.
Just like the curators of FIDM stated above, a large number of little boys spanning from 1888 to 1910 were dressed to the nines in these costumes. The suit was generally made up of a black cutaway velvet jacket and knee breeches, along with a wide lace collar and cuffs. Variations on this style of suit can be seen throughout the widely documented photographic history of boys in the late 19th century. In addition to the suit, little Lord Fauntleroy styled his hair in lovelocks, or long, spiral curls. You’ll find many little boys with this style hair as well. George is a little too young to have the long hair typified by Lord Fauntleroy, but he’s definitely not lacking the curls!
George has a particularly fancy Fauntleroy suit, illustrating his upper class status in Illinois society. The starched, and very white, wide collar, with upturned lace cuffs and ruffled center illustrate the frivolity of the outfit. The wide tartan bow at his neck, the short, cutaway jacket, and the knee breeches (which are tied with ribbons, no less) all add to this as well.
You know he’s not going to be going out and playing in that outfit anytime soon. One little detail that I love is that there’s a little beret styled hat placed on the chair next to his right foot, and definitely looks as if it has never been worn. The plaid of the hat doesn’t match the plaid of George’s bow, either! This makes me think it’s just a prop added to keep the viewer’s eye on the sitter, and draw it away from the ornate wicker chair. Thanks to Mary for letting me feature such an amazing little photograph!
FIDM Museum Blog. ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy.’ Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum and Galleries. 11 September 2009. Weblog. 4 January 2014 http://blog.fidmmuseum.org/museum/2009/09/little-lord-fauntleroy.html