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What Did Wealthy Victorian Children Wear?

July 28, 2014

Each season the Flynn mansion staff selects a special aspect of Victorian lifestyle to research. For the past three seasons, we’ve been studying the clothing that wealthy children wore in the late 1800s. Since we don’t usually have volunteers under age five here at the mansion, we realized that many of our visitors might be curious about how these little ones were dressed.

First, we wanted to focus on babies. Since Ellen Flynn gave birth to her sixth child, William, in May 1875, we decided to create a layette for “Baby William”. We purchased a baby doll to serve as a model for the clothes we were making.

Baby

Both volunteers and staff worked on the layette which gave everyone a chance to demonstrate their handwork skills. Using several articles from Godey’s Ladies Book, Harper’s Bazaar magazine, and The Workwoman’s Guide, we went to work, and by August of 2011, we had created a basic wardrobe. Baby William now sports a flannel belly band, to support his intestines, a cloth diaper folded several times into a triangle and fastened with a diaper pin (yes, they had safety pins in 1875), and a flannel soaker. A soaker was the Victorian forerunner to plastic pants. Over these basic layers, he would wear a shirt that tied at the neck in front, a petticoat and a long white dress. Both boys and girls wore long dresses. The richer you were, the longer the skirt! As the baby got older, his hem would be shortened to encourage crawling. Baby William also has several bonnets, a crocheted belly band, a crocheted bib, and two sets of booties.

layette

Some items of Baby William’s layette

During the 2012 season, we focused our attention on the first two Flynn daughters, Katherine and Mary Ellen, who were living in the home in 1875. Katherine would have been eight years old in 1875. Period Clothing Supervisor, Laura Poresky, designed a young lady’s dress of gray linen, trimmed with navy blue cord, and just the hint of a bustle in the back.

Katherine's dress

Eight year old Katherine’s dress

Mary Ellen would have been four in 1875, so for her we created an elegant white batiste dress with tucks, lace, and a wide pink satin sash with a large pink bow tied in the back. Each little girl would have worn at least one petticoat under her dress as well as drawers, stockings, and high button shoes. We’ve begun creating some of these undergarments, and hope to have some petticoats completed in 2014.

Mary Ellen's dress

Four year old Mary Ellen’s dress

Young Frank Flynn would have been two in 1875, and our historic interpreter, Karen Nordholm, made a frilly white dress trimmed with rows of lace to display in his room. Little boys under the age of five usually wore dresses, and quite often the boys’ clothes were as elaborately trimmed as the girls’. A young lad received his first pair of short pants about the age of five or six.

parlor 009

Two year old Frank’s dress

In the boy’s room of the house you can see outfits for the Flynn family’s older boys. In 1875, John was age 6, and Thomas was age 9. Most boys would be wearing long sleeved shirts, sturdy dark colored pants, and suspenders for everyday.

boys clothing

Stop in to the Flynn Mansion to see these textiles in person, and find out what we’re working on next!

 

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