November 20, 1996–March 23, 1997

Dressing Up

Children's Fashions 1720-1920

"Dressing Up: Children's Fashions 1720-1920" illustrated the developments in children's clothing from the early eighteenth century through the beginning of the twentieth century. More than forty costumes, predominantly from the Museum's permanent collection, were on view along with accessories, toys, dolls, furniture, and paintings.

The exhibition explored the relationship between children's and adults' fashions, and began with several eighteenth-century boys' suits illustrating the tradition of clothing children as miniature adults. Social developments in the late eighteenth century brought about marked reforms in children's costumes, and one of the major innovations for boys - a skeleton suit from the 1790s - was featured in the exhibition.

As the nineteenth century progressed, however, children's fashions returned to restrictive styles closely modeled on adult fashions and with few concessions to childhood needs. Nevertheless, some Victorian children's garments also incorporated elements of fantasy and novelty. Whether it was in sailor suits, Scottish highland outfits, military uniforms, or Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, the late nineteenth century was a great age for dressing up children.

The exhibition concluded with several costumes from the early twentieth century, when fashions specifically designed to suit the needs of children began to emerge. Since then, simplicity and ease have become the dominant criteria for children's dress, a reflection of the active lifestyle of the modern child.