Children were supposed to be seen and not heard and when they were seen, they often were
dressed alike, despite age differences! This custom was prevalent in the 19th
century although rich parents dressed their children alike in the 18th century
in miniature versions of adult clothes and the practice continues right into
modern times when children are dressed alike for special occasions.
The craze of dressing siblings alike, gained in popularity during the early
years of the Victorian era, about the 1850's. It mostly amongst the middle classes
and the rich who would dress their children alike for everyday wear, in photographs
of Queen Victorian's daughters taken in the 1850's when they were girls, they
are often shown in matching dresses. Lower class families would sometimes dress
their children in matching attire for special occasions like going to church,
Christmas, etc. This fashion would last into the Edwardian era but wasn't as
common or as popular as it had been in the 19th century.
C.1860- 1861. Two young sisters in matching off the shoulder striped dresses.
Off the shoulder necklines for children had been fashionable on and off throughout
the 18th and 19th centuries until about the early 1880's. Most often, even the
hairstyles would match but note how the youngest girl has short hair. While
"short" hair like the little girl is wearing would become fashionable in the
late 1860's, worn at this early date, probably means she had suffered an illness
sometime before this carte was taken and had her hair cut short as was commonly
done during an illness. Both wear late 1850's/ early 1860's short dome shaped
crinolines under their skirts although the older sister's skirt looks slightly
longer as she is older.
C.1863- 1864. Two teenaged sisters wearing identical hats, dresses and posed
in near identical fashion. Photographers often played up to the "twin- like" nature of this fashion, often
posing siblings in identical or mirror image like poses. Age was not a deterrent
to parents when dressing their children alike, these girls look to be in their
mid 'teens. It could also be possible that these young ladies chose to dress
alike too, especially if they were close. The only difference between the two
are the hairstyles. The eldest girl wears her hair off her face and parted in
the middle, she is conscious of fashion as her hairstyle does not cover her
ears as earlier hairstyles did. Her youngest sister wears girlish, slightly
old fashioned by this time, ringlets but still tries to be conscious of fashion
by not covering her ears. Both wear long skirts, but the older girls reaches
floor length while the younger is slightly off the ground, the girls wear full
fashionable bell shaped crinolines.
C.1864- 1865. A set of two carte de visites showing an older and younger
sister wearing identical hairstyles, dresses and are posed in a similar position.
When I bought these two photos, I thought that they were duplicates of the same
girl until I looked closely and saw they were two sisters! The only difference
in the outfits of these two, are the length of the skirts, the eldest girl wears
an almost floor length skirt while the youngest wears a short skirt with the
legs being visible. A longer skirt would have meant the approaching of adulthood.
Both girls wear fashionable triangular shaped mid '60s cage crinolines and a
high Garibaldi blouses.
C. 1873. Two mirror image carte de visites showing two little girls
in opposite positions on each end of a chair. The photographer has played on the matching theme by
creating a mirror image of the girls. They both wear matching trimmed bustle
gowns. They are quite fashionable little girls as shown by their long polonaise
style bodices. The polonaise became fashionable again a 100 years after the
original 18th century version was in style and in the 1870's, was often called
the Dolly Varden style after Charles Dickens' fictional 18th century heroine,
Dolly Varden. The girls both wear light colored stockings and square toed boots.
There is little to tell the girls apart from height, even if there was a large
gap between the ages, children still were matched.
C.1879- 1881. Two little brothers and an older sister. Although it's more
common in photos to see girls in matching attire, brothers were dressed alike.
This carte shows the boys both wearing a matching button down shirt and breeches.
When a little boy was too old to wear a dress or a skirt (about 5 years old),
he was "breeched", breeches were baggy knee length shorts worn with long socks.
Both boys wear long lace up or button up boots, slightly later on in the mid
1880's, short ankle length shoes would become popular and more comfortable for
C. 1885. Sometimes even adult siblings would choose to dress alike
as shown by this cabinet card. While all four ladies wear similar styled mid 1880's dresses, its the two front
sisters who chose to dress the same. Both wear unusually styled Princess dresses.
While this style was extremely popular at the end of the 1880's, its uncommon
to see mid 1880's princess style dresses, most dresses of the era were made
with a separate bodice and skirt. Their dresses fasten up the side of the skirt
with buttons and have bands of velvet trim in a V shape, on the bodice to give
the illusion of a slim waist. This style of putting velvet bands on the bodice
to emphasize the waist made popular by Lilly Langtry and many a woman copied
this style whether they had a slim waist or not! Both these sisters wear a corsage
on opposite sides of their bodices.
C.1886- 1887. Three little brothers, the two oldest in matching outfits while
the youngest is still in a dress. The two older brothers are old enough to wear
breeches. While the two older boys match, the eldest boy has the unfortunate
luck of having to sport the Little Lord Fauntleroy ringletted hairstyle. This
style was the bane of any little boy of the late 1880's and early 1890's, mother
all wanted their son to look like the little hero of the just published book
of the same name. The second oldest boy looks like his hair is in the process
of being groomed to eventually be in the same style!
C.1889 - 1891. These sisters look very close in age, about 13 or 14 years
old and consequently have been dressed alike. They wear transitional late 1880's,
very early 1890's bustle dresses with kick up sleeves on the bodice. Note the
asymmetrical trim on both bodices, a remnant on the 1880's. The skirts are both
the same length and the height of the girls is about the same confirming that
these two sisters are very close in age. However, the eldest girl on the right,
wears her hair up in a grown up style while her younger sister still wears it
down like a little girl. The matching even goes down to their matching button
up boots! The photographer has posed them very similarly. Note the ridge of
the corset showing on both bellies of the girls.
C.1895. During the mid 1890's, children's clothing began to get less restrictive
than earlier clothing had been. These two little girls both wearing loose fitting
dresses with the fashionable Leg 'O Mutton sleeves. There hairstyles also match
with ribbons tying their hair back. They are both close in age and would probably
continue to be dressed alike well into the Edwardian era. Their older brother
wears a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit.
C.1897- 1898. Although these two sisters look to be in their late teens/ early
20's, they both wearing similar outfits. Although not exactly matching, it looks
like both dresses were cut using the same pattern with the lady on the right,
adding extra trimming to her bodice. It isn't uncommon to see sisters to add
trimmings or make a dress slightly different to their sister to assert individuality.
The dresses are typical late 1890's when the sleeve deflated from the huge melon
sleeves of the mid 1890's and skirts became more gored and simple in design.
C.1910. This is a photo of my ancestors on my maternal grandfather's side. From left
to right, they are: Gladys Vass, my great great grandmother, Mary Westhill and
Louie Vass. Although less prevalent in the Edwardian period, children continued
to wear matching outfits. I suspect that the dresses that the girls are wearing
are Sunday best as my grandfather's side of the family weren't rich. They wear
typical wide brimmed hats of the late Edwardian era and light summer dresses
with a low waist. Both wear black stockings as most Edwardian children did and
wear white lace up shoes instead of boots.
C.1918-1920. Although the fashion for dressing children alike had pretty much died
out but this point, sometimes poorer families would dress the children alike
for economic reasons. It would be easier and cheaper to make the children all
the same clothes, girl's dressed the same and boys all in the same thing. This
cabinet card of a German family show the children all wearing matching clothing.
The girls on the right all wear plaid skirts and matching knitted tops with
a tassel and all the boys wear the same knitted dark high necked shirt, even
the toddler boy on the lap of his older brother. All the girl's hair is cut
short in a bob foreshadowing 1920's style while all the boys have the same side
parting in their hair.
On a personal note, my mother would often dress my sister and I alike when we
were young. I remember when I was five in 1980, some teenagers asking my mum
if my sister (who is two years younger than me) were twins! Even now sometimes
we'll wear the same thing although she tends to be more "alternative" than me,
it just goes to show that things never change :)
All photos are from the collection of L. Hidic