The Matching Child
home : tidbits : The Matching Child
Corsets and Crinolines - unique vintage clothing

Tidbits : The Matching Child


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 children.

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
previous | archive | next