Children's Clothes in the 1700s

Girls would have to wait until they were 13 before they could dress like this.
Girls would have to wait until they were 13 before they could dress like this. (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)

In the 1700s, children below the age of 5 of both sexes were dressed "in petticoats," as it was called at the time. From there, boys went on to dress in exactly the same clothes as their fathers, reduced to fit them. Girls had to wait until they were 13 before they could dress like their mothers.

Younger Children

Until the age of 5, both boys and girls wore stiff bodices that fastened at the back, along with separate full skirts. Long strips of cloth called "leading strings" were attached to the bodice's shoulders. A linen chemise and stockings would be worn underneath. Boys' dresses were usually less elaborately trimmed, and boys also went bareheaded, while girls would wear close-fitting linen caps.

Rich Girls

Until the age of 13, daughters of wealthy parents would wear back-fastening linen dresses, with either a separate apron or a bib-like detail at the front. Materials employed included silk, cotton muslin and a fine variety of linen called "lawn." Another unusual feature of some of these dresses were leading strings, a hang-over from infant outfits thought to symbolize dependence on parental guidance. These appear regularly in portraits from the period, although it is unclear how widely they were worn in reality.

Poor Girls

Younger poor girls would wear a one-piece dress usually of colored and patterned linen. In the earlier part of the 18th century, their slightly older sisters would wear a leather bodice over a chemise along with colored skirts, although this gave way by the end of the century to a one piece dress worn under a simple, plain pinafore that protected it from dirt and wear.


Rich or poor, boys were dressed in scaled down replicas of adult costumes. The son of a rich father would wear a silk frockcoat – a knee-length outer garment -- and waistcoat, under which would be a lace-trimmed linen shirt. On their lower halves they would wear breeches – the forerunner of trousers, which came to just below the knee – and silk stockings. Boys from a working background would wear a woolen coat, stockings and breeches, and a linen shirt, all plain and durable.

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  • "Children's Clothes," Clare Rose, 1989
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