Children's clothing during the Victorian era varied according to their station in life and by whether it was toward the beginning of the era or during the latter part. Wealthy children in the early part of this time were frequently dressed like miniature adults. As a more modern era approached, styles specifically designed for comfort and play began to emerge. Despite this, children wore many more layers and more complicated pieces of clothing than are seen today.
Modesty Was In
All girls and women wore dresses. Little girls wore skirts slightly below the knee. By age 12, these would be knee-length, and, by age 17, girls wore full-length skirts. They wore pantaloons or pantalettes under their skirts, as well as crinoline petticoats or hoops to make the full skirts stand out. Upper class girls and women wore corsets that included whalebone stays, laced to enforce a trim figure. They often wore pinafores, a sort of apron-like garment, over the dresses.
During the early part of the Victorian era, pleated skirts were popular for young boys. This style shortly gave way to knickerbockers or square-cut knee pants. Wearing long pants was a sign of a youth becoming a man. Tartans were popular, as were frilled shirts. Toward the end of the era, tall starched or celluloid collars replaced the wide frilled collars on boys' shirts.
Both boys and girls wore hats. Girls' hats ranged from narrow-brimmed pillbox styles to bonnets that framed their faces. Boys' hats might range from shallow-crowned, wide-brimmed straw boaters to cloth caps. Capes had shortened to waist-length, and by the end of the era were giving way to jackets and coats. Boys and girls wore gloves. Girls carried muffs.
Clothing Worn by the Poor
Poverty was rife during the Victorian era. Many children were employed in factories or were street beggars. Families made use of cast-offs from the wealthy or used inexpensive fabrics cut to imitate the costumes worn by the moneyed class. The costume traditionally worn by Alice in Wonderland is a good example of an inexpensive dress for girls. Pictures in vintage copies of Tom Sawyer give us a good look at working-class fashion for boys.