We all carry within us remnants of our childhood psyches, and engaging with those parts can be incredibly freeing. Dressing like a kid can be fun! Children’s clothes have been getting the better end of the deal ever since the 1850s or so, and Victorian children’s fashions still pop up in our 21st-century style via niche EGL (elegant gothic Lolita) groups.
There’s something about the clothes of the Victorian period that draws me in. It’s partially because I tend to romanticize that era, but there’s also the sheer aesthetic beauty of clothes from a time when there was no fast fashion because mass production of clothing had not yet taken over—everything was literally haute couture, produced to suit an individual’s body and desires, either DIY style or by seamstresses. Of course there’s a dark side to all those gorgeous garments, in the form of a vast history of women’s and working-class oppression, and it’s sad that the hidden ethics of fashion production haven’t really changed that much, as most of the world’s clothing now is made in sweatshops. But it’s still easy to be fascinated by Victorian fashion—they display a level of detail and craftsmanship that is rarely seen today.
Most of the clothes from the era are marked by severe attention to detail, but the children’s fashion is far more accessible to our contemporary tastes and needs. Victorian women had bustles, picture hats, and notorious tight-lacing, while men wore frock coats and toppers, but children had it great, with their smocks, pinnies, caped coats, knickerbocker suits, cloth caps, and muffs. Most Victorian girls would wear a chemise, drawers, stays (looser, less restrictive corsets), and two layers of petticoats (usually in flannel) under her dress. Fashion then, as now, was greatly influenced by what celebrities wore, although Victorian celebrities were the royals rather than entertainers.
We might have to do away with some authenticity when replicating Victorian styles these days, but we can easily incorporate the wonderful lace collars, caped collars, velvet, sailor motifs, metal- and cloth-covered buttons, short suits, muffs, smock dresses, pinafores, berets, granny boots, boaters, and vertical stripes of the say. In the end, it’s about capturing the look and feel. Pictured below are some Victorian/Edwardian illustrations from children’s books that capture the richness and beauty of these clothes, and a few modern equivalents that could work. Some of them are expensive, but I believe in saving up for a few well-made items rather than spring for lots of cheaper stuff made through sketchy labor practices.