For school plays and other fun dress-up occasions, colonial clothing for kids may be the perfect look for your child. Colonial style clothing for kids is similar to the adult clothing that was worn in the same period, but there are some important differences. Learn more about the style of this clothing as well as some options to help you make your own or purchase online for the child in your home.
Colonial Clothing Fabrics and Materials
Unlike our current access to colors, patterns, and fabrics, colonial clothing was made of basic fabrics in basic colors. Cottons were common, as was wool, especially in colder climates; linen was less common than cotton, but frequently used. For everyday clothing, and certainly for clothing of families with little money, fabrics were in basic colors that the most dyes came in, such as muted grays and blues. More expensive clothing could be found in more luxurious colors, such as bright reds, pinks, and shinier blues when the fabrics were more expensive, such as silk.
The way clothes were made and held together was also largely dependent on the financial means of the person wearing them. Nondescript sewed seams and basic buttons were at the cheaper end of the spectrum; colonial people with good financial means often wore clothing with pearl buttons and lace sewn on at the seams. In the colonial period, girls' clothing did not necessarily have more ornaments than boys' clothing; money was the deciding factor during this period.
Colonial Clothing for Boys
During colonial times, young boys spent their first few years wearing baby swaddling and then a kind of gown similar to what young girls would wear. Once boys reached a certain age (between three and eight years), they began wearing pants and jackets. During most of the colonial period, boys wore full-length pants; before the colonial period, and after the colonial period, boys wore short pants that came just below the knees. This is one way to distinguish colonial boys' clothing from the pilgrim era or from the Victorian times that followed the colonial times.
Boys' jackets were also somewhat distinct during the colonial period. It was popular to have a wide-open neck, and many jackets had shorter fronts and longer backs. While there was not excessive ornamentation on men's and boys' jackets in the colonial period, most men wore relatively high-quality jackets with nice buttons.
Colonial Clothing for Girls
Girls stayed in the baby/toddler dresses that boys wore until a later age. Of course, girls would stay in dresses all their lives, but the baby gowns became slightly different as girls became older. A distinctive feature of young girls' dresses in the colonial period was that there were long strips of fabric attached to the shoulders of the dress. This was done for most toddlers, male and female, so that adults could help the children fall less and not wander away; however, as boys grew out of this clothing, girls stayed in it.
Long after the moment when boys had graduated to pants and jackets, girls' dresses still featured strips of cloth on the shoulders. In addition, girls wore a boned bodice, called a stay, that helped them to achieve good posture. All in all, girls' colonial clothing was relatively restrictive.
However, as the colonial period progressed, adults changed their stance a bit on children's clothing. Girls' dresses stopped being miniature versions of women's dresses; skirts were shortened, and bodices became more relaxed. Girls' clothing had more detailing in it than boys' clothing, but the clothing was far from being fancy. Compared to Victorian kids' clothes, the clothing from the colonial period is quite subdued.
Making Colonial Kids Clothing
Clothing from colonial times is not easy to come by, which is why many people decide to make their own. Making your own clothing in the colonial style is a cost-effective route. Interested in making your own clothing? Get patterns from these sources:
- McCall's has a nice historical costume pattern (just under $10) that features women's and girls' colonial style dresses. It even comes with patterns for a detachable belt, hat, and half-apron.
- Bonnie's Patterns offers patterns boys in need of functional colonial costumes. There are also several options for women's and men's patterns if you wish to decrease the size of another pattern. Most patterns range from about $11 to $14.
- Old Time Patterns is divided into sections based on the time in history you wish to recreate. In addition to outfits, they also have patterns for accessories to give that authentic look. Colonial children's patterns range from about $10 to $17.
- If you are an expert seamstress, try getting adult patterns and making them smaller.
If you are looking for fabrics true to the time period, try C&D Jarnigan Company or Brick House Fabrics. These companies both sell fabrics by the yard that are true and authentic to colonial times. You don't want to show up to your colonial event in rayon!
Purchasing Reproduction Colonial Clothing for Kids
If you do not have the time to make your own, there are places to purchase pre-made or custom-made colonial reproduction clothing for children.
- Jas Townsend & Son is a company that specializes in making costumes from the colonial period. You can find individual items to create full reproduction costumes for boys and girls. Costs range from about $8 for a girls' apron to about $125 for a reproduction boys' coat.
- Maggie May Clothing sells ready-made and custom orders. While their ready-made options are limited, custom orders can be submitted to meet your exact specifications. They use reproductions of historical prints in all clothing offerings. You can also purchase their fabric by the yard.
- Heritage Costumes specializes in costumes but also offers plain clothing options. The company has boys and girls clothing in the style of various different social classes as well. You can purchase individual pieces or complete costumes.
- Kelly's Costumes makes and offers custom dresses for girls. She specializes in girl's dresses for children up to size 14. Prices start at around $70.
- Lavender's Green makes custom outfits specific to your child's measurements. The company has a full catalog of options. Because they make clothing to order, they work with you to accommodate smaller size.
- Try a local rental shop for a well-done look that doesn't take time for you to design or worry about. A rental works well for children only looking to wear the outfit one time.
Learning More About Colonial Times
Interested in learning more? A great book, especially for kids doing school projects is Clothes in Colonial America. In this book you will find not only lots of visual examples of colonial kids' clothing, but also explanations about why certain trends in clothing existed during colonial times. Whether the colonial clothing is for fun around the house or a school project, knowing why each item is authentic adds to the experience of wearing the outfit.