Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dressing boys in dresses

Why would you want to dress your little boy in girl's clothes? Aren't you afraid that it will feminize him? It's well known if you've been reading my blog for any length of time that I sew and dress Asa in gowns. He wore gowns exclusively until he was six months old and at almost ten months old he wears "modern" baby attire and gowns both. If you look at the issue from a historical perspective you will find that up through the ages, until well into the 20th century, babies were dressed alike and gowns were the baby garment available. A baby in diapers is more convenient to change in a gown and pants make no sense whatsoever if disposable diapers or plastic pants still lie a hundred years in the future. Our ancestors apparently weren't concerned about feminizing their sons and with good reason, gender roles weren't blurred and distorted as they are today. It wasn't until the close of World War 2 that babies began to have gender associated colors even, before that time pink was considered manly and blue was considered chaste and feminine. Today a baby sleeper is the unisex baby garment in much the same way as gowns were 100 years ago.
OK, I see, but you don't live in the 1800's, you live in this day and age. True enough, I live and am raising children in 2010, but must it logically follow that just because this or that is common today that I am compelled to follow along? We as a family are cultivating a modern culture Sabbath, a rest from the elements of our society that we think interfere with our communion with God. We choose to order our life differently and what we wear is a part of that.
Here are some historical images of boys in dresses.
2 genre' paintings from the 1840's. In general, boy's hair parts on the side and girl's hair parts in the middle. Understand, our ancestors didn't want their sons and daughters to be interchangeable, they wanted them to look like babies. CdV's show tiny babies with just a smidgen of hair carefully parted on the side, there was no desire to blur babies into one neutered mass.


Ronald Wilson Reagan and older brother Neil in 1912. Reagan certainly grew up to be manly and was not adversely affected by his baby clothes.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1885

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor, Anna and baby James in 1908. Not only did FDR's baby clothes not feminize him but he dressed his own son in gowns as well.


  1. Your little son looks adorable in dresses. I've noticed that while tiny baby dresses seem to be more gender-neutral the trim on older baby dresses can be more masculine or feminine. Perhaps it was the concept of a layette- one didn't know the sex of the child beforehand and as babies grow so quickly, the smallest clothes wouldn't be gender specific and could be saved for the next child. Toilet training is so much easier for a little one in a dress. A toddler trying to figure out how to get his fat little legs back into twisted inside-out trousers is another story.

  2. As usual, another fine post!
    It's wonderful for a family to do what they feel is correct and not follow what society dictates.
    "gender roles weren't blurred and distorted as they are today" - I love it!

  3. It was a fine time indeed when babies were dressed as babies. It is sad to see little baby girl shirts in stores today with saucy little slogans printed across them. Baby boy clothes are often cute, but modern baby girl clothes not so much anymore, unless they are a classic style.
    I only dress/have dressed my boys in gowns for reenacting, not everyday life, but dresses definitely make sense for little ones, whether they be boy or girl. They do not outgrow them so quickly, they act as a protective layer and it does make diaper changes so much easier. Plus they look like babies! It is nice to enjoy very defined areas of childhood rather than trying to rush little ones into more grown up clothing.
    I have not received any negative comments about me dressing my boys in gowns (except the one you said was posted at the SA); people often seem very interested when I explain my child is NOT a girl, and then they often respond with remembrances of seeing photos of their own grandfathers or great grandfathers wearing dresses too.

  4. Anonymous, thank you for the compliments and comments, I'm always happy when people agree with me. :-)

    Jenny, thanks for your support and the link, this is apparently a timely topic.

    Thanks to you too Ken, I figured you'd be on board. :-)

    Sarah Jane, how you dress your little guys has been a major inspiration to me. You have walked the line of making them look manly yet innocently child-like. I'd like to do another post showing all of the modern boys in their historical clothes, let people see how "right" it looks.

  5. The first little boy I met at a re-enactment was wearing a dress of the same homespun fabric as my daughter. My modern mindset at first thought, oh a little girl, but his mama corrected me and yes, his hair was side-parted. I knew his outfit was period-correct, however, at most events you see few little boys dressed properly in gowns and tunics. I think their daddies have issues with it . Sarah, your little ones look lovely as well- the pink dress was too cute, but I can't comment on your site as I don't have a proper ID . Mrs. G, did you finish the gown you showed us a bit of?

  6. About my gown, well yes and no. My sewing generally gets put on hold for other more pressing needs. I got the skirt on but I'm going to rip ot off again because I just don't like how it's fitting. I should have left the bodice on the hanger, danging in the livingroom with one sleeve set and the other not because I LOVED how it fit then, lol.

  7. my brother is giving me a hard time about my little man in gowns, I sent him this link and also blogged about your link - i love it
    thanks for all the fun

  8. Rachel,
    Stick to your guns! ;-D I do understand his point though, who wants a sissy for a nephew? But maybe once he understands that MANY manly men wore gowns as babies he won't be so worried. And plenty of babies dress as boyish as he could wish, yet they aren't very manly. It's not the clothes that turn boys into men.

    Off to read your blog......

  9. I could almost swear that I've seen a picture of my dad in a baby gown, and he's only sixty-six. He in NO way is feminine, nor has he ever been.


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