Changing Childhood

Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit

One of the exhibits in our new Changing Childhood gallery is a brown velvet three-piece suit with crocheted lace trimmings. We chose it partly to show how formal children’s clothes were in the late 19th century but also because it’s an example of a hugely popular fashion.

These suits were worn by small boys from the late 1880s into the early 20th century and were inspired by the story, Little Lord Fauntleroy, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was serialised in the St. Nicholas magazine in 1885 and published as a novel the following year. In 1888 it was produced as a play in New York and London and it’s since been made into films and a television series. Described as a classic ‘rags to riches’ story, its sentimental nature had great appeal for Victorian audiences and was an instant success.

Little Lord Fauntleroy cover

The main character, Cedric Errol, is transformed into Little Lord Fauntleroy, and his description in the book started the craze for ‘picturesque’ outfits. “What the Earl saw was a graceful childish figure in a black velvet suit with a lace collar, and with lovelocks waving about his handsome, manly little face.”

Little Lord Fauntleroy illustration

The illustrations by Reginald B. Birch provided details of a style that was copied in many variations. Fauntleroy suits were made in several materials but velvet was the most popular, especially in black, dark blue, green and brown. Some boys were subjected to wearing their hair in ringlets but they were probably in the minority.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the Fauntleroy Suit was a favourite of many mothers, it was often hated by the boys who wore it. Especially older boys. But for boys of three to six or so, it may have felt like an improvement on the dresses they would otherwise have been wearing. Some people credit the Fauntleroy Suit with bringing forward the age for ‘breeching’ little boys – moving them from skirts to trousers.

The suit on display was worn by Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976) who became an artist, art historian, designer, writer and the Director of the Scottish National Galleries (as they were then known) for 18 years. He grew up on Orkney in a comfortable, middle class family which shows just how widespread this fashion in children’s clothes was. The suit is in very good condition so may have been kept for Sunday Best but we don’t know how often it was worn. Some items found in the pockets include a paper party hat, a printed joke and a cotton handkerchief with a picture of Mickey Mouse so perhaps some younger member of the Cursiter family wore the suit to a fancy dress party?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s