Old Family Photos: Boys in Dresses

By Maureen A. Taylor


Anna Swinney’s question doesn’t have to do with the identity of the people in this picture. She knows who they are. She submitted it because of what the youngest child is wearing: a dress.


Amanda Perryman Collins (1860-1930) and her husband Albert Buell Collins (1862-1942) posed with their three children (left to right): Arthur (1887-1908), Carlos (1891-1985) and Ray (1889-1984). The absence of their fourth child helps date the picture to circa 1892.

There are some interesting details in the picture.

  • Mom still wears a popular 1880s hairstyle of curly bangs with her hair pulled back and a wide lace collar.
  • Notched edges cabinet cards were in style in the 1880s to circa 1900.
  • Dad wears his tie under his collar.

In the 1890s, Highland-style suits were popular for boys. These consisted of a short jacket and a kilt.

Since this family still retains remnants of the 1880s in this early 1890s photo, let’s look at boys’ clothing from that decade: The general rule for both boys’ and girls’ attire was long dresses until they could walk, then shorter dresses to allow movement. Boys wore skirts until about age 5. Often, boys skirts’ were paired with short pants underneath.

Toddler boys also wore skirts and dresses in the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1860s, there was a type of loose-fitting “French dress” that was worn loosely belted at the waist.

It’s also not unusual to see boys with “love-locks,” or long sausage curls in family photos. If you’re having a hard time telling little boys form little girls, here’s a rule of thumb: Boys wore their hair parted on the side, while girls sported center parts.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album