When most people think about children's clothing, they picture contemporary, store bought items like t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. However, during Colonial times, from the late 1600s to the early 1700s, children dressed much differently than children do today. Women usually made the clothing worn by their children and other family members at home. Some clothing, however, was imported from Europe, especially when colonists first began building their homes and settlements.
Colonial infants wore long gowns and a warm hat called a biggins. Toddler gowns often included leading strings attached to the shoulders and a padded roll to protect the head in case of fall. Young boys wore doublets before graduating to breeches and shirts. Young girls wore smocks topped with corsets and coats. Wool petticoats and aprons protected young girls during household chores.
Infants and Toddlers
During the colonial times, both male and female infants wore the same type of clothing. Babies most commonly wore gowns, which were a one-piece item with a long skirt and long sleeves. Parents used a "biggins" to keep a baby's head warm. A biggins was a type of hat made of linen or wool and tied under the chin. Babies also wore aprons to keep their gowns from getting dirty.
When babies began learning to walk, their mothers sewed strips of fabric called leading strings to the shoulders of the gowns. This allowed the person walking with the toddler to guide the child and prevent them from falling. A toddler might also wear a "pudding" on his forehead, which was a padded roll used to protect the head from injury.
Boys began to wear doublets once they were around the age of four. Doublets consisted of fitted, long-sleeved jackets and petticoats. More grown-up looking clothes were given to boys when they were approximately six years old. When a boy began to wear breeches, this meant that he was not a baby anymore, and the family often celebrated this day. Along with breeches, boys wore button-up shirts that were sometimes ruffled around the collar and cuffs. A coat completed the outfit. Shoes were normally dark brown and made of leather.
Girls wore a stay, or corset, on top of a smock. Over the stay, they wore a waistcoat, which looked much like a snug, long-sleeved jacket. Some of the items of clothing worn by girls served useful or protective purposes. For instance, the addition of one or more wool petticoats under the skirt, depending on temperature, protected young girls from fire during cooking. Girls also wore aprons to protect their clothing when they were cooking and cleaning. Girls generally used dark leather shoes similar to what the boys wore, but sometimes the girls' shoes had a small heel.