Monday, June 14, 2010

Boys in Drag

I recently found an old photo album of my husband as a young boy where in almost every picture he was dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy on his way to a tea party. (Really...I would love to show just one picture but he would KILL me.) We all have some pretty scary childhood pictures lurking in our dust filled closets. Some day, our ancestors just might stumble upon these treasures and wonder why 70s jump suits are uncomfortably wedged into our bottoms or debate the aesthetic value of elbow pads.  Wait….Here comes the history part.

Consider the above 17th century painting showing Charles I's children. On the left is the Prince of Wales, (later King Charles II), on the right is his sister Princess Mary and the pretty girl in the middle is the Duke of York (later King James II).  Why were boys and girls dressed identically? First, imagine the odds of your child surviving as only 1 in 3. Now imagine having lost several children already to anything as simple as a bad flu. With such high mortality rates, you might start to think of your child as gender neutral….sort of like a fern, or a pet rock, or a chia pet that has yet to grow hair. Boys were typically not viewed as male until they were allowed to wear pants or “breached” at about the age of seven.

Boys in dresses also echoed medical beliefs of the time. During the eighteenth century, philosophers like Rousseau preached on the importance of children having free movement in their dress. Since under-ware had yet to be invented, dresses let young lads air out their bits and were therefore more salubrious to their development. (Rousseau actually might have been on to something since we now know that those tighty whities can lower sperm count.)

Dresses were also more functional. Those easy zippers and convenient snaps had not been invented yet.  If you have ever had to wrestle a toddler to the ground and change a dirty diaper, then you might start wishing your boy wore a dress too.

Another reason for the lack of gender distinction was based on the superstition that clothing a precious boy in a dress would trick the grim reaper into thinking he was a useless girl. I guess the devil was welcome to the girls.

Ever wonder why boys wear blue and girls pink? Stay tuned for the answer...

1 comment:

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I'll have to remember that the next time I see a little boy with long hair or my friend's little boys who seem to spend most of their time with their pants off. Actually this makes more sense than swaddling.