When Little Boys Wore Dresses

 Until about a century ago, in the Western world, you couldn't tell whether a small child was a girl or a boy by her clothing. All little children, regardless of their gender, dressed alike, with girls' clothes, girlish shoes, long hair and ponytails. Pants or breeches were not worn until boys were at least four years old, but some continued to wear skirts, gowns and petticoats until they were old enough – about eight years old. By age. By that time, boys would eagerly wait to wear their first pair of trousers. Wearing trousers was a very important milestone in a young boy's life, and this important event was celebrated with a ceremony called "breeching".

The practice of dressing little boys in girls' clothes probably began in the United Kingdom in the mid-16th century. The reasons were practical. Young children and infants lacked potty training, so dressing them in skirts and other open-sided clothing made it easier for their mothers and nannies to change their nappies, as trousers and underpants often had complex fastenings. Zippers or Velcro had not been invented then, and neither had diapers. Dresses, tunics and gowns also gave room for advancement. This was important because children grew up rapidly, and at that age before the Industrial Revolution, clothes were far more expensive than they are now. Nonetheless, the breaching ceremony had nothing to do with social or economic status and was prevalent among all classes.

The age of four to six was usually when boys abandoned long dresses for trousers. A small private celebration was organized at the event, to which family and friends were invited. Gifts were showered and parents who could afford gave their son a small toy sword, as a symbol of the real sword he would carry as an adult. For boys, breeching was an important rite of passage in their lives, marking their progression from infancy to boyhood. For the wealthy, this meant going to boarding school, while for the working class, it could mark the beginning of a life of slavery.

Once breech, boys were expected to behave like small adults. Breaching was also the time when boys left their mothers' care and entered the world of men. Many mothers were so frightened by this change that they delayed breech until their sons were seven or eight years old.

By the end of the 18th century, society began to acknowledge the important stage of life called childhood. The new philosophy of child rearing called for clothing that was appropriate for the child. British and American boys began wearing short pantaloons and short jackets, while very young boys began wearing what they called "skeleton suits", not unlike modern rompers. But wearing dresses never completely went out of fashion. Knee-length dresses over white pantaloons, worn by little girls and boys alike, became very popular in the early 19th century.

It was not until the end of World War I that parents began dressing their children according to their gender. But as the 20th century progressed, the gender gap narrowed once again as parents began dressing their children in T-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers.

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