Images from the Library
It was the custom to dress little boys in dresses and skirts like their sisters. Young boys also wore wide-brimmed hats and had longer hair than their older counterparts. These practices continued into the turn of the twentieth century, which sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish boys from girls in photographs, as, for example, in the image of Stewart Hoare as a small boy, ca. 1900.
The colours and styles of clothing can sometimes provide helpful clues, as darker colours such as red and blue, with heavier decoration, were more common for boys. The breeching tradition was a greatly celebrated event for boys around ages six to eight, when they would be allowed to wear their first pair of long trousers and had their hair cut, symbolizing their entry into young manhood.
Meanwhile, girls were also gradually introduced to the clothing they would wear as women, especially undergarments. Baby boys and girls alike were snugly wrapped in binders: strips of cotton or flannel thought to support their developing bodies. Around the age of five or six, girls would graduate to stays or a corset: a stiffened undergarment that laced up around their torso. For a significant part of the Confederation era, from 1856 to 1869, custom dictated that young girls, like their mothers, wear the hoop crinoline which supported the dome-like skirts then in vogue. Skirt hems for little girls were shorter than women’s, falling to just above the ankle in order to accommodate a more active lifestyle.