Child’s dress (boy’s or girl’s dress, American, about 1895)

Child’s dress (boy’s or girl’s dress), American, about 1825. Printed cotton plain weave, embroidered with cotton; mother of pearl buttons. Gift of Miss Frances Fowler and Professor Harold North Fowler (51.1978). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The pink child’s dress shown above was among a larger selection of children’s clothing brought out of storage by Assistant Curator Jennifer Swope, who recently hosted a study visit by Carey Hanson, a costume designer hailing from Oxford, Mississippi. The dress, in pristine condition, is an exquisite example of children’s fashion from the first quarter of the 19th century. I learned with great interest that during this time, dresses were worn by both male and female children. Bifurcated garments such as breeches were reserved for men and older boys; whereas female children and younger boys were dressed in skirted garments, blurring distinctions between gender.

Carey Hanson, a costume designer and university professor, takes careful measurements of a 19th century child’s dress in the MFA’s collection. Hanson’s goal is to achieve historic accuracy in her constructions.
Hanson pauses after shooting images to supplement her measurements and drawings. The David & Roberta Logie Textile and Fashion Arts department is available as a study center for specialists interested in textiles and dress.









Hanson, who heads the Design and Production program at University of Mississippi, came to the MFA to view a selection of 18th and 19th century children’s clothing over a period of three days—her first stop as part of a whirlwind tour of several New England-based collections. Hanson’s goal is to construct forms with faithful attention to historic accuracy. Her first-hand experience as a visiting researcher at the MFA is emblematic of how the department of Textile and Fashion Arts puts collections into action:

Being able to study such lovely historic garments in the collection was truly inspiring for my work as a costume designer and as a costume history professor. In the busy world of designing and producing costumes for theatrical events it is such an extraordinary experience to have the opportunity to examine beautifully crafted period clothing that has been so wonderfully conserved.”

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Objects in Brief is a randomized showcase of the MFA, Boston’s encyclopedic Textile and Fashion Arts collections. A featured object is indicative of the author’s curiosity and chosen so she may learn about its material and structural properties, function, history, and greater story. These “quick studies” have led to more in-depth explorations posted in A Closer Look.

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