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Picturing the family
Picturing the family

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5.5.2 Skirts and breeching

Look carefully at Images 46, 47 and 48.

A photograph of a child
Image 46 Photographer/Painter: Hills & Saunders, Eton. Subject: Michael Cahne Seymour, 1871.
A photograph of a child
Image 47 Photographer/Painter: Morgan & Laing, Greenwich. Subject: Douglas Matthew Watson born 1 November 1874. Likeness taken 21 July 1877.
A photograph of a man and a child
Image 48 Photographer/Painter: Anon. Subject: William Henry Roberts (born 20 January 1864) and his father(?), c.1867.

Victorian and Edwardian boys and girls were dressed in skirts in their early years. Boys were ‘breeched’ between the ages of about 3 and 5 – that is, they were put into their first pair of short trousers. Families must have been extremely proud on this occasion because photographs documenting this change of status survive in great number. Diaries, too, often record occurrences of breechings in the family.

Without the manuscript information on the reverse of Michael Seymour's portrait (Image 46), we may have had difficulty identifying the sex of the child. Toys and accessories can sometimes provide useful clues. Whips, hoops and guns are the accoutrements of (guess who?) little boys; dolls are the usual companions of little girls. (Michael Seymour is holding something but I cannot make out what it is.)

Boys in breeching portraits (Image 47) could be photographed on their own, as in the portrait of Douglas Matthew Watson. Douglas was nearly 3 when his sartorial transformation took place. Sometimes the breeched boy appeared with other members of his family including parents and/or siblings.