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The Language of Infant Clothes, c1650-1750 Part One


When I re-launched my website, I explained that, having examined many items of 18th Century clothing over the last few years, I am now searching for pieces that are very difficult to find. On my budget, this isn't easy!

I have a wish-list, which sometimes decreases as I find something on it, and then seems to increase again when I see an item that I have never examined! It keeps me fully occupied.

Sources used in this research

  • First, a warm thank you to the Lace Mentor. I do not know what I would do without you!

  • Kerry Taylor Auctions, who kindly gave permission to use images and descriptions of past auction Lots.

  • Cunnington P & Buck A, ‘Children’s Costume in England’. Adam & Charles Black, 1965. Chapter starting page 65 – The 17th Century. Chapter starting page 103 – The 18th Century.

  • Lynn E, ‘Underwear: Fashion in Detail’ V & A Publications

  • Baumgarten L, ‘What Clothes Reveal’ Colonial Williamsburg Collection/Yale University Press 2011.

  • Hart & North, ‘Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century - Fashion in Detail’ V & A Publications 2009. Glossary.

  • Ashelford J, ‘The Art of Dress’ National Trust 1996. Chapter 1 – ‘'Gorgeous Attyre & Chapter 7 – ‘Swaddling to Sailor Suits – Children’s Clothes’.

  • Arnold J. ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d’ Maney Publishing 1988.

  • Boehn Max Von, Translated from German Joshua J. ‘Modes & Manners. Volume IV The Eighteenth Century’ George G Harrap & Co Ltd. 1965.


  • 17th & 18th Century artists and portraits.

Here is something I have always wanted to research and examine in detail - a comprehensive collection of clothing for a newborn baby, dating to pre-1750. I am so excited to share it with you!

There are 32 pieces in all, with pairs, sets and individual items included. All tiny, and exquisitely hand sewn, I needed to date it first, and it is to the Lace Mentor I always turn when lace is involved.

A single piece has the lace type shown below, a geometric design with linen thread, and we always associate this design with the 17th Century.

Not quite so easy, once one speaks to a lace expert! It never is easy of course!

I was a little more hopeful with this lace, an extremely fine and beautiful lace trim on some matching pieces. This appears to be 18th Century and quite early.

Research shows that lace used in infant clothing of our research period was either a Valenciennes type or Binche.

The Lace Mentor was as helpful as always, and got us off to a grand start:

Dating the layette

Here is what the Lace Mentor told me about the lace with a 17th Century appearance;

'Yes, this lace looks very much like the geometric laces of the 17th century - which is probably what it is. It must always be remembered, though, that laces like this, with their homespun thicker linen thread and geometric patterns, continued to be made e.g. by Italian peasant women for their own and church use down to the beginning of the 20th century (and possibly later). But the material to which they are attached will often give a pointer as to the date. In this case I assume that the provenance is English, in which case it will probably be as old as it looks.'

[Image - Anglo-Dutch School, 17th century. PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG GIRL IN PINK DRESS WITH A LACE COLLAR AND CUFFS. Sold at Southerby's.

[Note the geometric lace design.]


'The lace on your ’long bib’ might easily be late 17th century while the item itself could be of the same age as the other items. I mean, lace was saved and re-used, or not necessarily used the moment it was made but could be put by for later use.'

So, with the geometric lace, it is easy to give an inaccurate analysis of dating, because lace was re-applied and re-used, being so expensive to purchase. So, the dating relies on other evidence - what item is the lace attached to, is the item English, is there a known provenance?

On to the second lace type.

The Lace Mentor again:

'The lace edging on your items is a Valenciennes type from c. 1725-35. At the beginning of the 18th century Flemish bobbin lace divides into three main types, i.e. Binche, Valenciennes, and Malines (Mechlin). At the beginning all three use the Cinq Trous ground among a host of fillings. Malines is easily recognizable because of the gimp outlining the motifs. It later develops its own special ground of a six-sided mesh with two opposite sides plaited of four threads and the four other sides just twisted. The ground is very much like the Vrai Drochel ground used in Brussels lace. The thread used for all three types is incredibly fine, but Binche is the most ethereal of all. Typical patterns from c. 1700-20 look like waving ostrich feathers amidst whirling snowflakes. I would say that you very often cannot tell the two apart in the early times. Valenciennes – being captured by the French – had the benefit of French designers, but Binche, which is only a short distance from Valenciennes, cheerfully helped themselves to the designs. Valenciennes at the beginning used the Cinq Trous ground (Five Hole Ground). What you have is the Cinq Trous ground. There is also a liberal helping of snowflakes as fillings, but the lace is a bit more solid than Binche, so yes, it is a Valenciennes.'

We have a dating! At least some of this collection is from the 1720-30's period, so from around the end of George I's reign. George I! Goodness! [As an aside, we know that George I had a terrible relationship with his children -oh dear!]

The question now, remains - is this one layette set or two? Could parts be from the 17th Century, or is the 17th Century lace re-used from an earlier garment?

The provenance:

The very good news is that the provenance of this set goes back to the 16th Century, and the family have traced their history all the way through. Of course, the person or organisation that eventually owns this set will be sent the provenance and history, but from my point of view, the Lace mentor's question of whether the pieces are English can be answered with a firm 'Yes!' Furthermore, the family, in modern times, placed all 32 pieces of the layette into tiny paper bags, and attempted to name some of them with labels.

My task, is to use original 17th & early 18th Century terms, to identify what each piece is. Meet you in Part Two!

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