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Wisconsin Historical Museum Online Collections

Image of a girl's dress that is pale orange wool with black soutache trim dating to 1865.
This girl's dress, made of wool with black soutache trim, was created in 1865. It can be found in the online children's clothing collection.

About the Children's Clothing Tour

Content of the Tour

The Wisconsin Historical Museum owns more than 2,000 articles of children's clothing and related objects. These include a variety of handmade and factory-made outerwear, underwear, headwear, and footwear worn by boys and girls from infancy through adolescence. Most of the clothing dates from the mid-1800s to the present, and many items are documented as having been worn in Wisconsin. This tour features most of this collection. Excluded are several objects currently on long-term exhibition. Also excluded is Native-American children's clothing, which we hope to feature in a future tour of the Museum's Native-American ethnographic collections. This tour does not include children's clothing in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society's historic sites.

The tour contains selected information about the clothing. The first thing you see is a thumbnail image and a brief description of each artifact. Clicking on the thumbnail results in a zoom image. Clicking on the brief description yields more information, including:

  • Catalog number - this is the identification number that the Wisconsin Historical Museum uses to track the object. Please refer to this number in any correspondence with Museum staff.
  • AAT object term - this is what the artifact is called according to the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, a vocabulary created by the J. Paul Getty Trust. (In a few instances, local terminology is used.)
  • Materials/Medium - this is a listing of materials of which the clothing is made, in terms used by the Art and Architecture Thesaurus.
  • Detailed description - this is a physical description of the object. Information about condition and overall size is not accessible on-line at this time.
  • Object history - this is contextual information about the object, its maker, its wearer(s), and/or the circumstances surrounding its creation and use. If such information is unknown, the object history does not appear.
  • Dates - these are dates associated with the object's history. Dates may refer to copyright, patent, design, manufacture, modification, use, and/or subject.

If you would like more information regarding the donor, size, or condition of any of the objects, please contact the Curator of Costumes and Textiles. The Historical Society cannot provide information regarding appraisal values and storage locations.

Organization of the Tour

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The tour consists of lists of object records created from searches of a master database. The searches are based on various combinations of three pieces of data - date of the object, the type of object, and the gender of the object's user (wearer).

If you select date first (organized by decade), you may elect to narrow your tour by gender. Once you select a gender, you may further narrow your tour by object type.

If you select gender first, you may elect to narrow your tour by object type but not by date.

If you select object type first, you may elect to narrow your tour by date but not by gender.

Touring by Date (Decade):

The same object can appear in more than one decade if it is associated with a date range that straddles decades. For example, if an object was made sometime between 1850 and 1880, inclusive, then it will appear in the lists for the 1850s, the 1860s, the 1870s, and the 1880s. Circa dates frequently result in the placement of an object in more than one decade.

Sometimes an object may seem out of place in a given decade. This is because many dates are associated with objects - patent date, copyright date, date of design, date of manufacture, dates of use, and even date of subject (for example, a clothing article created to look like it was from a previous era). An object with a manufacture date of 1915 may appear in the 1930s list because it was worn by various children for a twenty-year period. An object with a manufacture date of c. 1965 may appear in the 1940s list because some feature of it was patented in 1942.

When you click on the brief description of an object in a list, you will be able to see the various dates associated with it.

Touring by Gender:

Objects in a list of girls' clothing are either those that were designed specifically for use by girls or those gender-neutral items known to be worn by at least one girl. Included are infants' clothing documented as having had female wearers.

Objects in a list of boys' clothing are either those that were designed specifically for use by boys or those gender-neutral items known to be worn by at least one boy. Included are infants' clothing documented as having had male wearers.

Although not indicative of gender, infants' clothing has been listed separately as an aid to researchers interested in babies. Included is clothing whose wearers were male, female, of both genders, or of undocumented gender.

A given object will appear on multiple lists if it is known to have been worn by both boys and girls or by baby boys or baby girls.

Non-gender-specific clothing is defined as those items: that were not designed for infants or for one gender or the other; and whose wearers are unknown. Lists of non-gender-specific clothing include objects that do not appear on any of the other lists (boys, girls, infants). An example is a child's printed T-shirt with an undocumented wearer.

Touring by Type of Object:

Clothing types are divided into the following categories:

  • Clothing accessories - these include bibs, collars, dickeys, gloves, mittens, muffs, sashes, scarves, and undersleeves
  • Footwear - this includes bootees, boots, overshoes, sandals, shoes, slippers, socks, and stockings
  • Headwear - this includes bonnets, caps, hats, headbands, and helmets
  • Outerwear - this includes aprons, bathing suits, bodices, bunting, capes, coats,costumes, dresses, jackets, nightgowns, overalls, pajamas, pants, pinafores, rompers, sacks, shirts, shorts, skirts, suits, sweaters, sweatshirts, T-shirts, and vests
  • Underwear - this includes bloomers, briefs, combinations, drawers, pantalettes, panties, petticoats, slips, undershirts, and union suits
  • Other Articles - objects closely associated and stored with children's clothing, these include bellybands, blankets, clips, handkerchiefs, pacifiers, pillowcases, pins, sheets, and straps (These items are not accessible if you start your tour by decade.)
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