Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Fauntleroy Suit - A possible example from London in the early 1900s

Today's photograph has been chosen as a contribution to the 5th Edition Smile For The Camera - A Carnival Of Images, to be hosted on FootnoteMaven's Shades of the Departed. The word prompt for this collection of images is "crowning glory," which creates something of a dilemma for me, as I have so many photographs in my collection showing a wide variety of interesting hairstyles and headgear.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The example that I've chosen is a recent purchase, rather than a portrait of a family member, and the subject is unfortunately not identified. I'll let the artistic merits of the cabnet card speak for themselves, but will add a little background to the costume that I think this child is wearing. The style of the Fauntleroy Suit was popularised as formal dress for middle-class American & British children in the 1890s and early 1900s, "much to the dismay of many young boys," after a book titled Little Lord Fauntleroy (online text, originally published as a serial in 1885) by American author Frances Hodgson Burnett, who also wrote that perennial children's favourite, The Secret Garden.

Source Manhattan Rare Book Company, courtesy Wikipedia

Source: Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

The style was derived from the illustrations of the clothes worn by the main character, which were pen-and-ink drawings carried out by Reginald Birch. These were based upon the "Van Dyke", an eighteenth century fancy dress which was, in turn, loosely modelled on Charles I court children's costume, and typified by Gainsborough's "Blue Boy."

Source: Wikipedia

Periodical brief revivals of the fad occurred after a film starring Mary Pickford was released in 1921, and again after an even better known version in 1936.

The photographer "Mac" was, in fact, the improbably named Algernon McIsaac who operated his Day & Electric Sudios at 212 King Street, Hammersmith, London in the early 1900s. McIsaac was born at Fareham, Hampshire (England) in early 1874, son of a pianoforte salesman, manufacturer and tuner, Thomas McIsaac (1825-1909) and his wife Emma (1838-1898; formerly Povey née Smith). He was working as a photographer by the time of the 1901 Census, but I have found no trade directory or similar entries showing his period of operation.

Image © and courtesy of Past to Present

The only other example by "Mac" that I have been able to find is a carte de visite, also of a child, with a similar card mount design, shown above. I suspect that both of the portraits were taken in the early 1900s, perhaps between 1900 and 1905.

Image © and courtesy of Past to Present

Post Script (5 September)

Well, it seems that I was wrong about this being a Fauntleroy suit! Birte Koch, who has a web site Album 1900, devoted to pictures of everday life over the period 187-1930, sent me an email pointing out that there were some significant differences:
Sorry to say but this boy is not wearing a fauntleroy suit. His suit reminds somewhat of a fancy musketeer-type suit. I add a picture of a typical Fauntleroy suit. Please note the cutaway-jacket (well, in my picture not that much cut away) (typically small, narrow and worn open because of the blouse) and the blouse showing lots of frills on front, cuffs and collar. And important is a sash. Fauntleroy suits often were done in velvet.
Image © and courtesy of Birte Koch


  1. Hi Brett, I always love to look up old studio addresses, especially UK ones, and even more so when they are just a few miles down the road from me. Interesting to see that 212 King Street is today a printing and repro business, so I wonder if the tradition has been kept all along? See for a modern view of the rather shabby shop-front

  2. Thanks for your interesting research, WTP. Unfortunately, I couldn't find much more about the history of Mac's business, i.e. how long he was there, whether it was taken over by someone else, etc.

  3. What a lovely portrait! Somebody obviously wanted their child dressed in style! :)

  4. That child looks like a little prince in his smart outfit. I love his musketeer style hat. This was a great post. I remember reading The Secret Garden at School. It was one of my favourite books and very popular with children here in England.


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