This is a brief excerpt from the book to which I was contributor, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing through American History, 1900 to the Present.
The twenties and thirties saw an increase in movie attendance, with children being influenced as well. Not only did popular child movie-stars endorse and/or create their own clothing lines for both boys and girls, but they also affected trends in general.
In the 1920s, after Lindbergh’s famous flight in The Spirit of St. Louis, aviator outfits became popular playwear. Other archetypes were also imitated including: space men, cowboys, Indians, and baseball heroes (Olian 2003). Film stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Jackie Coogan appeared in ads for boys’ clothes, eventually developing their own clothing lines (Cook 2004). While Buck Rodgers and similar adult stars continued to influence boys clothing through to WWII, age appropriate stars began to have a greater influence (Olian 2003).
Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters appeared on T-shirts and other sportswear for both boys and girls (Olian 2003). A host of youthful Hollywood stars such as Judy Garland, Virginia Weidler, Mickey Rooney, Jane Withers and Sonja Henie had their own clothing lines, or began endorsing clothing for department stores catalogs, (including the Sears Catalog) (Cook 2004). By the late 1930s, Hollywood costume designers such as Vera West and Edith Head were being recognized for the costumes designed for their petite stars (Cook 2004).
Of course, the most famous child star of the 1930s was Shirley Temple, who set the bar for all other child endorsers and merchandisers (Cook 2004). She made her film debut at the age of five in 1934 and by the following year she was making $1,000 a week from merchandising tie-ins alone (Cook 2004 and Ewing 1977). Mothers everywhere dressed their children in Temple-imitating clothing.
Temple merchandise included dresses, coats, snow suits, raincoats, toys and accessories (Cook 2004). However, it was the Shirley Temple “look” that most mothers were after. Her iconic hairstyle of all-over-ringlets was imitated everywhere and is still recognized today. Her style of dress, frequently identified with toddler-hood, included simple frocks made to accentuate a toddler’s belly, with puffed sleeves and hemlines that were consistently 19 inches from the floor (Cook 2004).[i] These were trimmed with simple and unobtrusive decorative elements, such as embroidered or appliquéd, and lace edged hemlines and collars. Interestingly, conflicting fan magazines reports suggest that Temple was both disinterested in her film costumes[ii] and insistent that they be of a consistent design.[iii] Regardless, her style left its imprint on children’s fashion of the 1930s.
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret
Non-film child celebrities also drew considerable attention and affected children’s clothing trends. The child Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret of England affected design worldwide (Ewing 1977 and Laubner 2000). The press regularly photographed the pair and reported on their preferences. Beginning in 1932, young girls in England began wearing “Margaret Rose dresses” (a rosebud trimmed knitted dress) (Costantino 1991). Primrose yellow and pink were the reported favorite colors of Princess Elizabeth, thus dresses in those colors flew off the shelves (Costantino 1991).
Cook, Daniel Thomas. The Commodification of Childhood: The Childrens Clothing Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer. Durham & London, Duke University Press, 2004.
Costantino, Maria. Fashions of a Decade: The 1930s. Valerie Cumming and Elane Feldman (eds). London: B.T. Batsford, 1991.
Ewing, Elizabeth. History of Children’s Costume. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977.
Laubner, Ellie. Collectible Fashions of the Turbulent 1930s. Atglen, PA: Schiffer: 2000. 219
Olian, JoAne (ed). Children’s Fashions 1900-1950 As Pictured in Sears Catalogs, Mineola, New York: Dover, 2003
[i] Blackford, Marion. ‘Miss Temple’s Best Bib and Tucker,’ Screen Play, August 1936, pg. 54
[ii] Blackford, Marion. ‘Miss Temple’s Best Bib and Tucker,’ Screen Play, August 1936, pg. 54
[iii] Martin, Sally. “Hollywood’s Charm School: Shirley’s Personal Wardrobe,” Hollywood, November 1936. (40)