When my Granner passed away a few years ago we found all sorts of treasures in her attic–old gowns, hats, and boxes of vintage fabric. As I’ve posted about before, she was an avid sewer and a very talented one. She made elaborate dresses for herself (and her size 4 waist) and made clothing for her 5 kids too.
When I was at my parent’s house this Christmas, my aunt brought over another treasure from my grandma’s attic….the little velvet suit that belonged to mom’s grandfather, or as they called him– Gramp. This was Granner’s dad (my great grandfather).
My mom lit up, “oh! The Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit! Wow.“
I knew there had to be an interesting story to go with this…..
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit craze of the late 1800s?
Uh, yea. I hadn’t either. Here’s the cliff notes version….
Little Lord Fauntleroy was the first children’s novel published in 1885. The book depicted a young boy in a black velvet suit with a lacy collar. Soon after the book’s release, people all over Europe and America adopted the fashion trend and boys everywhere were wearing Little Lord Fauntleroy suits of their own. Gramp was no exception.
The irony though is that if you knew Gramp–I never did but I’ve heard funny stories–you knew he was a smart alec, quick-whitted kind of guy who would never be caught dead in such a silly suit. Yet there he was as a 4 year old, decorated in hand-sewn velvet. And similar to Johnny Cash’s “boy named Sue” song, Gramp was given the name Linsey Clair Rogerson which he always hated. So it just makes the story even more comical to me. I mean, who names a boy Linsey Clair?! (the same kind that dresses him up like a doll, I guess)
Well, Gramp’s mother Sarah had come from fine English heritage. Her parents emigrated to the US before she was born and she was raised to be a proper Englishwoman, though she was living in a small dusty town in Southeast Utah. Sarah married and taught her children to expect only the finer things in life. But she also became bored with motherhood and after having two sons and one daughter, announced that she was done having kids and went to work full time as the County Reporter (totally rare for a woman in those days). But two years later–by accident–she gave birth to Gramp…..who she handed off to her oldest daughter and said, “he’s yours to raise. I’m done.”
Wow. What a life.
Gramp was often quoted as saying, “I wasn’t raised. I was ‘drug up’ by Vernie“–his sister. Thankfully Gramp had a fabulous sense of humor.
So in the middle of dusty Monticello, Utah (near Moab), Gramp’s mother decided that if she had to have another child, at least he would be dressed in the finest she could afford. (I chuckle at the facade of it all. I’m sure Sarah–my great, great grandmother–had many redeeming qualities. But this story certainly doesn’t paint her in the best light.) So for her little boy Linsey, Sarah hired a local seamstress to hand-sew a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, which he wore to church on Sundays.
And this was the very precious suit that my mom, my aunt, my sister and I ooohed and ahhed and over at Christmas time. It was so impressive. I couldn’t believe how well the suit had held-up over the years. It’s 120 years old, yet all the seams are intact and overall it looks pretty good. The velvet has been crushed over time and stained with dirt(?) I’m sure. Can you imagine putting your 4 year-old-boy in a velvet suit and telling him NOT to get it dirty?! I get stressed just thinking about it.
But the most interesting part of the whole suit are the shorts. Before the invention of elastic and zippers, fitted clothing was a pain to get in and out of. So this little suit was made to stay on, while being worn. Throw a tucked-in shirt in the mix and you’ve got a very fitted, stuffy outfit.
If you need to go to the bathroom…..
there should be a little pee hole!
And there is! This totally made me laugh. And then I was grossed out thinking how many “drips” were embedded in that (probably)-never-washed-velvet suit I was handling. At least it smelled okay. I know that men have zipper and button flies for the same purpose but a blatant hole in a suit just seems so funny. In the photo above I’m holding the flap of fabric that kept the hole closed, when not in use. I’m glad I live in a time when sewing techniques have advanced a bit!
But if I had lived back when elastic and other luxuries were obsolete…sewing a velvet suit would have been a pretty cool feat. So there you have it my friends. Gramp’s Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. A piece of BOY heritage, draped over my Great grandmother’s furniture–which now sits in my mom’s house.
Like most trades and skills that have been passed down through the centuries, sewing is an art that continues to thrive and morph with each new generation. It’s pretty cool to think that we sewists are part of that legacy.