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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada





Report H F 16B E

Fortress of Louisbourg




1. Shirt

The child's wardrobe is no exception to the others which existed in the 18th century: the shirt constitutes the main garment. The newly-born are dressed in it, and the young children wear it in the house, as well as under their outdoor garments.

As early as the end of the 17th century, the existence of "children's shirts" had been noted in New France, [9] as well as at the beginning of the 18th century, when "long-sleeved white linen shirts for children" [10] were mentioned. In Louisbourg in 1756, "nine new shirts for children" were sold for the sum of 15 livres 10 sols, i.e. at a price of approximately 14 sols each. Six other "small children's shirts" were sold at the same time, but we do not know the price. [11]

The model of the Louisbourg shirts is not specified, but according to the custom of the period, there were two: the "chemise de brassière" and the "child's shirt

The "chemise de brassière" forms part of the "layette" of the newly-born. In rich families, it is made of very fine linen, sometimes embroidered, [12] but generally, it is made of plain linen. It covers only the upper part of the child's body who is then wearing the diaper. It is completely open in the back, while on the front, there is an opening for the collar. The sides, which are straight, are cut at arm level so as to insert the sleeves. [13]

The "chemise de brassière" is used up to the age of six months, after which it is replaced by the "first age shirt" or "child's shirt". This one is more or less trapezoidal in form, because on each side a triangular piece is sewn to give more fullness. [14] It has a round neckline, flat sleeves, l' and is tied at the back. Just like the other garments for that age, it comes down to the ankles. [16]

Children wear these shirts, in heavy "unbleached" linen when they stay at home. To go out, they wear a dress over it. [17] In 1703 in New France, we find also "painted linen" shirts. [18]

The model of children's shirts is the same for both sexes, and only the size varies, according to the age. "As the child grows, he must have longer and fuller garments, those which he had in the beginning are becoming too short and too narrow. In the early ages, we can not distinguish the sex by the clothing, and the little boys wear, until they are put into breeches, shirts similar to those of girls." [19]

2. Stays

In certain circles where people are concerned with fashion, custom dictates that children be forced to wear a "support garment" from their earliest age. This garment fits the body very closely. "It must at the same time support it and prevent it from contracting bad situations, particularly in infancy, a weak and delicate age, at which time the bones and muscles still haven't reached the degree of strength which they will subsequently have."

It is quite the custom in France .and in part of Eurone to make children wear "support garments , boys until they are put into breeches; girls and women wear them almost. all their lives." [20]

Thus in Europe we see little girls wearing rigid "stays". Certain people claim that the boys have them also until they reach the age when they wear coats. "Boys themselves wore whalebone stays which differed from those of girls only in that they were round and without Basques; there was even a special model for "boys wearing their first breeches." [21]

We note the same custom in the American colonies, where specimens of "stays" made for two year olds have been conserved up to our day. [22]

At Louisbourg, certain children also had them. In fact, in 1726, the "procureur du Roy pour l'admirauté" had to pay the sum of 9 livres and 10 sols "For 2 children's stays made in Canada on the order of his wife." [23] However, all children were not dressed in that war. Those of the "procureur du Roy" were in high society and, just like their parents, they had to comply with the requirements of the fashion of the time. On the other hand, the others, less fortunate, looked like their elders, and like them, wore only the shirt. [24]


1. Dress and fausse-robe

According to certain authors, the, dresses worn by boys and girls at early ages were identical. [25] However, on examining more closely the vocabulary of the time, we learn that the term "dress" applies more particularly to the garment of small girls, while for the boys we would say rather "frock". It would seem that this corresponds also to slight differences in the model of these garments.

Girls' dresses resemble those of their mothers, the "French style dresses" of the time. [26] They are open at the front. The bodice, fitted
with the whalebone stay, is trimmed with a plastron, while the skirt, puffed out by the hoop, shows the underskirt. The most elegant of these dresses are made of silky, damask or taffeta materials. For more ordinary dresses, wool is very suitable. [27] The little girls of the bourgeoisie wear long dresses but without hoops. [28]

At a Louisbourg store, two "children's dresses of striped muslin" are inventoried. [29] They were probably quite simple, as muslin is a "light fabric of untwilled thin wool." [30] We note, in the same inventory, another child's dress, "violet" in colour, the fabric not being mentioned.

We were unable to find the term "fausse-robe" among the garments mentioned at Louisbourg. In fact, it is rather a model of child's dress than the specific name of a garment. We shall therefore give a description as it is possible that there were some among the little girls' dresses at Louisbourg. The fausse-robe has a wide gathered skirt, a little longer in the back than in the front, which makes it, a dress with a "train". Its bodice has "the form of a support garment which ancient usage had intended as an indispensable thing to prevent spoiling the figure at a young age."[31] Contrary to the French type dress, the fausse-robe does not open in the front.

2. Frock or "fourreau"

Before reaching the age for wearing breeches, boys are dressed in frocks. [32] The latter seems particularly intended for them as Diderot distinctly mentions the "fausse-robe for girls" and the "frock or fourreau for boys." [33] He also gives the pattern for this boys' garment. Unfortunately, it is not specific enough, and the explanations are insufficient to be used as a description. However, elsewhere we find the following definition: the frock "is the children's garment: it consists of an underskirt attached to a stay ... In general, what we call a "frock" is any child's or monk's garment which goes down to the feet, under which the body is nude, and which does not cover ant other garment." [34]

The "frock" or "fourreau" can therefore have two functions. On one hand, it is similar to the shirt, which is worn directly on the skin. On the other hand, it is also a type of dress with a fitted bodice, as a "fausse-robe whose skirt had no train" was called a "fourreau". [35]

The fourreau is not necessarily exclusively for boys. In fact, in Europe, particularly after 1740, among the bourgeoisie we saw "little girls in fourreaus". This garment is therefore suitable for children of both sexes, when they are very young.

At Louisbourg, mention is made of "an Indian child's fourreau" in 1741. [37] It. was mostly in rich circles that they were concerned with fashion and figures. This example confirms it as it is mentioned in the inventory of the property of the widow of a shin's captain. It is very doubtful that among the poorest, craftsmen or fishermen, children adopted this type of clothing. Among such people, the women themselves had only the shirt and the skirt to dress in. [38]

3. Skirt

For women, the skirt constitutes the most common daily garment, and also the least. exnensive. [39] Probably then the same clothing was prevalent among the little girls. Whatever the case may be, we traced a mention of three small wool skirts at Louisbour. [40] Two were made of "striped calamandre", and the third of ''coarse muslin".


1. Cape

In order to protect themselves from the cold, the women wrapped themselves up in brown camlet capes when they went out. [41] The little girls did the same thing as it is mentioned in 1756: "a small child's cape with a hood, in brown camlet." [42] Like those of the adults, this one has a hood. It must have belonged to a child from the rich circles, as it was worth 25 livres, which is quite expensive, compared with the price of the other garments.

2. Capot

The capot was also an outdoor garment with a hood, but it was usually worn by men. There are several of them at Louisbourg made of leather and used for fishing. [43] The children, also had capots, but theirs was made of fabric. Since the end of the 17th century, we had noted the existence of capots for children in the St. Lawrence Valley. [44] At Louisbourg, we know that they were also used, as we note "a frieze child's capot" in the inventory of the property of a merchant in 1756. [45]

3. Vest 

The vest is anoher garment popular in Louisbourg, particulary among the fishermen. [46] It is generally a masculine garment, in spite of the fact, that several women also have them [47] but this is much rarer. The "two small dimity vests ... a.' 8 livres", noted in 1753, [48] probaby belonged to a boy.

The vest is worn directly on the skin when it is made of flannel. In this case, it is made of dimity, that, is a twilled cotton material. [49] It therefore takes the place of a jacket. This very simple garment without lining, and sometimes sleeveless, is worn over the shirt. [50]

4. Mantelet

Finally there is the mantelet which is a kind of short cape. It was the most popular among the outdoor garment of' the women of Louisbourg, [51] and we see them also among the garments for children. Like their mothers, the girls wear a mantelet in all seasons, according to the thickness of  the material. In fact, there is, at one store, "a small mantelet made of  étoffe," no doubt appropriate for cold weather, as well as "two cotton ones", which must be lighter. [52]