Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Royal Wedding's Page Boys, & Historical Boys in Red

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Susan reporting:

While most discussions of last week's Royal Wedding focus on the bride's dress and the guests' hats, I wanted to add an appreciation for the attire of two of the youngest people in wedding party: the pages. Here's a photo and another, from the British Monarchy flickr stream (and how wonderfully incongruous does that sound?)

The two boys wore uniforms designed in the Royal Household and created by Kashket & Partners, who also fitted Prince William's uniform.  Doubtless there was some input from Catherine Middleton as well. While the uniforms were inspired by those of the Irish Guards (Prince William is their Colonel) and carried many of the same insignia, they more closely followed the style of Regency-era uniforms worn by officers in the Foot Guards, including the ivory breeches, white stockings, and buckled shoes. The glittering gold embroidery on the cuffs and collars was created by the Royal School of Needlework, also responsible for the exquisite handwork on the bride's gown. The boy's heavy tasseled sashes (what threats were made, I wonder, to keep those boys from whipping them around?) are still worn by officers in the Irish Guards when in the presence of a Member of the Royal Family.

But there's more history behind the miniature uniforms, too. In the 18th-19th c., the color red was much more associated with English boys than blue. It was considered a properly masculine color, and one with strong military overtones as well as the color for hunting. As soon as a boy was breeched – dressed in male adult-style clothing instead of the unisex white gowns of babies – bright red usually made an appearance in his wardrobe. Later in the 19th c., when color first was used in infant clothing, pink, as the lesser version of red, was the color for boys, while girls were dressed in pale blue. (For more about gender-dressing by color, see this article from Smithsonian.)

The young gentleman in the Portrait of the Vernon Children, above, is shown dressed in red, and if that's not sufficiently martial, he's also carrying a toy rifle and wearing a helmet/hat – and there's no question about the gender roles predetermined for his sister, either. Mr. Willet, lower left, adopts a swaggering male stance in his red suit, standing guard over his siblings. But even for boys of a less martial bent, red was the color of choice. Dreamy Master Charles William Lambton, right, looks more destined to make love, not war, but his red velvet suit still proclaims him as all-male.

I can't say for certain that the Royal Wedding pages were dressed in red in honor of historical color-precedent, but in a wedding with so much other carefully chosen symbolism, it has to be a possibility. Symbolic or not, red and gold was the perfect, glorious foil to the bridal white. Ahh, spectacle!

Above: Portrait of the Vernon Children by George Romney, 1780s
Right: Master Charles William Lambton by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1825
Lower left: The Willet Children by George Romney, 1789


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article, I don't want to be done with the Royal Wedding yet! I loved how one of those little boys was the son of Wills and Harry's old nanny. All the children following Kate were so sweet.

Anonymous said...

Of course, the British military uniforms have been predominantly red, as well. The boys had the look of the Yeomen of the Guardl. Pippa looked adorable surrounded by the children.

Monica Burns said...

I was chatting with Vanessa Kelly the other day about kids in royal wedding pics. I mentioned, jokingly of course, that pics seem to always have the bride/groom surrounded by kiddies in at least one photo, and I wondered if it were some sort of fertility thing.

But I seriously am curious if there's a actual reason why there are kids and not say grown up attendants in the weddings or royals like we do here in the states where we generally only have a flower girl and ring bearer (if then).

Any ideas on what seems a tradition among royals at least?

Monica Burns said...

you know I really hate it when I can't subscribe to a post the first time with blogger, you'd think they'd have FIXed that feature by now! Grrr

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Anonymous, there's little doubt that the boys in these pictures were dressed with an eye towards British army uniforms of the time. The boy in the top picture is definitely marching to a military drum - at least in his imagination.

And yes, Pippa Middleton must surely be the most glamorous babysitter in history!

Monica, I've read that it's a tradition to have only children as attendants - though I can't say if that's an English tradition or an aristocratic one, historical or modern. (Any of our English readers have the answer?) It IS quite charming - though I bet there were plenty of crossed fingers among the adults that all those children would behave.

And, apparently, having a hot pink wiggly worm in a royal pocket helps, too:

Anonymous said...

I have a boy in red in one of my childhood photos (probably one of my cousins.) He looks exactly like that little boy in the last picture - to the haircut.

vencanice said...

Thanks for sharing this amazing post with us. I love your work.

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