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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Petticoat Discipline and Mary Janes




Throughout Victorian and Edwardian times and up to the First World War it was the custom to dress little boys and girls (up until the age 5 or six) in similar clothing. Dressing boys as girls was well documented and outfits included beribboned vests, petticoats, white lace dresses, and big bonnets. Photographic evidence would support some mothers preferred girls and continued to dress their sons as girls, long after five or six. Prior to the Great War little boys’ hair was worn long, curled and tied with bows. A common custom of the time was to use cross dressing as a punishment for misbehaviour or a preventative means to subdue young boy’s boisterous behaviour in public. This was sometimes extended until teens and early twenties. The practice was referred to as Petticoat Discipline and sometimes involved penis cages to subdue erections in young adolescents. Male masturbation and loss of semen were thought to cause poor health and insanity and so the Victorians discouraged teenage inquisitiveness with leather appendages sometimes covered with spikes to stop the young man from masturbating. In a less enlightened era many bright young men suffered this indignity. Under Tsar in Russia and prior to the Revolution young conscripts had wire pushed through their foreskins which were sealed with a picture of the Tsar. The habit was soon imitated and parents unable to afford a penis cage used needle and thread, instead. At one level Petticoat Discipline seemed to be an effective way to restrict uninvited boisterous behaviour.



In Victorian times children should be “seen and not heard,” and the idea a pre-pubescent drooling over girls was quite unacceptable so parents and nannies of middle class children dressed their male offspring in girlish clothing. Depending on the boy, sometimes only a bow tie, or short pants, or velvet fabric was sufficient, for others, lace, bows on the shoes, shaved legs, hair curled and girl's underwear was necessary. If this attire failed to curb abhorrent behaviour then more lace and ruffles were added. As part of the punishment lads were paraded in front of their family and friends who in turn were expected to demean and degrade them as part of behaviour control. Bed wetting often resulted in punishment which required boys were dressed in nappies (diapers) and baby clothes. The child was then expected to behave like a baby with Dummies (pacifiers) until they stopped wetting their beds or corrected whatever abhorrent behaviour. Petticoat Discipline became normal and accepted domestic behaviour in the homes of the Middle and Upper Classes. From a very early age, children from the higher strata of society were sent to boarding schools where similar punishment regimes were known be exist. Conditioning from early childhood experiences, reinforced by repetitive adolescent behaviour may account why some adults were attracted to paraphilic behaviours , such as sadomasochism. Naughty boys in mixed schools run by the state had to sit in the girl’s section of the class or in some instances given a dummy to suck. Mild by comparison to their public school equivalents. There are reports of cases where males as old as 20 years of age were kept in girl’s clothes for discipline reasons. At the time when Suffragettes were fighting for the vote, behind closed doors many married men were made to wear petticoats by their wives to ensure submission and obedience. Sometimes men wore frilled, full-length pinafores to the amusement of others and undertook all household duties as a punishment. Some male spouses were trained to do needlework and knitting.



In Scotland as a punishment little boys wore kilts without a sporran. As any kilt wearer will attest a strategically placed sporran is a counter balance to the male erection. Girls kilts had a bodice and boys wore these with silk petticoats and pretty knickers. This ensured they sat in an orderly fashion when in public. The old music hall joke, “There is nothing worn under the kilt, it is all in perfect working order.” relates to the adult male and assures all “Kilty cauldbums” were all man, with no evidence of Petticoat Discipline. The term Nancy boy was commonly used to describe teenage boys dressed in frills and dresses. A letter to the Times newspaper in the 1850s quoted a woman as saying she found.
"an effective cure for my 20-year-old son 's flirting with young ladies. Since corseting him and putting him into a short kilt he was unable to look at a girl full in the eyes, let alone ogle her. I heartily recommend this from of correction."





The purpose of dressing pubescent boys in girls’ clothing was probably to discourage masturbation, Short tight trousered sailor suits and tunic suits (Buster brown suits) became incredibly popular at the turn of the 20th century after the publication of an American novel by Francis Hodgson Burnett (Frances Eliza Hodgson), wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886). The book was immensely popular and doting mothers across the world adopted the Fauntleroy look. Although detailed description of Cedric Erol’s (Lord Fauntleroy) suits was scant within her narrative the accompanying drawings by Reginald Birch were lavishly detailed.



Cedric wore clothing based on 17th century clothing consisting of short trouser velvet suits with broad lace collars. These were the trappings of the romantic hero and little boys and girls all the world over were dressed accordingly. The unisex outfits soon were regarded by boys as sissies’ and effeminate. This might have been reinforced when Little Lord Fauntleroy was made into a film and the role of Cedric Erol was played by a pretty, curly-headed girl. The effeminate connotations of the Little Lord Fauntleroy style made it perfect for petticoating. Prior to this, Upper crust families had dressed their children in velvet sailor suits with a tailored jacked and bib or lace collar. Sometimes the outfit had a floppy blow at the collar. All this was worn with tight bloomered pants, silk stockings, and single strap shoes, eventually to be called Mary Janes.



At first black was popular and the patent leather shoes were worn with white stockings or socks. The strap shoe had a strap or bar across the instep and closed the shoe upon the foot and was fastened with a button. Later buckles were used on shoe styles for smaller children because manipulating laces was difficult for small fingers. The width of the strap varied on the style of shoe and some were narrow, others had very wide straps. Later strap shoes appeared with straps which crossed the foot from the back of the shoe. Not quite as popular as the classic strap shoe but this style encouraged wearing different coloured socks. Today strap shoes have their equivalent in "T"-strap shoes or double-bar sandals. The strapped shoe became known as Mary Janes but some confusion exists as to whom Mary Jane was and why was a shoe style named after her. There are several contenders.



In 1914 Charles N. Miller named a bite-size candy made from peanut butter and molasses after his favourite aunt, Mary Jane. These proved incredibly popular and sold throughout the US. However, Mary Jane shoes had little to do with the candy unless the wrapper stuck to their soles.



By the early 20th century Mary Jane was a common enough name in the early and when in 1924 Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956), author of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner, published a set of poems in ‘When we were young’ a rather mischievous girl called Mary Jane emerged in ‘Rice Pudding’.

What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She isn’t sick and she hasn’t a pain
And it’s medication time again
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
We’ve asked her and asked her to try and explain,
But she wants to go home, we may have to restrain,
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s begging and pleading and crying again,
The poor girl’s deluded, completely insane,
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
We’ve given her therapy, shocks to the brain,
And more of that nice medication again,
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She twitches and jerks like a doll on a chain,
And still no improvement, it all seems in vain,
What can be the matter with Mary Jane?
So that is the story of Mary Jane?
She wasn’t sick and she hadn’t a pain
But now she won’t ever be quite right again,
What have we done to you Mary Jane?

The popularity of the Scots ‘, children’s’ writer may account for the why the name became even more common in the early twentieth century, but this Mary Jane was not the source of the shoes. Neither was Christopher Robin Pooh Bear’s friend who remains the best known example of boys wearing strap shoes at the turn of the century.



The inspiration Mary Jane shoes (strap shoes) was a little girl who appeared in an early comic strip in The New York Herald (1902) The comic strip was called Buster Brown and created and drawn by Richard Fenton Outcault. Buster was a charmingly and likable young fellow who had everyday adventures. He was similar to Little Lord Fauntleroy is dress and custom but a little livelier. The Buster Brown comic strip was as well known in the US in the early 1900s as Homer Simpson is today. The comic strip ran until 1921 in one guise or another and may have inspired kiddie buddy moves including the films of the Young Rascals and the Bowrie Boys. Buster had a long-suffering mother, a sister called Mary Jane, but his best friend was a dog called, Tige. Tige is thought to be the first animal to talk in a comic strip. Buster and his sister were drawn wearing strapped sandals and the hero had a tailored suit with short bloomer type trousers. A US shoe company, ironically called the Brown Shoe Company, were quick to see the market potential of Buster Brown. They bought the name rights from the artist and trademarked “Mary James.” Mary Janes were introduced to the public in 1904 during the St. Louis World's Fair. The company followed this up with a unique marketing promotion and sent performing midgets, each dressed as Buster and accompanied by a dog (Tige), to tour the US, promoting Buster Brown shoes and Mary Janes. Needless to say they were an instant success and still sell well today. The decision to market "Mary Janes" as a girl’s shoe style was due to the rising popularity of the Oxford style shoes for boys (and men) as the English Style prevailed. The era for unisex shoes for children was over and Mary Janes represents the first example of sexualised footwear for children based on commercialism.



In the 30s the shoe style took a quantum leap in worldwide sales when Shirley Temple (1928 - 2014) wore them on screen with her dancing outfits. Not only did she make tap dancing popular with white populations she also established Mary Janes as the shoe style for little girl shoes. Her management missed no commercial opportunity and sold Shirley Temple, Mary Janes by the millions. Her original tap shoes from Curley Top (1935) are exhibited in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.





Footnote
An interesting sociological comparison can be made between Dorothy's slippers from the Wizard of OZ and Mary Janes as worn by Shirley Temple. The former is symbolic of coming of age and the later the bastion of innocence.



Interesting Links
Petty Coat Discipline Quarterly
Pooh Corner
Richard Fenton Outcault (1863-1928)
The Brown Shoe Company



Reviewed 26/08/2016

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