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Referring to Aaron's nurse, she wrote in the diary, "have got the best Woman in Town for that purpose to late and suckle it. Most women undoubtedly wore their usual clothing while nursing.
If a woman wore stays, she may have chosen those with front rather than back lacings and less heavy boning. A rare pair of elaborate brocaded silk stays in the Colonial Williamsburg collection has a flap opening over each breast, in all likelihood as a convenience during nursing; the stays lace at both the front and back.
Weaning occurred when a child was between one and two years of age. Esther Burr weaned Aaron when he was about fourteen months old.
She complained, "I am Weaning Aaron and he makes a great Noise about it. A child's first solid food consisted of pap, a soft mixture of bread or meal moistened with milk or water, and sometimes laced with beer. Papboats were designed with spouts from which the pap could be fed directly into the child's mouth. Children's clothing underwent significant changes during the eighteenth century.
As the century began, some parents still wrapped their newborns in swaddling bands for several months after birth.
Swaddling consisted of wrapping the infant's body tightly with narrow bands of fabric called "rollers. A critic of the practice noted that the result was to render the child "as stiff as a log of wood. The writings of John Locke argued against physical constraints for children, particularly tight swaddling. Locke's ideas were expanded and popularized by the publication of Emile Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Mothers were encouraged to breast-feed their children rather than hiring wet nurses, dress them in comfortable clothing, and allow them to exercise in the fresh air.
Others espoused these reforms; Dr. Buchan argued against "the cruel tortures of swathing, of rollers, and of bandages" for children. In spite of a movement away from tight binding, parents did not readily abandon the practice of putting children into stays or corsets that were thought to encourage good posture, provide back support, and shape a fine figure.
Stays were laced about the bodies of some infants almost from birth. Although boys shed their stays when they were put into breeches or trousers, girls continued to wear them into adulthood. No stays are listed among the extant orders for clothing for Virginia slave children. Stays gradually went out of fashion late in the eighteenth century.
Boys wore skirts in the 18th century until almost age five, when they donned breeches and symbolically entered the man's world. Here young Benjamin Hallet not only is arrayed in a shirt, he is laced into stays to shape his body and encourage erect posture. Both little boys and girls wore skirts, a practice that continued well into the twentieth century. Toddlers' frocks were often made with leading strings, long ribbons or fabric sewn to the shoulders of the bodice, that were used to restrain and guide a child learning to walk.
As a consequence, they became a symbol of youth. Leading strings began to lose favor by the late eighteenth century. Buchan wrote in ,. The common way, of swinging them in leading-strings fixed to their backs, has many bad consequences," among which he noted obstructing the breathing, flattening the breast, and compressing the bowels, all caused when children inevitably strained against the restrictive stays.
The new philosophy about child rearing gradually had an effect on the clothing of older children as well. Around the mid-eighteenth century, the concept of dressing children to resemble "little adults" began to give way to clothing designed specifically for their needs. Instead of wearing the tight dresses styled similar to those of grown women, little girls and boys who were not yet breeched were dressed in more comfortable white cotton or linen frocks that had drawstrings tied at the back, low necklines, and often were decorated with wide, colorful sashes around the waist.
Virginia children were not exempt from the new rage for white frocks. Fithian described his pupils in their white frocks with amusement. The shape of boys' suits changed too. Instead of constricting outfits with tight bands at the knees and stiff high-necked shirts, they wore long trousers and shirts with open collars.
These new children's styles had a wide influence on fashion. Older children increasingly wore them so that, by century's end, adult women dressed in white muslin gowns and grown men adopted trousers instead of knee breeches. Throughout the period, the basic item of an infant's apparel was a napkin or clout, period terms for a diaper.
Yard goods for babies' diapers were available ready-made in colonial stores; a advertisement in the Virginia Gazette announced that imported "Cloating Diaper" was available.