10 Wardrobe Essentials for Southern Children

Wardrobe
Wardrobe

​There’s something so special about a child dressed head-to-toe in Southern staples. In our part of the country, traditional children’s wear is a little bit frillier, a touch more formal and a smidge more old-fashioned. Just take a flip through an old family photo album and you’ll probably see photos of your mom and grandma in the same sweet smocked dress (or one that looks almost the same) as you wore when you were a little one. The smocked smock is just one item among many that holds an important place in the Southern child’s wardrobe. Here are some more.

  1. Bows—All Southern tots need a collection of sweet hair bows for every last event and outfit, whether it’s a dressy Christmas gown or a casual playground getup. In the South, bows aren’t just for hair, either. Sew them onto dresses, bloomers and rompers for a sweet and special finishing touch.
  2. A Smocked Dress—Moms raised below the Mason-Dixon Line know that all special occasions—birthdays, christenings, photo shoots, baptisms—require a sweet smocked dress. These classic Southern gowns feature the embroidery technique known as smocking, which creates a design of stretchy, gathered fabric usually at the neck or just above the waist. We love ’em because they’re traditional but don’t feel overly formal or stuffy, so they can be worn for dressy and laid-back events alike.
  3. A Smocked Jon-Jon–Smocking isn’t just for dresses! It’s also a staple accent for Southerly gents, too, especially when used on the jon-jon. A jon-jon is basically just a baby boy’s jumpsuit with no sleeves and, usually, shorts-length pants. Northerners will probably have no idea what you’re talking about when you use the phrase smocked john-john, but the term actually originates from New England royalty. The rompers caught on because they were regularly worn by John F. Kennedy Jr. when his dad was in the White House.
  4. A Pair of Rugged Boots—Don’t get us wrong: We know the South isn’t all pomp and circumstance, especially in the country. There’s plenty of denim, suede, camo and plaid to be had way down yonder, and homegrown kids still spend time outside splashing in puddles and stomping in mud. A pair of good-quality, all-season boots—whether work-style boots, cowgirl boots or duck boots—is an absolute requisite for everyday wear in the South.
  5. A Frilly Baby Bonnet—This timeless piece of headwear has become a bit of a novelty for Southern tots, but it’s nonetheless a must-have in the wardrobe of regional classicists. Typically done in white fabric with subtle details, such as embroidery, ruffles and lace trim, the traditional baby bonnet is often paired with dressier outfits, especially at Easter and other springtime events. More casual styles may be worn at the beach or in the sun, especially when made out of lighter cotton fabric.
  6. A Pair of Bloomers—As your grandmother would (probably) say, Southern dresses and bloomers go together like peas and carrots. These baby wardrobe essentials are a cute way to dress up baby’s diaper, especially when it’s too hot out to put her in leggings or tights. They often feature adorable finishes, such as  ruffles, bows and embroidery, for a little bit of frill. Like the hair bow, the bloomer is an item that can be Southerned up ever so slightly with a monogram—could there be anything cuter?
  7.  A Bishop Dress—As one of the simplest garments conquered by beginner sewists, the bishop dress is often handmade and passed along from one generation to the next, especially in the South. These simple gowns have a loose-fitting silhouette with subtle pleats throughout, creating a triangle-shaped gown perfect for playing. Bishop dresses are often smocked, so they may also be referred to as “smocked bishops.”
  8.  A Pair of Mary Janes—If you were raised down South, we’re willing to bet your mom dressed you in Mary Janes, and that she probably wore a pair when she was a girl, too. These traditional kicks are also commonly referred to as “doll shoes” because they look like the little black-strapped shoes you usually see on baby dolls. Mary Janes are low-cut, round-tip shoes with one or more straps across the top. They look so adorable when paired with Southern dresses.
  9.  A Quilted Vest or Jacket—Not every piece of Southern children’s attire needs to be acquired from attics and antique shops! Indeed, there are plenty of contemporary styles that pile on the (forgive us for the cliché) Southern charm. The quilted vest evolved from the quilted shooting jacket (otherwise known as the husky jacket) designed by Steve Guylas, who operated out of a South Carolina plantation in the 1960s. Thanks to Guylas, the quilted vest remains an all-time fave for kids and grown-ups in the South. 
  10.  A Cardigan—There is a whole lot of crossover between classic styles of the South and preppy looks of the Northeast, and one prime example is the cardigan. Beloved for its versatility, the cardigan sweater can be added to any casual or dressy look to bring warmth and style. Capturing the totally trendy look of neat layers, cardigans are a wardrobe win for little girls and little boys! 

​Put a Bow on It

Southern kids’ clothes differ in style and purpose, but they all have one thing in common: They start as practical, simple basics and then get the Southern treatment with sweet extras like smocking, embroidery, monograms, ruffles, bows and plenty of love. Make sure your little one has one of all these essentials to feel like a real Southern king or queen.