Little Lord Fauntleroy: he's back and not just on the telly Some parents have fallen for velvet and lace

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE look is unmistakeable, as is the note of scorn when the name is pronounced. The small boy in the black velvet Van Dyke suit, knickerbockers, extravagant collar and cuffs can only be . . . Little Lord Fauntleroy.

He's back. You may not have noticed. It was teatime on New Year's Day and you were probably still recovering. But Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1886 novel of the New York kid who becomes heir to an Earl is BBC1's new classic serial, and you can tune into thesecond episode at 5pm this evening.

To judge by its favourable critical reception, the series may well provoke a reappraisal of the Fauntleroy character, not at all the sissy and fop of popular legend, says Julian Fellowes, who adapted the book for television, but "a very nice fellow, a likeable boy, quite tough in his morality."

More visibly, it may revive interest in the Fauntleroy look. Mr Fellowes would not object. He despairs, he says, of the way children dress today in their trainers and tracksuits "that look as attractive as a custard pie in the face", and wonders if the current tide of BBC costume dramas might remind people of clothes that did not look like sacks. "People are nostalgic for a world in which people knew what was what, a world in which the majority of the population lived by the rules," he says.

There are families, of course, for whom the look has never gone away. Putting children in these traditional, formal clothes, gives a sense of order to what might otherwise be chaos. Some parents want their little Charles or Harry to look like a prince, even if he doesn't behave like one.

Take Julia Korner, a valuer of paintings at Christies. She dresses her children, William, aged three, and Helena, 15 months, in traditional children's clothes, some of which, like a pair of 100-year-old Austrian lederhosen, have been passed down the family through generations. Master William Korner is a modern Fauntleroy, give or take a bow or two.

"There is a real return to traditional childrenswear," says Mrs Korner, who shudders at the thought of those synthetic Batman and Thunderbirds pyjamas you see on the High Street. "I don't wish to instil this taste in my children. And anyway, it would give them nightmares." William sleeps in pure cotton striped or checked pj's.

William's wardrobe also includes a pair of shooting breeches which he wears when he follows his father and grandfather out shooting in Scotland. And of course, he has a kilt, another heirloom. He wears his leather lederhosen, which have been worn by 50 members of the Austrian side of William's family before him, with knee-high shooting stockings decorated with pompoms, and a wide, round-collared blouse.

Special clothes might be bought from Young England, the upmarket childrenswear shop in Chelsea which is managed by Barbara Barnes, former nanny to Princes Harry and William. If anybody knows how to dress an aspiring aristocrat, it is she. One of the best-selling items before Christmas was a wool coat with a velvet collar, as worn by Prince Charles as a boy. Lace collars and velvet suits can be made to order.

Most of William and Helena's everyday clothes come from a mail order company called Golly Gosh Designs. The company's clients cross all bands of society, from ladies and countesses to Mr and Mrs Everyday. Corduroy knickerbockers are the best sellers, at around £23 a pair.

Jane Beard, a director of the company, says Americans swoon at the sight of children dressed in typical English style. "They love it," she says. "I think people will be inspired to go out and buy a party outfit for their children after seeing Little LordFauntleroy, but I don't think the full-blown page boy look will catch on for everyday wear."

But Miranda Allard, owner of Chiswick-based designer clearance shop Smarty Pants, suspects sightings of Little Lord Fauntleroys might become more frequent, and not just in Hello! magazine. Her largest order for traditional children's clothes before Christmas came from a council estate, she says.

Yvonne Gilbert, an illustrator based in Newcastle upon Tyne, made flamboyant, foppish clothes for her son, Thomas, which he wore until the age of seven.

But no matter how angelic he started off in the morning, with his long blond ringlets, Victorian-style sailor suits and boots, his mother says: "Give him a muddy puddle and he'd roll in it."

Thomas endured teasing for his golden locks until the age of five when he decided to have them cut off. Now aged ten, nearer the age of Fauntleroy, he has developed his own sometimes theatrical interest in clothes, although he swapped his sailor suits for a leather jacket when he was seven. Little Lord Fauntleroy was, after all, a bit on the sissy side.