Canadian Sailor Suits: Chronology


Figure 1.--This cabinet card shows an unidentified boy. He looks to be about 9 years old. The portraot is undated, but we believe was taken about 1890. Note the walking stick which was probably a studio prop. The boys wears a soft white sailor cap, part of white knee pants sailor suit. This is contrasted with black long stockings. The studio was W.H. McIntyre in Perth, Ontario. A reader writes, "Isn't the cap the boy here is wearing somewhat unusual? It looks a little like a white beret?" Is it not a beret. Berets were not worn like that. It is a soft sailor cap. There would be a black sailor tally head band. You can't see it because the cap is bloused over it, rather like baggy knickers cover up the connecting band at the knee hem of the knickers."

We know that Camnadian boys wore sailor suits in the 19th century. Unfortunately we do not have many 19th century portraits in our archive. Fashion industries tended to base their boys' sailor suits on their national navy's uniform. Canada in the 19th century as a Dominion did not have a navy and relied on the British Royal Navy. When Canada did begin to form a small navy, they used Royal Navy styles. (Canada in World War II would create one of the lasrgest navies in the world to fight the German U-boats.) We know very little about the mid-19th century. We know a little more about the late-19th century. There may have been more of a British influence in the mid-19th century, but by the late-19th century they seem to be wearing rather American style sailor headwear and suits. this is a little complicated because Royal Navy styles influenced the uniform of most other navies, including the U.S. Navy. The unidentified boy here is a good example (figure 1). Note the three-strip detailing on the sailor collar, that was standard on both British and American sailor suits. Another example is a family portrait taken by an itinerate photographer, probably on New Brunswick. The two boys in the family wear matching white sailor suits with floppy tam-like headwear. A Canadian reader has provided us a photograph of an English Canadian boy wearing a traditionally styled sailor suit in 1928. The suit is quite a bit different than those worn by American boys. Perhaps it is based on an English style.

The 19th Century

We know that Camnadian boys wore sailor suits in the 19th century. Unfortunately we do not have many 19th century portraits in our archive. Fashion industries tended to base their boys' sailor suits on their national navy's uniform. Canada in the 19th century as a Dominion did not have a navy and relied on the British Royal Navy. When Canada did begin to form a small navy for coastal patrols, they used Royal Navy styles. We know very little about the mid-19th century. We know a little more about the late-19th century. There may have been more of a British influence in the mid-19th century, but by the late-19th century they seem to be wearing rather American style sailor headwear and suits. this is a little complicated because Royal Navy styles influenced the uniform of most other navies, including the U.S. Navy. The unidentified boy here in a portrait taken about 1890 is a good example (figure 1). Note the three-strip detailing on the sailor collar, that was standard on both British and American sailor suits.

The 20th Century

Sailor suits in Canada as well as America and Britain continued to be very popular after the turn-of-the 20th century. Styles in the 1900s were very similar to the 1890s. A good example is a family portrait taken by an itinerate photographer, probably on New Brunswick. We tend to note the same age patterns as in Amerivca and Britain, some what younger boys woresailiorsuits than was the case on the Continent. The two boys in the family wear matching white sailor suits with floppy tam-like headwear. Styles changes after World War I (1914-18). A Canadian reader has provided us a photograph of an English Canadian boy wearing a traditionally styled sailor suit in 1928. The suit is quite a bit different than those worn by American boys. Perhaps it is based on an English style. Canada had only a small navy at the onset of World War II, it would go onto create one of the largest navies in the world to fight the German U-boats. Ecven so, the popularity of saulir suits for boys as in America and Brirain declined.






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Created: 12:58 AM 9/7/2010
Last updated: 8:23 AM 3/15/2015