United States Boys' Cap Styles: Sailor Caps


Figure 1.--Sailor caps were especially popular for boys. There were several different styles. The boys are dressed identically, but notice the different way of wearing their caps. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

The sailor suit developed as a major syle for boys in the late-19th century. It developed first in Britain and then spread to America. British styles were very influential in America, but sailt suits and caps became a standard for children throughout the Western world. There was sailor headwear worn with the suits. The most common headwear for younger boys in the late-19th century was the wide-brimmed sailor hat, but sailor caps soon became more popular. There were several different styles, primarily following the uniform caps worn by the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately we are not entirely sure about the proper name for these caps. Sailor caps were widely worn by boys and to some extent girls in the late-19th and early-20th century. Sailor caps were mostly done in blue or white. They were of coure worn with sailor suits. They were, however, also worn with many different garments. We note Harold Howes in 1905 wearing a sailor cap with a tunic suit. Boys might wear sailor suits with out the caps. The proper sailor caps were rather a formal style, often not worn casually. An exception was the swabie cap worn beinning in the 1920s.

Origins

The sailor suit developed as a major syle for boys in the late-19th century. It developed first in Britain and then spread to America. British styles were very influential in America, but sailt suits and caps became a standard for children throughout the Western world.

Sailor Hats

There was sailor headwear worn with the suits. The most common headwear for younger boys in the late-19th century was the wide-brimmed sailor hat. While the wide-brimmed sailor hat may have originated in England and appeared later in America, it was very popular in the 1880s-1900s. We notice many American boys wearing sailor hats. It was a hat style specifically for children. Both boys and girls wore them. No other hat style was especially common for younger boys. There were many cap styles specifically for boys, but hat styles wee somewhay less common. Several hat styles were worn over time, but the most common was a wide-brimmed style mostly worn by younger boys. There were variations in styles of these sailor hats, both the brim and the crown. Some of the brims were very large. For some reason the younger boys seem to have had the hats with the largest brims. They were commonly made with chin straps and streamers. They were often worn with sailor suits, but were also worn with many other juvenile styles.

Cap Styles

Sailor caps soon became more popular. There were several different styles, primarily following the uniform caps worn by the U.S. Navy. We note saucer-style caps in the late 19th century. Unfortunately we are not entirely sure about the proper name for these caps. The proper sailor caps were rather a formal style, often not worn casually. An exception was the swabie cap worn beginning in the 1920s. I think the swabie cap was a desstinctively American style. We see American boys wearing them through the 1940s, but they went out of style in the early 50s.

Chronology

We are not entirely sure when American boys began wearing sailor caps. Presumbably some boys wore sailor caps in the 1860s. We do not yet have actual photographs demonstrating this. We do note the Sebb boys in the the 1870s wearing caps like those worn by sailors in the 1860s and 70s. An example is the Webb children, but they were living in Shanghai at the time. So the caps and sailor suits may reflect European more than American fashions. We see boys wearing sailor caps with both sailor suits and oither outfits. Sailor caps were very common in the 1890s. After the turn of the 20th century, we begin to see boys mostly wearing sailor caps with sailor suits. We note many boys wearing them in the early-20th century, but mostly younger boys. Quite a dew portraits were taken with boys drssed in sailor suits during the 1920s. We still see sailor caps in the 1840s, but very rarely by the 1950s.

Gender

Sailor caps were widely worn by boys and to some extent girls in the late-19th and early-20th century. Sailor caps were mostly done in blue or white.

Conventions

Sailor caps were of course worn with sailor suits. They were, however, also worn with many different garments. We note Harold Howes in 1905 wearing a sailor cap with a tunic suit. Boys might wear sailor suits with out the caps.

Tallies

Cap tallies are essentially ribbons which decorated the caps worn by enlisted sailors. We are not sure yet about the time-line for tallies in America. It appears to be a custom, like most naval customs, acuired from the British Royal Navy. We believe the U.S. Navy had begun using tallies by the time of the Civil War. Theu tended to be black with gold letters. We are less sure how common they were on boys' sailor caps or to what extent actual ship names were used. Many of the American tallies read"U.S. Navy". We have, however seen some American tallies with ship names. The United States did not participate in the massive European arms race during the late-19th and early 20th century. Even so, the United States did build a sizeable high-seas fleet. Some American ships as in the Royal Navy were very well known. One of the most famous ships at the turn-of-the 20th century was the cruiser "USS Olymia", Admiral Dewey's flag ship in the Battle of Manila Bay.

Chin Straps

Chin straps do not show up on many photographs of boys wearing sailor headwear. Most sailor caps and hats before World war I came with chin straps. For studio portraits they were almost always tucked away in side the cap or hat. So they do not show in most portraits. When worn outdoors they were might be used, especially if it was a little windy. This was especially the case with wide-brimmed sailor caps because they were so easily caught in the wind. But caps could be vlown off in the wind as well. Chin straps were not as common for other caps, although thery were for other hats boys wore like rounded-crown hats. I think part of the reason for this is that sailor caps were based on naval caps which did commonly come with chin straps. Family snapshots only begin appearing in numbers after the turn-of-the 20th century and sailor suits declined in popularity after World War I. Sailor hats virtually disappeared after the War and sailor caps (exceot for swabbie caps) went out of fashion faster than sailor suits. There is thus a rather narrow window in which we actually see boys weating chin straps with their sailor caps.







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Created: 2:10 AM 9/8/2007
Last updated: 2:01 AM 7/1/2010