United States Boys' Hat Styles: Sailor Hats


Figure 1.--This Boston boy's name was Walter and he was 4 years old when he had his portrait taken. The wide-brimmed sailor hat was a popular style for younger boys. Walter wears his sailor hat with a rather fancy tunic suit. Note the sandals. The portrait is undated, but was probably taken after the the turn-of-the-20th century.

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 were somewhat 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. Mamy hats had trim around the brim. There were both flat and rounded crowns. They were commonly made with chin straps and streamers. The way the photographs were posed, the streamers were often not visible. They were often worn with sailor suits, but were also worn with many other juvenile styles. These included both Fauntleroy suits tunic suits. They were also wirn with just blouses during the summer.

Chronology

While the wide-brimmed sailor hat may have originated in England and appeared later in America, it was very popular in America as well. We are not sure when it first appeared in America. They seemed to have been most populsar in the 1880s-1900s. We see quite a number of boys wearing them at this time. They were often, but not always worn with sailor suits. We see them beding worn with Fauntleroy suits as well during this period. The style was fairly standard during this period. After the turn of the 20th century, caps became increasingly popular and we see fewer hats. We note a hange in hat styles during the 1910s. The popularity of sailor hats continued to decline in the 1910s, but we see boys wearing hats with with turned downed brims. Here either parts of the brim or the whole brim was turned down. We note these hats with various crowns. We note a number of different styles. Some of the crowns were the same as the traditiional sailor hats. Some hat flat crowns shaped rather like fedoras. We only see this style in the very late-1900s or 1910s. After World war I in the 1920s we no longer see sailor hats to any extent.

Prevalence

We notice many American boys wearing sailor hats. It was a hat style specifically for children, primarily younger childen. Both boys and girls wore them. Girls had fancy styles, but both boys and girls wore the plain ones. Boys wore them both before and after breechuing. No other hat style was especially common for younger boys. There were many cap styles specifically for boys, but hat styles were somewhat less common. Several hat styles were worn over time, but the most common was a wide-brimmed style mostly worn by younger boys. A minority of bnoys wore them. This can be clearly established by the photographic record. They were expensive and imparactical. And thus they wee mostly worn by boys from affluent families. Thy were not very common for working-clas boys. This is also clear from the photographic record. This thus limited the prevalence. But they were very common with children from affluent families. By th time these hats were popular, pgotograph was well establishd and relatively in expensive. Thus the pgotogeaphic record is a reasonanle indicator of over all prevalence.

Age

We note boys of varying ages wearing sailor suits. This was generally boys from about 2-12 years of age. Treenagers were less likely to wear sailor suits, although a few younger teenagers might do so. Sailor suits were most common fot boys 10-years old and younger. The wide brimmed sailor hat with these sailor suits were most common for the younger cohart, primarily pre-school boys. This is confirmed by the photographic record. And we see these wide-brimmed hats being worn with other outfits for younger boys like tunic suits and Fauntleroy suits. These were also outfits primarily worn by pre-scho boys, but worn by some boys even after beginning school. We also see some younger primary boys, especially the 6-7 year olds who might wear them. Some older boys wore them, but they were most common for pre-school boys. Girls of much older ages wore them, but they become much less common for boys after about 6 years of age. Other styles of sailor hats and might be worn by somewhat older boys.

Gender

These wide-brimmedc sailor hats were worn by both boys and girls. There was a gender difference in that it was mostly younger boys that wore these hats. In contrast girls of a much wider age range wore them. The hats were essentially identical for both boys and girls. The chronological range is also similar for both boys and girls.

Construction

There were many variations in elements of childrn's sailor hats. We have not been able to find terms for the different styles, except wide-brimmed sailor hats for those with especially wide brims. The primary components were the brim and the crown. There was substantisl variatioin in the with of the brims. Some of the brims were very large. For some reason the younger boys seem to have had the hats with the largest brims. The brims were also shaped differently. This varied chronologically. Many sailor hats had trim around the brim. Thos was often fabric trim on straw hats. The crows also varied. There were both flat and rounded crowns and many shaapes in between these two shapes. The criwn is, however, often obscured in period portraits. This is because the brim was often arched up. We are not sure if this was mother's choice or that of the photographer.

Material

It is not always possible to tell the material used for hats from available photographs, mostly portraits. As best we can tell, they were primarily made from straw. As far as we can tell, high quality straw hats in America were a mid-19th century development. American trade with South America was fairly limited unti the mid-19th century. This was in part because both the United States and the Latin American countries had economies largely based on agriculture and raw materials. This only changed with the industrial expansion of the United States in the mid-19th century. Concerning straw hats, the discovery of gold in California resulted in large numbers of Americans rushing off to Califonia (1848). California was not an easy place to reach in 1848. As there were no road, rail or riverine connections from the East coast, the fastest routes were by sea--either sailing around Cape Horn or a sea and land route accross the Istmus of Panama. There the '49ers were exposed to the straw hats made in Ecuador--an industry dating to pre-Inca period. As the Panama Canal did not yet exist, Ecuadorian hats were shipped to Panama and then marketed there which is why they became knoen as Panama hats. The low-cost hats, some with wide brims became popular with the miners who of course also took a liking to Levi Straus overalls. Gradually the popularity spread east. This was also promoted by the display at the World's Fair in Paris (1855). Here more fashionable hats were displayed and ladies seized upon the possibilities. At the same time, the sailor style for boys was developing. And thus various styles of sailor hat became popular, includung the wide brimmed hat. Thus many of the boys sailor hats seen in the late-19th and early-20th century were straw hats imported from Ecuador.

Features

Salor hats were commonly made with chin straps, hat bands, and streamers. The streamers were commonly continuations of the hat bnd. The way the photographs were posed, the streamers were often not visible.

Accompanying Clothing

We note wide-brimmed sailor hats being worn with a variety of outfits. Of course as sailor style, they were very commonly worn with sailor outfits. They were often worn with sailor suits, although some boys wore other headwear even with sailor suits. Sailor hats were also worn with many other juvenile styles. We note them being worn with skirted outfits before breeching, including dresses and kilt suits. Illustrations show them being worn with tunucs, although wee have found little support for this in the photographic record. Sailor hats were also worn after breeching with a variety of outfits. These included both Fauntleroy suits tunic suits. They were also worn with just blouses during the summer. These were the most common outfits we have noted being woirn with sailor hats, but there were others as well.

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Created: 5:11 AM 7/3/2007
Last updated: 10:54 PM 12/4/2013