Sailor suits were worn with both hats and caps. The difference between a hat and a cap is that a hat has a full brim, while a cap has only a partial brim or no brim at all. The first sailor suits were worn with the broad-brimmed sailor hats worn by British seamen. The The sailor suits popularized by Queen Victoria's sons in the 1840s were worn with accurate child-size reproductions of the full-brimmed straw sailor hats. The original sailor hat chosen for Victoria and Albert's children was the wide-brimmed straw hat worn by British seamen. Naval styles evolved and by the 1860s more practical caps without full brims were being introduced in navies around the world. Caps were less formal headgear to be worn with sailor suits. Caps also came in many more different styles than hats. For the most part sailor caps were worn with sailor suits. A wide variety styles were availavle for the discerning mother. Any style could be selected, but a mother gerally selected the cap worn by the national navy, although for younger boys more fancifal caps
might be chosen. Generally speaking, however, sailor caps generally adhered to regulation styles more commonly than sailor hats. Many came with chinstays, but the chinstay was less commonly worn than the case of hats. There were also tallies and streamers. Unlike sailor hats, sailor caps were primarily a boy's garment.
The first sailor suits were worn with the broad-brimmed sailor hats worn by British seamen. The The sailor suits popularized by Queen Victoria's sons in the 1840s were worn with accurate child-size reproductions of the full-brimmed straw sailor hats. The original sailor hat chosen for Victoria and Albert's children was the wide-brimmed straw hat worn by British seamen. Naval styles evolved and by the 1860s more practical caps without full brims were being introduced in navies around the world. The straw hat,
especially with a wide brim was simply not suitable for
everyday wear aboard a naval vessel. While wide-brimmed sailor hats were discarded by navies around the world, boys continued wearing them for decades. Boys also began wearing the sailor caps as well. The hat differed from a cap in that it has full brim all around the crown. The sailor hat was the most formal style and was for years worn, not only with sailor suits, but with formal clothes like Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. Sailor hats were usually worn with streamers at the back and often with elastic chin straps. Caps were generally worn more informally without chin straps. The uniforms of seamen began to change after mid-century and sailor began wearing caps instead of hats. As sailor suits began to become increasingly popular in the 1870s, many boys' sailor suits adopoted caps. These caps were made in many different styles. The basic models were the caps worn by different national models, but many stylistic models appeared bowing to the fashion tastes of late 19th Century
Caps were less formal headgear to be worn with sailor suits. They differed from sailor hats in that they did not have a full brim. Caps also came in many more different styles than hats. This is because after the mid-19th Century, most of the world's navies introduced caps of different styles rather than hats. Many of the caps had no brims at all, although most had streamers. The brimless caps seem a more pratical approach and easier to keep on in heavy winds. For much the same reason, caps seem a more pracrical garment for boys.
For the most part sailor caps were worn with sailor suits. A wide variety styles were availavle for the discerning mother. Any style could be selected, but a mother gnerally selected the cap worn by the national navy, although for younger boys more fancifal caps might be chosen. Generally speaking, however, sailor caps generally adhered to regulation styles more commonly than sailor hats. Mothers usually selected white caps for white summer suits and blue caps for blue winter suits. Straw sailor hats were considered to be appropriate for a boy's best party suit. They were especially popular with Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. Most styles of caps were not considered appropriate formal wear. This was especially true of the smaller caps. Some caps, however, were worn with a boy's party suit. The cap considered suitable for formal wear were the larger styles. While they had no large brim, the tops of these more formal styles extended beyound the head band of the cap giving a look mothers at the time considered suitably formal. One other boys' outfit was commonly worn with sailor caps--Buster Brown suits. Many mothers so liked the sailor suit style that they would outfit their sons in sailor outfits before breeching. Many stues of sailor dresses or middy blouses to be worn with kilts/skirts were available. Boys in dresses would almost always wear eith broad-brimmed sailor hats or the British-American style of flat-topped caps with very wide tops.
The photographic record provides numerous images of the caps and sailor suits worn by American and European boys. They do not provide, however, any indication of the colors of the caps, as the photography was all black and white. Presumably almost all are white, black, or dark navy blue. Some of the paintings executed do show color, such as the image by the master of portrait painting, John Singer Sargeant.
Cap tallies are essentially ribbons which decorated the caps worn by enlisted sailors. I'm not sure about the origin of the word or when sailors first began weraring these tallies. Each ship by the late 19th century had it's own tallie which sported the name of the sailor's unit proudly on the front of his cap. The tallies were black with gold wire or yellow silk lettering. The tally ends were tied into a bow and worn above the left ear. To wear a ship's cap tallie provided great pride for a sailor. Often a sailor would save his old tallies as a record of the different ships on which he served. They were also lovingly saved bu mothers and wives. Some were mounted and proudly displayed in the home. Cap tallies are today a popular collectors item among military uniform enthusiasts.
One common feature of both sailor hats and caps are streamers. They are common features because they were actually part of the sailor military cap worn by enlisted seamen. They were a continuation of the cap band which commnly had the name of the ship. We do not yet know when this convention began, or what the purpose was. We assume that these streamers were first worn by British sailors. The streamers vary in length and width. These are almost always in black silk or satin ribbon. They seem to be commonly two strands rather than just one and are often forked at the end. Most American and British boys wore their streamers to the back. We note some European boys wearing them to the side. We do not yet know how common this was.
Some British sailor caps had a chinstay or chinstrap. Mostly these were elasticised strings. We also notice the dark blue mohair tape worn beneath the chin in order to keep the cap on in windy weather. It was the wide-brimmed sailor hats that were most likely to be carried away by the wind. Some sailor caps, however, were also quite large and might also catch the wind. When not in use it is worn tucked inside the sailor's cap. Boys caps did not commonly come with these chinstays. We note that many available images show boys wearing sailor caps wihout their chinstraps. We believe that this was because inside the studio, they were not needed and mothers tended to fold them out of the way. Many outside portraits are taken at a distance when the slender chin strap is not discernable. We believe that boys wore these chinstraps much more commonly than is suggested by the photographic record.
Styles of sailor caps varied considerably from country to country and over time. The varying national uniforms gave rise to many different styles worn by children around the world. Boys generally wore caps modeled on the headgear worn by contemporary sailors in their country's navies. As these uniforms changed so did the boys' styles. Popular styles followed the changing uniforms of the national navies. The flat top cap worn by British and American seamen beginning about the 1860s proved popular until World War I. Other styles such as soft cloth caps became popular around the turn of the century. They were commonly worn with Buster Brown suits as well as sailor caps. Different styles were in many countries, but some styles were more associated with some counties than others. We also notice swabie caps which we begin to notice boys wearing after World War I.
It is difficult to tell how boys normally wore their sailor caps. Generally we note in formal portraits that the caps and hats are normally fully seated on the boys head parallel to the floor. The major exception to this was the cap or hat set back on the head at angle. This was presumably done so that some of the boy's hair appeared in the photograph. It also often showed more of the cap. We are not sure if boys actually wore their caps back like that. It seems likely that this was more of an approach primarily for a portrait. We notice a few images of boys wearing their sailor caps rakishly cocked to one side. This is much less common, however, and we believe that relatively few boys actually wore them like this. There presumably were chronolgical and national variations here, but we have not yet beem able to assess these.
Sailor caps were worn by boys in most European countries and America. Many different styles were worn in various countries. Some of the styles were similar if not identical, largely because the British Royal Navy was so influential in so many ways--including even uniforms. After Trafalgur (1805), no other navy even remotely approached the power of the Royal Navy. Most advances in naval matters during the 19th century were made by the British. (The American ironclads were virtually the only exception.) There is some country differences, however, because sailor cap styles tended to follow the styles worn by national navies and there were differences from country to country. We notice several different styles over time. The differences over time were much more important than those between different countries. We do not yet have a lot of country sailorcap images beyond those of the major countries such as America, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.
We note both boys and girls wearing sailor hats, often hats with identical styling. Sailor caps, however, were mostly worn by boys. Virtually all the different styles of sailor caps were essentially boy garments. That said, we have noticed a few images of girls wearing some styles of sailor caps. Here there may be some country differences. A German reader tells us that she has noted German girls wearing sailor caps. This seems much less common in America and Britain.
Sailor suits continued to be worn by boys in the 1920s and 30s, but
the accompanying cap passed out of favor, especially after the 1920s.
Sailor caps are, however, still worm by some boys.
The various national styles were also adopted by the Sea Scouts, a unit of the Boy Scouts in the various countries.
Many European boy choirs adopted the sailor suit in the 20th Century. The most famous was the Vienna Choir Boys, but many other choirs in Germany, Poland, and Scandinavia also adopted the sailor suit. It is unclear why the sailor suit was such a popular choice, but this issue is discussed on the
sailor suit page. Along with the sailor suits, of course went sailor caps. All the choirs chose the German-Russian style caps. This was primarily because it was choirs in Germany and Austria, as well as neighboring countries, that adopted the sailor suit. English and French choirs did not adopt the sailor suit.
Boys in the 19th and early 20th centuries almost always wore their sailor suits with the approriate heawear. We note, however, that in modern weddings, sailor caps are generally not worn by boys wearing sailor suits for formal weddings. When worn at all, the ring bearers more commonly wear wide-brimmed sailor hats which are generally considered more formal.
Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main hat page] [Return to the Main sailor headwear page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Essays] [Style Index]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [Frequently Asked Questions] [Links] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]