Classic Broad-brimmed Sailor Hats


Figure 1.--These brothers in an undated photograph probably taken in the 1900s shows two brothers wearing sailor hats with white tunics. The older brother wears a sailor tunic while the younger brother wrars a tunic with lace collar.

Broad brimmed sailor hats were modeled on the straw hats actually worn by British sailors in the 18th century and first appeared at that time. They did not become widely worn at this time because the fashion of distinctive clothes for childrn was just beginning to develop. Sailor suits and the required sailor hats became to be worn by boys beginning in the mid-19th century. The motivating force was, of course, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who began dressing the young princes in sailor suits. The institution of monarchy was under attack throughout Europe. The choice of the sailor suit was an astute political move. It associated the monarchy in the person of the young princes with the prestige pf the British Navy. The fashion was gradually adopted by British mothers and soon by parents throughout Europe and America. The sailor suit was begoming extremely popular by the 1870s and through the early 1900s was probably the single most important boys' fashion. Headgear was a required part of any dress outfit in the 19th and early 20th century. Sailor hats were not just worn with sailor suits. A wide-brimmed sailor hat was generally considered the proper accesory to a boy's party suit, such as a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. A boy might wear a sailor cap or other type of cap, but when dressed up for formal occasins, a wide-brimmed sailor cap was usually considered to be the most appropriate. Many mothers so liked the sailor suit style that they would outfit 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 historical straw-hat style is still occasionally worn by small boys serving as ring bearers at formal weddings. A variety of classic styles are used for the suits. Only a few costumes include hats, but when hats are included they are usually broad-brimmed sailor caps. The straw sailor hat was first popular for children. This echos a relatively common theme where new styles were first successfully introduced for children. Many fashion trends were first tried on children before adults wore them. The straw hat eventually became a favorite with fashionable adults after the turn of the Century. Older boys by the later part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century were also wearing small-brimmed straw hats with knee pants tweed suits.

Origins

Sailor suits and the required sailor hats became to be worn by boys beginning in the mid-19th century. The motivating force was, of course, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who began dressing the young princes in sailor suits. The institution of monarchy was under attack throughout Europe. The choice of the sailor suit was an astute political move. It associated the monarchy in the person of the young princes with the prestige pf the British Navy. The fashion was gradually adopted by British mothers and soon by parents throughout Europe and America. The sailor suit was begoming extremely popular by the 1870s and through the early 1900s was probably the single most important boys' fashion.

Clothing

Headgear was a required part of any dress outfit in the 19th and early 20th century. Sailor hats were of course worn with sailor hats. They were not, however, not just worn with sailor suits. A wide-brimmed sailor hat was generally considered the proper accesory to a boy's party suit, such as a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. This included Fauntleroy suits made up of kilts rather than knee pants. A boy might wear a sailor cap or other type of cap, but when dressed up for formal occasins, a wide-brimmed sailor cap was usually considered to be the most appropriate. Many mothers so liked the sailor suit style that they would outfit 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.

Age

The broad-brimmed sailor hat was mostly worn by younger boys. The boys wearing broad-brimmed sailor hats appear to be no older than 5-6 years of age. Occasionally a boy might wear them up to 7 or 8 years of age. Older boys by the later part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century were also wearing sailor hats, but these were narrow-brimmed hats with knee pants tweed suits. The wide-brimmed hats were clearly a style for younger boys.

Style

The broad brimmed sailor hatvhad a rounded crown. Many had a black silk stramer running down from the hat band. Some had ribbon edging. Some also had elasticised chin straps. The first broad-brimmed sailor hats were similar to British Royal Navy styles with moderate brims. We see wider brims than navy uniforms (1870s). A good exmple is an unidentified English boy. We begin to see huge brims for younger which became associated with Fauntleroy styling (1880s). The American boys here in the early-1900s are a good example (figure 1).

Material

I believe the wide-brimmed sailor hat was always a straw hat. There may have been other materials, but I do not lnow of any at this time.

Colors

The photographic record provides numerous images of the headgear and sailor suits worn by American and European boys. They do not provide, however, any indication of the colors, as the photography was all black and white. Some of the paintings executed do show color, such as the image by the master of portrait painting, John Singer Sargeant. Presumably the suits and caps were all white, black, or dark navy blue. White the caps were usually colored or white, the broad-brimmed sailor hats were most natuaral straw colors.

Chin Strap

Many of the photographic images of boys wearing broad-brimmed sailor hats do not show them wearing the chin straps. We have few details about the hats. We believe, however, that most of these hats came with elastic chin straps. Presumably when indoors for portrais they were unneeded and pushed inside the hat. Often the hats for these portraits were also pushed back to both show the hat and the boy's hair. Thus the chin strap could not as easily be used. Outdoors the chin straps were more commonly used. You would assume that such large hats could very easily catch the wind and be blown away without a chin strap to hold them on. Here we are just speculating as we have no written information on the use of these chin straps. We have noted them in some outdoor photographs.

Countries

Broad brimmed sailor hats were widely worn in Europe and America. I have noted this style in America, England, France, Italy, Russia and many other countries. The style appears to have been fairly standard in all of these countries. They first appeared in England as did the sailor style, but gradually spread yto couyntries around the world. Conventions for wearing these hats seem fairly similar from country to country. We notice quite a few photographs showing German boys wearing broad-brimmed saiolor hats, mostly with sailor suits.

Utility

The wide-brimmed sailor hat was both a dressy and utilitarian hat. It was worn for parties and best occassions like Church. It was not only worn with a boys sailor suit, but also his best outfit including a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. It was also worn for utilitarian purposes at the beach. One might think the poor lottle chaps would be vlown out to sea buy ocean breezes. A French reader, however, points out tat wide-brimmed sailor hats were commonly worn at the beech. Mothers at the turn of the 20th century were very attentive at the sun and considered it a real danger." Here they appear to be ahead of their time. THese hats, however, could be expensive. These hats could be daaged or soiled very easily at the beach. We wonder if boys might not have had a a wide-brimmed hat for dress occassins and another less expensive won for play or the beach.

Influence

The straw sailor hat was first popular for children. This echos a relatively common theme where new styles were first successfully introduced for children. Many fashion trends were first tried on children before adults wore them. The straw hat eventually became a favorite with fashionable adults after the turn of the Century.

Modern Usage

The historical straw-hat style is still occasionally worn by small boys serving as ring bearers at formal weddings. A variety of classic styles are used for the suits. Only a few costumes include hats, but when hats are included they are usually broad-brimmed sailor caps. Sailor hats with their broad brims and elastic chin straps and streemers passed from the boy's fashion scene in the 1920s Sailor caps contined to be worn by boys' choirs and Sea Scouts, but sailor hats were not commonly worn. The only exception to this was the ring bearer costimes worn for formal weddings.







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Created: April 6 2000
Last updated: 5:05 PM 11/8/2014