Figure 1.--This American boy about 1880 wears wears a sailor kilt with a standard but contrasting middyblouse. The three stripes on the collar are not repeated at the wrist cuffs. Note the streamer (which for some reason hangs down at the side of his cap) and the pocket on his blouse. This boy looks to be about 5 years of age.
One of the styles in which boys kilts were available was the popular sailor suit style. These had become particularly popular by the 1870s. They were often called kilt-suits, but they were not really plaid as the skirt, almost always white or blue, usually matching the middy blouse. Proper plaid kilts were never worn with middy blouses. As a result, it was not quite accurate to refer to the skirts as kilts, but it was generally done as the term kilt was considered more appropriate for boys. One advantage of this style was that after the boy was breeched, he could continue wearing his middy blouse, simply replacing the kilt skirt with kneepants.
The sailor kilt is similar in some respects to the kilt suit. The difference, however, is that the kiklt suit was a jacket worn with a matching kilt-skirt. The sailor kilt was a middy blouse worn with a kilt. In many cases the middy blouse did not even match the kilt-skirt.
The kilt and sailor suit was popularized for children's wear in the 1840s. I do not recall seeing sailor kilts being commonly worn until about the 1870s, but this is just a rough assessment on my part. They were commonly worn in the 1870s and 80s, but began to decline in popularity in the 1890s. After the turn of the century they became much less common.
The sailor kilt as the kilt suit was an interim step between dresses and trousers. They were selected by mothers who for some reason, such as a husbands dislike of seeing his son in dresses, no longer dressed the boy in frocks. Such mothers were often not yet ready to breech their son so instead chose a kilted garment. The sailor kilt was in fact a very practical choice for the thrifty mother. Breeching could be a rather expensive undertaking, requiring the purchase of a whole new wardrobe for a boy. With the sailor kilt, however, after the boy was breeched, he could continue wearing the same middy blouse that he wore with his kilt. He simply replacing the kilt skirt with kneepants. There was no difference in the middy blouse worn with a kilt and that worn with kneepants.
Figure 2.--This boy wears a standard blue middy blouse with a white kilt skirt. Although the image is unclear he appears to be wearing dark three-quarter length socks.
Sailor kilts, unlike kilt suits, came in a narrow range of colors. They were mostly blue (usually dark blue or even black) or white. They were usuallu worn as single color outfits. Sometimes boys, however, wore outfits with a blue or white middy blouse and a contrasting colored kilt-skirt. So far HBC has found images with white kilts, bur in fact believes the blue ones were more common.
The middy blouse and kilt-skirt were the two principle garments of a sailor kilt outfit, but other garments were also associated with it.
Some early sailor kilt/skirt outfits in the 1870s-80s had clearly distinguishable characteristics. Some had very small "V" sailor collars. Some had a small ruffle around the collar. Others had middy blouses with button fronts. In some cases it is somewhat difficult to deferentiate between dresses and middy blouse kilt/skirt outfits. It should be stressed that these characteristics to not apply to all 1870s-80s suits, but middy blouses with these characteristics are almost always 1870s-80s suits. The middy blouses could be either pull over or front buttoning styles.
They were often called kilt-suits, but they were not really plaid as the skirt, almost always white or blue, usually matching the middy blouse. Proper plaid kilts were never worn with middy blouses. As a result, it was not quite accurate to refer to the skirts as kilts, but it was generally done as the term kilt was considered more appropriate for boys. Some of the kilt skirts do not appear to be pleated. Several had buttons, in some cases two rows of buttons.
One HBC contributor asked about the skirt. "The skirt doesn't seem to have a belt or anything to hold it up and this was before elastic. How were these things fastened?" Modern boys wearing kilts might wear suspenders. Boys in the 19th century often wore bodice kilts. The skirt was attached to a bodice that the boy wore under his blouse. This is probably how the boy in the white kilt-skirt (figure 1) kept it up.
Wide-brimmed sailor hats were most common with sailor kilts. They were also worn with sailor caps, the style varying from country to country.
Sailor kilts, like kilt suits, were almost always worn with long dark stockings, unlike Highland kilts which were worn with kneesocks. Some boys did wear three-quarter length socks, but this was a relatively small fraction of the total, especially in America. In france socks were more common.
The kilt-skirts as they were worn by younger boys were almost always bodice kilts. The bodice attached to the kilt supported it. Active young children might have trouble keeping their kilts up. That is why younger children used to wear button-on short pants. Thus the kilt was usually made with a boddice, thus solving the problem of keeping the kilt on an active young boy.
Boys in sailorkilts wore a wide range of hair styles from short cropped hair to shoulder-length ringle curls. I have yet to determine a pattern as to which hair style was most common with sailor kilts. Generally the boys in ringlets are Americans. The boys in sailor kilts appear more likely to have worn ringlets than the boys wearing kneepabnts suits, but even so many boys in kilt suits had short hair.
Boys generallywore sailor kilts from about 3 to 6 yerars of age.
Much of our information about sailor kilts comes from America, but we do know that they were worn in European countries, although our information on styles and conventions in individual countries is limited at thuis time. The style of the middy blouse followed the changing uniform trend of national navies. Mothers were, however, more likely to add decorative trim such as lace and ruffles to the middy blouses worn with sailor kilts. This tendency was especially pronounced in France and Italy. While the middy blouse varied from country to country, the kilt-skirt appears to have been more standard. I do not know of destinctive national styles or of varying popularity of sailor kilts from country to country.
The sailor kilt was a very popular style for younger American boys. Much of the information developed on this page is about the sailor kilt in America.
We believe that the sailor kilt was commonly wrn in England, but we have only limited information at this time.
HBC has noted French boys wearing sailor kilts or middy blouses and skirts before actual sailor dresses appeared. We are not positive that sailor dresses did not also exist at this time, but we can conform that sailor kilts did exist. The first such outfits we have that noted were in the mid-1880s, in France. This is just a prelininary assessment at this time, they could have well existed earlier. Sailor outfits for both girls and boys appeared in France at about the same time. Availiable information for these outfits suggest that they were most popular for boys 5-7 years of age. We do not yet know about the chronological trends in other countries. There were two popular headwear to be worn with these sailor kilts. Both wide brimmed sailor hats woth streamers and tam o'shanters (referred to as "berets" in France) were popular.
No information available at this time.
No information available at this time.
The sailor suit was one late 19th century style popular with both mothers and sons. Thus the sailor kilt proved to be a relatively happy compromise/
Many mothers liked the sailor style, but were not yet ready to breech their sons. Others sought to make skirted attire more palitable to their sons and in some cases the boys' fathers. The sailor kilt proved to be an acceptable compromise.
I have no details about what boys thought about wearing sailor kilts. Boys being boys, it is likely that most who have preferred tomlook like dad and wear trousers of some kind. Given the alternatives, however, some boys may have at least like the opporunity to wear a middy blouse like the ones worn by older boys, that if they had a proper middy blouse and not one with lace and ruffled trim added.
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