Sailor Suits: Chronology


Figure 1.--This wonderful portrait of a European and his sailboat is undated. The boy's kneepants worn with short stripped socks suggest it is an early 20th century portrait. Notice the lace up shoes and gow many eyelets there are. The sailboat was probably his favorite toy, presumably he was anxious to get to the park to sail it.

The sailor soon appeared as boys wear in the first half of the 19th century. It became particularly popular on continental Europe. The classic style was based on the uniform of English elisted sailors. By the mid 19th century many variants emerged weith avriety of un-sailor like modifuications. By the late 19th century the clasically styled sailor suit, with national modifications, had become the most widely accepted style for boys in Europe and America. After the 20th century the sailor suit became increasingly identified as a style fior younger boys, although older boys continued to wear them into the 1930 in some European countries. The popularity of the sailor suit has declined considerable in the modern era, but uit has not entirely disappeared. It is still occasinaly seen in garments for younger boys or for fiornmal wear at weddings or First Communions.

Chronological Trends

Boys commonly wore sailor suits in both the 19th and 20th centuries. For about 100 yers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was among the most popular styles for boys and became a major style for girls as well. Major changes in children's clothing had occurred in the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Another major innovation was the sailor suit wjich appered in the mid-19th century. Queen Victoria is usually given credit for the innovation, although we are not enyorely sure if some may have introduced the innovation erlier. It took a while for the fashion to cathch on with the general public, but it gradully grew in popularity and spread to many other countries. There were many stlistic variations. Girls began wearing sailor suits as well by the 1860s abd was a major stylistc influence by the 1870s. By the late-19th and early-20th centuruy the sailor suit was among the most popular style for boys and girls. The sailor suit continued to be widely worn in the Edwardian era. After World War I it began to decline in popularity for boys. A factor here was the popularity among girls. Older boys began turning away from sailor suits, although varird substantially from country to country. Aftr World War II only very young boys wore sailor xuits, although many girls' dresses continued to be done with sailor styling.

National Chronologies

Some information is available on the chronological pattern of sailor suits in various countries.It was in England in the first quarter of the 19th century when someone had the inspiration that boys should wear sailors trousers. English seamen had been dressing in pantaloons since the 17th Century. The style receive enormous popularity after Queen Victoria during the 1840s, after breeching, began dressing the young princes in sailor suits children in sailor suits. This fashion was triggered by Winterhalter's portrait of Prince Edward (later Edward VII) in a white sailor suit and straw hat at the age of 5. The sailor suit achieved immense popularity quickly, especially in England and Germany, both countries with powerful navies, and both with royal families that had strong naval links. Both the British and German royal families dressed their children in the new fashion. The sailor suit also became enormously popular in republican America and after 1848 France--without the prestige of a royal family. By the 1870s the sailor suit was probably the single most important boys' fashion throughout Europe and America. Even girls began wearing them--decades before the idea of women sailors could even be conceived. Sailor suit fashions and conventions for wearing them varied greatly from year to year. Many of the differences are based on the uniform differeces of the various national navies.







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Created: July 17, 1998
Last updated: 7:06 PM 3/4/2007