Sailor Suits: Gender


Figure 1.--This photograph is American, probably taken about 1915-20. HBC believes that the two older children are probably girls. It is difficult to tell, however, as the image is so distinct. It is hard to tell if they are wearing shirts or shorts. Perhaps bloomers. The fact the child on the left wears a necklace does rather suggest a girl.

Sailor suits were first worn by boys, but sailor outfits were eventually worn by both boys and girls. HBC has received several inquiries about girls sailor outfits. Unfortunately there is no sister site to address historic girls styles. Some basic information on girls sailor outfits is helpful in assessing old photographs. Girls generally wre sailor outfits of middy blouses and skirts and eventually sailor dresses. Boys appear to have worn early sailor dresses. Girls dresses from a fairly early period appear with elements of sailor styling before they can be called actual sailor dresses. Conventions varied greatly over time and between cuntries. Girls may have worn sailor suits with bloomers. HBC has not noted sailor suits with trousers, either short or long trousers. Girls did wear sailor tunics like the ones worn by boys.

Chronology

The sailor suit for boys was popularized by Queen Victoria when she first dressed the future Edward VII in a white enlisted man's suit with bell-bottom trousers. HBC at this time does not have sufficent informatiion to assess when girls also began wearing sailior inspired outfits. The middy blouse, especially the white middy blouse with a blue skirt was commonly worn by American girls to school in the 1910s-20s. This may have been a factor explaining why the sailorsuit declined in popularity amony American boys. Dresses with sailor suit collars were very popular as gym suits in girls schools during the first half of the 20th century. Also, many girls and women's bathing suits used both versions of the sailor collar. If you'll check out the Dover Everyday Fashions of the Twenties on p. 38 you'll find a "sports" outfit for teenaged girls consisting of a "middy blouse" and a pleated plaid skirt. Modified sailor collars are also shown on the other "sports" and "play suits" for older girls shown on the page. On p. 78 are more "middies" touted as a "costume for the schoolgirl or co-ed for sport or year round utility wear."

Countries

Trends varied greatly from country to country. HBC know little about European girls sailor outfit styles. We are not yet sure about the late 19th century. We believe that the sailor suit was seen primarily as a boys style, byr we are unsure as to just when sailor styles began to be observed in girls clothing. We believe that this began to occur as least asearlu as the 1880s.

Garments

Girls first wore sailor dresses with elements of sailor styling. Only gradually did those dresses begin to look more and more like middy blouses. Eventually girls not only wore sailor dresses, but middy bloses and skirts. Of course when girls began wearing middy blouses, they became less opular with the boys. Little boys appear to have worn early sailor dresses. Girls dresses from a fairly early period appear with elements of sailor styling before they can be called actual sailor dresses. Conventions varied greatly over time and between cuntries. Girls may have worn sailor suits with bloomers. HBC has not noted sailor suits with trousers, either short or long trousers. Girls did wear sailor tunics like the ones worn by boys.

School Uniforms

Both boys and girls have worn sailor outfits to school.

Boys

The sailor suit during the late 19th and early 20th century was widely worn to school by boys in many European countries. It was especially common in France and Germany. Interestingly it was least common in England, the country where boys first wore sailor suits and which had the most poweful navy. It was also worn in America, but perhaps because of the British connection not as commonly as in Europe. A few schools, mostly military schools hadsailor suit uniforms, but for the most part boys simply wore it because it was a common boys' clothing style. Sailor suits becan to commonly appear in the schools during the 1970s and were commonly worn through the 1920. The began to decline in popularity during the 1930s, but trends varied from country to country.

Girls

The middy blouse, especially the white middy blouse with a blue skirt was commonly worn by American girls to school in the 1910s-20s. Middy blouses and bloomers were a commn girls gym outfit in the early 20th century. The Japanese adopted sailor dresses as school uniforms for girls.

Colors

One HBC reader suggests that white sailor outfits were more common for girls than blue ones. HBC does not yet have sufficent details to assess this.






HGC




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Created: February 11, 2001
Last updated: 3:58 AM 6/20/2004