English Sailor Suits: Garments


Figure 1.--This brother and sister were from Sydenham. This CDV portrait was probably taken in the 1880s. She wears an elegant dress. The boy wears a stling sailor suit. Note that he is wearing a sailor jacket with a bloyse underneath and not a middy blouse. He has matching knee pants ahnd long stockings.

Quite a range of garments were made with sailor styling. Some are a little difficult to classify. There were many different styles of sailor headwear. We note boys wearing sailor headwear with many diffeent outfits and not just sailor outfits. The two basic sailor suit garments were the middy blouse and trousers. Middy blouses were primarily pull-over garments, but we also note button-up topss. This included both blouses and garments that look more like jackets than blouses. The first trousers worn with the sailor suit were the bell-botton trousers worn by British sailors. Gradually as kneepants and knickers became common for boys to wear, many boys began wearing these shortened pants with middy blouses as well. There were many other sailor garments such as Jack Tar suits, reefer jackets, sailor tunics, and square cut blouses all of which were done in a wide range of styles. And there were dresses and skirts done with sailor styling for both younger boys and girls of all ages.

Sailor Headwear

There were many different styles of sailor headwear. We note boys wearing sailor headwear with many different outfits and not just sailor outfits. Sailor headwear has been on of the most popular styles and extreemly varied. The sailor hat first appeared as a boyswear style in the 1840s when thge Royal Family began dressing the princes in sailor suits. The fashion gradually became popular in England, in part because of the prestige of the Royal Navy. The fashion soon spread soon spread to other countries, both in Europe as well as America. It was the broad-brimmed sailor hat that was first worn. We see these wide-brimmed hats in various styles. Variations appeared in both the crown and brim. We notice flat and rounded crowns. There were also brims of different widths and configuration. After the turn of the 20th century, some of these hats had turned-down brims. We also note in the 19th century a sailor had with a narrow brim. It was dark and shiny. It seems to have been a Royal Navy style that was not very popular for boyswear. Gradually boys began wearing sailor caps as well. The initial inspiration was Royal Navy uniforms. There were many popular styles of sailor caps. The large number of sailor styles were in part due to the long period in which sailor fashions were popular for boys, about 100 years. We notice sailor hats with various size brims. There were sailor caps with flat tops, soft crowns, tams, and other styles. The styles usually followed the standard uniform styles of the Royal Navy, but some like tams were specifically for children. These were notable in that sailor headwear was often worn by boys and girls. This was one of the few headwear styles that were gender neutral.

Skirted Garments

We notice English boys wearing a range of skirted sailor garments. They include sailor dresses and skirts, kilt suits, and tunics. Styling varied considerably, especially sailor dresses. Sailofr tunics also varied. This includes both tunic with "V"-front sailor styling as well as square cut blouses. These tunics were done in a range of styles. And there were dresses and skirts done with sailor styling for both younger boys and girls of all ages. We have some limited information on sailor dresses. Our acgive is limited, in pat because ur overall English archive is mich smaller than pur Amerocan archive. Thus we are just beginning to develop this topic.

Sailor Blouses

The two basic sailor suit garments were the sailor blouse and trousers. No garment more epitomized the sailor style than the classic "V"-front sailor blouse. Sailor blouses were primarily pull-over garments, but we also note button-up tops. This included both blouses and garments that look more like jackets than blouses. Of course the classic middy blouse is a pull-over garment with a "V"-front collar and back flap. Traditionally middy blouses were detailed with stripes, but this was not always the case. They were based on the Royal Navy uniforms. Some diverged from the traditional uniform suit, but the great bulk of these blouses were based on Royal Navy styles or were stronly influenced by it. We note other collars as well, bit they were not nearly as common as the traditional uniform styles. Some middy blouses had pointed collars. We also notice middy blouses without collars, but a aquare neck opening. This was a more casual, summer style. Middy blouses were mostly done in blue and white, but there were other colors.

Jackets

There were many other sailor garments such as Jack Tar suits which included more of a jacket than blouse. We also note reefer jackets.

Coats

The two principal navy-styled coasts are pea coats and reefer jackets. A pea coat is a cold weather outer coat. It is done in heavy wool and almos always navy blue. We do not have a great dealm of information, but believe that it was popularized the Royal Navy. We are not entirekly sure why they are called Pea coats. Some sources suggest that it is a partial translation of Dutch "pijjekker". "Pij" is a coarse cloth, first appearing in Middle Dutch. We suspect that the first fabric used for these jackets was Dutch or the Dutch word hab deen used in England. The Dutch oif course have a very strong naval tradition as well and fought naval wars with Britain (17th century). Pea coats appear to have been adopted by the Royal Navy (early-19th century). We are not sure when boys began wearing them, we suspect after mid-century when the sailor suit began to become popular for boys. We nore English boys wearing them in the late-19th century with their sailor suits. The design can vary, but they generally are double breasted with broad lapels. Wooden or metal buttons were common, but we see pastic buttons in the mid-20th cedntury. They often have vertical or slash side pockets, but we also see horizonal flap pockes. The length exteded below the waist. Pea coats were not always worn with sailor suits, but that seems to have been popular in the 19th century. The pea coat was adopted other European countries ad the United Stsates and like the sailor suit was also worn by boys in those countries. The pea coat today is a classic style and worn by boys who would not wear a sailor suit. Since Wirld War II, reefer jackets, another coat with naval origins, have become more popular for children. Several private schools adopted te reffer jacket as part of their school uniform. Many children in staste schools wore reefer jackets during the winter, but not as unifoirm item.

Scarfe

Sailor outfits, especially the classic V-front pull-over middy blouse, was commonly worn with a dark scarfe. This was based on the scarves that Royal Navy sailors wore.

Trousers

British boys wore avariety of trousers with sailor suits. The first unifiorm trousers worn by British enlisted sailors (ratings) with the first sailor suits were bell-botton trousers. This was the scaled down uniform Prince worn by Prince Edward (Bertie) in the famous Winerhaller portrait (1846). Younger boys at mid-century began to wear shortened-length pants ad we see some voys wearing these psnts with middly blouses. e see boys wearing sailor suits with bloomer knixkers, knee poasnts, and long trouswers. We do not have many phjotographs from mid-century, but we s\do have some from the late-19th century. Much more information is available from the 20th century. We see boys weraring sailor suits with knee pants anbd after World War I, short pants. Long pants sailor suits were also worn. Even though the sailor suit originated in England and the Royal Navy had enormous prestige, we do not commonly see boys much more than 8-10 years of age. We see much older boys wearing solder suits on the Continent. This affected the rousers yhe boys wore to a degree.






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Created: November 27, 1998
Last updated: 12:30 AM 9/28/2014