Sailor Suits: Styles


Figure 1.--Here we see an unidentifid boy with a great shop toy. What boy wou;dn't give his eye tooh for a ship like that. We thought this might be a German boy, although the scarfe is not tied in the normal German fashion. Also the palm frond obviously suggests that the photograph was not taken in Germany. We are guessing a British boy would be more likely to be in overseas locations with palm trees. France of course with its colonies is another possibility. He wears a button-on sailor suit, probably about 1930. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

There have been many different styles of sailor suits. The classic styles based on the uniforms of English enlisted sailors have been substantailly modified to create a variety of elaborate styles and garments. Some of the modifications have been to adopt the styling of the national navy. In other cases the modifcatiins were to create garments for younger children or tonstyle the rather plain classic suit uin the more elaborate boys' stles of the late 19th century. Changes were also made to the classic bell-bottom trousers to reflect the trousers more commonly worn by boys in different historical periods. Some suits appeared in officer designs, but the classic style of the enlisted sailor remains the standard. We have noticed different terms being used for sailor suits. We do not fully understand what these terms signified. This is complicated by the fact that the terms were npt alwys used consistently.

Sailor Kilts and Dresses

Younger boys in the late-19th century and early 20th century wore kilted sailor suits and dresses with middy blouse affects. Similar outfits were also worn by little girls. The kilted sailor suits were often very plain as were some of the sailor dresses made for boys. Some mothers, however, preferred more elaborate styles with frills and lace.

Sailor Tunics

One of the most popular style of tunics in turn-of-the century America were sailor tunics. unics were worn throughout the 19th century. Sailor tunics only appeared, however, at the end of the century. They were worn by younger boys who had been breeched, but whose mother did not think they were ready for a more boyish knee pants suit.

Stripped Suit

Stripped sailor suits appeared in the 1880s and were very popular in the 1890s. They usually were white suits with blue stripes. Like white suits, they were worn in the summer. Almost all were various version of blouse suits.

Jersey Suit

A jersey suit means that the middy blouse was pulled on over the head like a sweater and did not have buttons at the front like a jacket. Knitted jersey's appeared during the 1860s and were popular at the seaside in the 1880s. One fashion columist in Myra's Journal (1884)wrote, A robust agile rogue of 6 or 7 never looked so well as when his shapely figure is displayed by his close-fitting knee breeches and jersey ... being woolen they keep the body in a due state of warmth ...on the head is either a Tam-o-shanter or a kind of brewer's cap ... of the same kind of stockinette as the suit. Jersey suits were often very plain without all the details on other styles.

Blouse Suits

The first boy's sailor suit was the uniform blouse suits worn by Royal Navy sailors and throughot the ensuing century that boys wore sailor suits, the blouse remained the standard and most popular style of sailor suit. It was the blouse suits that people commonly thought of when they envisioned sailor suits. Sailor blouses became known as middy blouses, but for some reason that trm was used mostly for girls. These blouses were worn by both boys and girls, although the button up version seems virtually exclusivly wor by the boys. It could be worn for a wide variety of occassions, including dress occasions, school, casul, and play situations. They were done in seasonal versions, summer and winter versions, primrily affecting the weight of material and the color. Many of the suits had matching blouse and suit, but during the summer we see mixed suits. White or striped was the sandard for summer and navy blue for winter. We see white blouses with dark pants, but never the opposite. The first suits were pull over blouses, but eveually we see button-up blouses which became very popular. We are not entirely sure why that was. In the final phase of popularity during the 20th century we no longer see button-up blouses, only the pull-over blouses.

Jacket Suits

Another alernative to the standard middy blouse was a kind of sailor jacket. Some of these garments had buttons, but were worn open, rather like a Fauntleroy suit. Other btton-up upper (torso) garments tended to longer and extended below the waist. These seem more like jackets. We are not sure how to describe these garments. We think jacket is the best term, but we are not at all sure what term was used in contemprary catalogs and fashion magazines. They may at the time been considered a blouse, but this seems to be an incorrect usage given the length of the garment and the way it was worn. It can not accurately be called a shirt. We are tempted to call them jackets. This probably is not the best term as there was not shirt or blouse underneath. We have seen this style of sailor suit referred to as admiralty jackets . We notice this reference in American catalogs. This may have been the same in England. British Admirals around the time of Napoleon wore jackets that are similar. They seem to have been prticularly popular around the turn-of-the 20th century. We have begun to collect catalogs, but often they are only labeled sailor suits without going into detail. Some do specify admiralty jackets. We note many variations of these jackets. We see these jackets in America, England, France, Germany, Italy, and other countries. A good example is an unidentified English boy about 1900. We also notice jackets that were made to be buttoned up. We notice an English boy wearing a double breasted jacket.

Jack Tar Suit

Queen Victoria's sons beginnig with Prince Bertie were initially dressed in Jack Tar suits with bell-bottom trousers (1840s). The term 'Jack Tar suit' was not used at the time. Jack Tar was, however, a common English term used for seamen of the Merchant or Royal Navy during heyday of the Royal Navy and British Empire. It was evetually also applied to American sailors. It was used by both the sailors thenselves and the gebneral public. We are not sure when the term first came in use. One source suggests the 1860s. It seems to originate with the practice of sailors to tar their clothing before going to sea to waterproof them. We see the term being used for boys' sailor suits in American catalogs (1890s). As far as we can tell, however, there was no definitive understanding as to what a Jack Tar sailor suit was. There was, however, an association with bell-bottom trousers like Prince Bertie and sailor wore. Thus we think the best definition of Jack Tar suit is a traditonally styled suit with bell-bottom trousrs. By traditionl we nean suits based on acual naval uniforms like Prince Bertie wore. The name was so popular that an America manufacturer of children's clothing even adopted the name.

Man-of War Suit

This style was particularly popular during the early 19th Century. It was more commonly worn with long bell-bottom trousers than many of the other styles. Like manu other terms associated with boys wear, it seems to be a popular term, but not really defined. We see the term 'man-of-war suit being used interchangeably with Jack Tar suit, in some cases by the same author. Many people just use the term to mean a generic sailor suit. In other instances it is used to mean te traditonal Royal Navy outfit worn by Prince Berties. Usually worn with a wide-brimmed straw sailor hat.

Reefer Jacket

Short jackets generally in the doublebreasted style were worn by boys during the winter. The term reefer refers to the task of deploying or taking in the sails. The sailors needed short jackets while working aloft. The reefer jackets they wore are also believed to have been the inspiration for the blazer.

Solid Color Suits

One elegant style of sailor suit appeared in the late 1890s. It was a solid color suit without any stripes are embelishments. These suits appeared in both navy blue and white. Some of the navy suits might have white dickeys are other appointments. These suits were popular through the 1900s and early 1910s.

Other Suits

Different designs for sailor suits appeared in the 1880s-90s. Many differed substantially from the classic suit.

Button-on Suits

We notice button-on sailor suits done in a range of styles. They seem to have been most commoin in the inter-war era. We notice them both in Europe and America. They were done in both play and dressy styles. The suit the boy here is wearing is a good example (figure 1). After World War I the play styles became less common. We do note button-on styles in dressy outfits, often solx in fassionable botiques.







HBC





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Created: 2:46 AM 1/12/2006
Last updated: 6:27 PM 10/18/2016