*** English boy clothes -- headwear sailor caps

English Boys' Headwear: Sailor Caps

English sailor caps
Figure 1.--Here we see three children posed around a straigt backed chair. Thy look to be asbout 12-5vyears old. The mount unusually looks like a CDV, but was a cabinet card. The two boys are wearing sailor suits including soft caps. The infant wears a baby bonnet and gown. The boys wear identical white sailor suits with black long stockings. We are not sure how to date the portrait, but woyld guess the 1890s. No studio is identified.

There were several popular styles of sailor caps. Here we are primarily concerned with sailorv caps, butb several nin-sailor stykes werev alson worn with sailor cvaops, some noew common than others. We note caps based on Royal Navy uniforms and also styles tht were just for boys. The caps seem more diverse than the hats. And we see more boys wearing the caops rather thsn the hats. 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. There were sailor caps with flat tops, soft crowns, tams, stocking caps, and other styles. The styles usually followed the standard uniform styles of the Royal Navy, but some like tams were specifically for children. We note sailor caps almost always being worn with sailor suits. This sounds obvious, but in Europe we note sailor caps sometimes being worn with non-sailor caps. This probably did not occur because the peaked school cap was so commonly worn during much of the era in which sailor caps were worn. A problem in assessing the different types is that they are usually described generically as sailor caps. We are not even entirely sure that they had proper names. If theyv did we have not yet foundc them. A factor here is that after about the 1880s we do not see very many older boys wearing sailor outfits as was common in several Continental countries. .

Beret-like Caps

We are not at all sure what to call the caps on the previous pare, but they look a lot like a felt beret attached to a sailor cap hat band. They do not appear to have cap tallies, but it may be that we just cant see the capp mbans\d with the material of the cap handing over the tally. Thus they may be soft-crown caps rather than actual berets. A good example is the Gardner brothers (1888-89).

Flat-top Caps

The flat top cap is a hard rigid cap. It is the cap worn by Royal Navy ratings for most of the 20th century. It replaced the saucer caps we think after World War I. It was also worn by American sailors after World War II, but was generally retired during World War II.

Saucer Caps

The saucer caps were introduced we think in the 19th century, we are not sure just when. They appeared in America as they were adopted by the U.S. Navy at mid-century (about 1860). As in America, however, we do not see many boys wearing these caps until the late-19th. This may be because it took some time for the sailor suit to be widely nadopted. And the saucer cap for some reason did not seem as popular at first as h other available sailor headwear alternatives. Our English archive is not as large as our American archive, this may simply relect the smaller number of available images. As a result, we are not at all sure at this time about the chronology of these caps in England or how common they were. We see vhem into the early-20th century. Ab English family in Russia sent a portrait bhome with a boy wearing a saucer sailor cap (1905).

Soft-crown Caps

We see boys wearing soft crown sailor caps. These are similar to the beret-like caps, only thge tops are not much more plyable than a felt beret..

Stocking Caps

We see some portraits with boys wearing longated stocking caps with saolor outfits. We are not sure if they were commonly worn or if these were cotume-like items worn for making a picturesque portrait.


Tams are rather like berets, but larger. Tam is short for Tam O'Shanter. We ae not sure if they were done with tallys.


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Created: 10:05 PM 7/10/2023
Last updated: 10:05 PM 7/10/2023