Boys Historical Clothing Essays: Political Connotations

Figure 1.--The future Edward VIII and Gorge VI are seen here in the sailor suits they almost always wore. Such outfits help to assocaite the monarchy with the Royal Navy, the most popular institution in Britain. By the turn of the century, however, it is difficult to tell if this was the purpose or simply a reflection of the popularity of the style their grandfather, Edward VII, had started. Probably both factors were at play.

One does not normally consider the political connotations of boys' wear, but in fact the way some boys were dressed had definite political conotations. The ones that most prominently come to mind are the ways that royal youngsters were dressed. Their parents commonly used the children, especially the boys, to help improve the image of the ruling houses. There may be some non-royals as well, but none occur to HBC at this time. Another boys' style with very significant political connotations was the sailor suit, although this is not fully understood today. Sometimes these two themes overlapped, such as the extensive use of the sailor suit in dressing royal princes.

Royal Youngsters

The institution of royalty in the 19th century was still dominate, but anti-royalist forces had begun to gather strength. The ideals of the French Revolution had stimulated debate over royalty and stimulated republican forces. The revolutions of 1848 succeded in bringing down some monarchies and even when supressed, monarchs across the continent began to fear for their thrones. One result, was an increasing attention to public opinion. One result was an effort to wrap the monarchy in national symbols. One aspect of this was increasing attention to how royal princes and princesses were dressed. The best example is the dressing of Queen Victoria's children in kilts and sailor suits, two outfits with very significant polititical connotations. Attention was given in other monarchies on how the princes and princess were dressed. The impact was not only political, but the royal clothing was copied by mothers of all social classes for their children

Sailor Suits

The sailor suit today appears to us as an innocuous outfit for small boys, completely devoid of military or political significance. Tjis was decidely not the case in the 19th and early 20th century. The style was first conceived by Queen Victoria (or more likely Prince Albert) as a way of popularizing the monarchy bybwraping it in the most popular British institution--the Royal Navy. The popularity was fueled by the naval arms race in the late 19th and early 20th century. At the time, the battleship was the super weapon of the era. No country was considered a major power without a flotilla of battleships. Thus the navies of the world achieved great national prestige--in part explaining why the sailor suit proved so popular with both parents and boys.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 13, 2001
Last updated: July 22, 2001