Montgomery Ward: Sailor Suits (1895)

Figure 1.--Here we have an illustration of the reefer suits offered by Sears.

Ward's offers two type of sailor suits. The first was called reffer suits. These have what look somewhat like reffer jackets rather tham middy blouses. There were a surprising number of reffer suits available in what Ward's calls "nobby styles". We notice that Wards calls some of the sailor suits it offers "Zouave suits. These appear to be traditional sailor suits. We have no idea why the term Zouave suit was used.

Montgomery Ward

Although the word "consumerism" has a modern ring, it was personal concern for an early consumer movement, the "National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry,"That inspired a young traveling salesman named Aaron Montgomery Ward to start the world's first general merchandise mail-order company in 1872. Aaron Montgomery Ward was born on February 17, 1844, in Chatham, New Jersey, to a family whose forebears had served as officers in the French and Indian Wars as well as in the American Revolution. Looking for something more compatible, Monty left home and followed the river to Lake Michigan and the town of St. Joseph, county seat and market for outlying fruit orchards. Chicago was the center of the wholesale dry goods trade and in the 1860s Ward joined the leading dry goods house, Field Palmer & Leiter. As a retailer, Potter Palmer had previously built a reputation for fair dealing. Ward absorbed these principles while working as a clerk for $5. The Chicago City Directories for 1868 through 1870 listed Ward as a salesman for Wills, Greg & Co. and later for Stetthauers & Wineman, both dry goods houses. In 1870, after canvassing territory in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ward was again footloose. The plan shaping in Ward's mind was to buy goods at low cost for cash. By eliminating intermediaries, with their markups and commissions, and cutting selling costs to the bone, he could offer goods to people, however remote, at appealing prices - for cash. Since its founding in 1872, the company has literally "grown up with America" and has had a major impact on the shopping habits of a nation of consumers. Montgomery Ward & Co. discontinued its catalog operations in 1 985 as part of its restructuring effort to change itself into a modern, competitive chain of value-driven specialty stores, a move which for a time saved the company. week.

Suits in the 1890s

Kilt suits and Little Lord Fauntleroy suits continued to be popular in the 1890s, especiallyb in America. Sailor suits became a standard for boys. The popularity and style varied from country to country. Boys increasingly wire kneepants suits. Knicker style pants were also popular, more in Europe than America. Eton suits were a popular style, but more likely to be worn with long pants. We notice some boys like the Syder brothers wearing the old small jackets, but increasingly in the 1890s boys were wearing full jackets that buttoned to the collar and modern-looking jackets with lapels.

Ward's Sailor Suits

Ward's offered a wide range of children's suits. The term children was used, but the sizes included youth sizes to age 14 or 15 depeending on the suit. The many different suits are not described in detail but the illustration suggests that they were all kneepants suit. There are no long pants suit's illustrated. The styles include collar buttoning, single breasted lapel, and double-breasted lapel suits.

Ward's Sailor Suits

are illustrated and the decriptions are very brief, but the Sears ad copy offers some fascinationg details about the suits worn by merican boys in the 1890s. The Sears ad copy reads, "Children's Suits--Style 26, Style 25, Style 28 Coat and knee pants Suits, two pieces. Children's suits are made in sizes from 4 to 14 years. N.B. -- We do not sample any ready-made clothing except where so stated on quotation." All of these suits were made in one of the illustrated styles. Curiously with a few exceptions there seems to be no way of knowing in which style the various suits numbered here were made.

Ward's Reefer Suits

We were rather surprised to find the number of different Reefer Suits offered by Ward's. There is a brief discription of the different suits ffered, but they do not fully explain the differences between the suits. The variation seems more based on the fabric than the styling. The suits all seem to be kneepants suits for boys 3 to 8 years of age.

Reefer Jackets

We are not entirely sure why the Ward's suits were called reefer suits. We assume it was because the suits had jackets styled like reefer jackets and not middy blouses.

Ward's Zouave (Sailor) Suits

We notice a much smaller number of traditional sailor suits which for some reason unknown to us that Ward's calls Zouave suits. A reader writes, "'Zouave' comes from a mountain range in Algeria and was associated with a style of military uniforms worn in Algeria. All the 'Zouave' suits advertised in the 1895 Wards catalog seem to have certain military aspects--buttons, braid, etc. So this must be the explanation." HBC is not positive about this. We note that Zouave was also used for the Fauntleroy outfits. We think it might be the small jackets.

Zouave Suits

France annexed Algeria in the early 19th century as part of European 19th century rush to colonize Africa. Military units were formed from Algeians sympathetic to the French. Later units were formed with French soldiers, but with uniforms with Algeian--baggy pants styling. These units and the styling was called Zouave. It became a popular style for French boys. After American units adopted the Zouave styling in the Civil War, it became popular with American boys. The two major elements were the small jacket and the bagguy pants.


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Created: 4:45 AM 11/6/2004
Last updated: 5:13 PM 11/7/2004