*** sailor hats

Sailor Hats

sailor suits
Figure 1.--This boy wears a wide-brimmed sailor hat. These hats for formal wear at the turn of the century could be huge--even for small boys. The formal ones usually had long streemers.

Sailor hats were an important part of early boys' sailor suit outfit. The sailor suit outfit selected by Victoria and Albert for their sons included the straw broad-brimmed sailor hat actually worn by British sailors at the time. The headwear chosen was the hats worn by the enlisted seaman (ratings), not the officers. And this set the standard not only in Enland, but around the world. It was the headwear .At the time the broad brim was fairly modest. While caps were subsequently adopted by Royal Navy and other navies of the world, it was the sailor hat that was the principal headgear for dressy boys' outfits. The broad-brimmed sailor hat was a formmal style, not only worn with sailor suits, but also with dressy outfits such as Little Lord Fauuntleroy Suits. Sailor caps becamr popular beginning in the 1870s, but for dressy occasions boys most commonly wore the broad-brimmed sailor hat. Sailor hats were usually worn with tallies that identified ships, streamers at the back, and often with elastic chin straps.


The sailor hat was an integral part of the sailor suit. Hats were much more commonly worn in the 19th Century. Thus any suit purchased for a boy would be worn with requisite headgear to complement it. Eventually sailor hats, less commonly the caps, would be worn with other styles of suits. Only sailor hats or caps would be worn with sailor suits. The wide brimmed sailor hat with long streemers and elastic chin strap became by the 1880s the primary dress hat worn by children, both boys and girls. The type of hat chosen by Victoria was the wide-brimmed straw sailor hat worn by the ordinary British sailor. Surely this was also a carefully thought-out decission. After all the uniform chosen for the Prince of Wales could have been an officers uniform. Instead the uniform of a common sailor was chosen. The initial sailor hat worn by boys were wide-brimmed with ribbons dangling down the back and often held on with an elastic strap worn under the chin. The hats were based on straw hats, with smaller brims once worn by 18th century British sailors. The size of the brims varried greatly over time. Often some of the smaller boys in sailor suits or Fauntleroy suits might have very large hats with the long dangling ribbons. One fashion columist in Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine wrote in 1861, A sailor hat in brown straw, trimmed with black ribbon with bow ends is suitable for little boys 6 to 7 years of age. Older boys would have worn hats with smaller brims.


The sailor suit worn by the Prince of Wales was worn with a British Royal Navy hat. Early sailor suits were worn with hats, mostly brimmed sailor hats. The early sailor hats had relatively narroiw brims like the hats worn by Royal Navy enlisted men. Gradually wide-brimmed hats became more popular and by the late 19th century were wearing hats with vary wide brims. We note hats i the late 19th century with both rounded and flat crowns. Sailor caps also appear in the late 19th century. Sailor hats continued to be worn in the early 20th century. Sailor caps, however, become much more common. We note sailor hats with down-turned brims in the 1910s. We rarely see sailor hats after World War I (1914-18). Sailor caps, however, became a standard boys' wear item. It is somewhat difficult to follow fashion trends with sailor hats because so few portraits were dated and often boys did not wear their hats for portraits.

sailor suits
Figure 2.--These American brothers in the 1900s wear matching sailor suits with large wide-brimmed sailor hats. Note their blouses are button up rather than pull over middy blouses.


A hat differs from a cap in that it has full brim all around the crown. The brim of course varied substantially in size.


The size of the sailor hat was governed largely by the brim. We see sailor hats with all kinds of brims from small to very large indeed. Curiously it seemed the governing rule was the smaller the boy, the larger the brim. Some younger boys wore sailor hats with very large brims.


Sailor suits were worn with both hats or caps. The first sailor suits were worn with the broad brimmed sailor hats worn by British seamen. The sailor suits popularized by Queen Victoria's sons in the 1840s were worn with straw sailor hats. The sailor hat was the most formal style and was for years worn, not only with sailor suits, but with formal clothes like Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. The Buster Brown suit and other tunic suits was anoter style commonly worn with sailor hats, although sailor caps were also worn as well. Various other outfits such as kilt suits were commonly worn with sailor hats. While sailor suits were normally worn with sailor hats and caps, these other garments might be worn with sailot hats, but they were also worn with many other types of headwear.


The two major components of all hats are the srown and brim. This was also true of sailor hats. And both could vary substantially. We see bothnrounded and flat crowbs. The brims also varies with some very wide brims. There were aalso some minor compnents, more like featurs. They included hat bands, stramers, and chinstraps. Most hats have hat bands. Some sailor hat bands were done as tallies, especially in England. Sailor hats were usually worn with streamers which were extensiins of the hat bands. Yhey fell at the back and this usually cannot be seen in studio portaraits. The important British fashiion magazine, Godey's Lady's Book noted in December 1871 that, "For little boys they have no trimming but a piece of inch-wide ribbon velvet around the brim, short ends hanging at the back; sometimes blue and white or black and white stripped ribbon replace this. For little girls they often have a stiff wing, or aigrette, or feather tuft on one side." Not all sailor hats had streamers, but they were very common. Most sailor hats also had chin straps. We often do not see them in studio portaits, but they are often notable in outdoor photographs. A good example is an unidentified American boy in 1907.

Wide-brimmed hat
Figure 3.--Sailor hats were widely worn with many clothes besides sailor suits. This American boy was photographed in Maine, probably in the 1870s. The boy wears a rounded-crowned, narrow-brimmed sailor hat.


Sailor hats were made in a wide variety of styles thus we note a range of sailor hat types. The original sailor hat with the wide brim was worn from the mid-19th Century through the early 20th Century. Many other styles appeared for boys. The classic style as originally worn by the Prince of Wales and by boys through the 1910s was the best known and usually thought of when discussing sailor hats. It had an elastic chin strap, wide brim, rounded crown, and streamer. The streamer was usually solid blue or black, but could be stripped. As the sailor suit became increasingly popular in the 1870s, this style of sailor hat, epecially those with very wide brims were increasingly worn by younger boys. Older boys who wore sailor suits would wear hats with more narrow brims. These narrow brimmed hats were popular from the 1870s-90s, but after the turn of the century, older boys wrearing sailor caps would mostly wear caps. The narrow brom hats usually had no chin strap and a hat band, but no streamer. Older boys who wore sailor suits would wear hats with more narrow brims. These narrow brimmed hats were popular from the 1870s-90s, but after the turn of the century, older boys wrearing sailor caps would mostly wear caps. The narrow brim hats usually had no chin strap and a hat band, but no streamer. Flat crowned sailor hats appeared in the 1870s and were worn by both younger and older boys, the width of the brim being the primary characterstic differentiating styles for younger and older boys. Often the flat top hats, even those with large brims would not have streamers. The Breton sailor hat is a French style worn by children amd women. It has a brim which turns up evenly all around. We note a down-turned brim style that was popular in the 1910s.


Straw sailor hats were considered to be appropriate for a boy's best party suit. They were especially popular with Little Lord Fauntleroy suits. Caps were, however, not considered appropriate formal wear. For the most part they were worn with sailor suits. One other boys' outfit was commonly worn with sailor caps-- Buster Brown suits.

sailor suits
Figure 4.--This painting showing Livingston Davis and his mother was painted by John Singer Sargeant in 1890. The basic sailor hat changed little over the years. The large style-hat was very popular around the turn of the century.

Classic Broad-brimmed Straw Straw Sailor Hats

Broad brimmed sailor hats were modeled on the straw hats actually worn by British sailors in the 18th century and first appeared at that time. They did not become widely worn at this time because the fashion of distinctive clothes for childrn was just beginning to develop. Sailor suits and the required sailor hats became to be worn by boys beginning in the mid-19th century. The motivating force was, of course, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who began dressing the young princes in sailor suits. The institution of monarchy was under attack throughout Europe. The choice of the sailor suit was an astute political move. It associated the monarchy in the person of the young princes with the prestige pf the British Navy. The fashion was gradually adopted by British mothers and soon by parents throughout Europe and America. The sailor suit was begoming extremely popular by the 1870s and through the early 1900s was probably the single most important boys' fashion. Headgear was a required part of any dress outfit in the 19th and early 20th century. Sailor hats were not just worn with sailor suits. A wide-brimmed sailor hat was generally considered the proper accesory to a boy's party suit, such as a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. A boy might wear a sailor cap or other type of cap, but when dressed up for formal occasins, a wide-brimmed sailor cap was usually considered to be the most appropriate. Many mothers so liked the sailor suit style that they would outfit sailor outfits before breeching. Many stues of sailor dresses or middy blouses to be worn with kilts/skirts were available. Boys in dresses would almost always wear eith broad-brimmed sailor hats or the British-American style of flat-topped caps with very wide tops. The historical straw-hat style is still occasionally worn by small boys serving as ring bearers at formal weddings. A variety of classic styles are used for the suits. Only a few costumes include hats, but when hats are included they are usually broad-brimmed sailor caps. The straw sailor hat was first popular for children. This echos a relatively common theme where new styles were first successfully introduced for children. Many fashion trends were first tried on children before adults wore them. The straw hat eventually became a favorite with fashionable adults after the turn of the Century. Older boys by the later part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century were also wearing small-brimmed straw hats with knee pants tweed suits.


The photographic record provides numerous images of the hats and sailor suits worn by American and European boys. They do not provide, however, any indication of the colors of the hats, as the photography was all black and white. Presumably most were straw colored. Some of the paintings executed do show color, such as the image by the master of portrait painting, John Singer Sargeant. Even with black and white photographs, it is possible to tell that the classic broad-brimmed sailor hats were a different color (natural straw) than the blue and white sailor suits with which they were worn. While most of the hats were natural straw colors, HBC notes that some had colored rims or a colored circle worked into the brim.

Figure 5.--This older boy's small straw hat suggests it is a costume for a stage performance rather than an actual period photograph.


The broad-brimmed sailor hat was a style for a younger boy. Generally it was worn by boys to about 7 6 years of age, although older boys might on occasion wear them. Usually they were worn by younger boys. This may have varied some what chronolgically, but HBC does not yet have sufficient information to determine such changes. Often when brothers were no close enough in age to be dressed in identical outfits, the younger brother would often wear a wide-brimmed sailor hat while the older brother would wear a more mature-looking hat style. Older boys might wear sailor caps, but the wide-brimmed sailor hat was a tyle for younger boys.

Country Trends

Sailor hats were widely worn headgear in Europe and America throughout the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The sailor hat was of course popularized in England when Queen Victoria and Albert addressed their youngest son in a sailor hat and suit. The classic wide-brimmed sailor hat was a fashion mainstay for decades. For the most part it was a clssic style and worn by boys in many countries without destinctive national styling. There wre variions in the hat such as the shape of the crown and the width of the brim. Other element include the elastic chin strap and streamer. We do not know of any style tht ere especially asociate with specific countries. We have just begun to collect informtion on national trends. We are building pages on America, Austria, England, France, nd Germny. An English boy, Carlos Roos, wears a boater-style hat in 1881.


We notice some younger boys wearing wide-brimmed sailor hats to school in the late-19th and early 20th century. This was more commpn in Europe than America. We have not otices these hats being worn to school after the end of World War I (1914-18). The one exception is Japan. Some Japanese schools have adopted wide-brimmed hats as part of school uniforms.

Figure 6.-Sailor hats for boys have not entirely disappeared. Ring bearers still occasionally wear sailor hats.

Wedding Ring Bearer and Ushers

Sailor hats with their broad brims and elastic chin straps and streemers passed from the boy's fashion scene in the 1920s Sailor caps contined to be worn by boys' choirs and Sea Scouts, but sailor hats were not commonly worn. The only exception to this was the ring bearer costimes worn for formal weddings.


The sailor hat had a very significant impact on fashion. It became very influential in boys' headwear, but perhaps even more important it also had a major influence on women's millenery.


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Created: February 6, 1999
Last updated: 4:58 PM 11/8/2014