** sailor styling

Sailor Styling

Figure 1.--.

It was in England that someone had the inspiration that boys should wear minature sailors suits. Although not widely adopted at first, it would be come perhaps the most important boys' style of all time, at least until American jeans became popoular after World War II. The sailor was not just widely worn, but it lead two major inovations: long trousers and the very idea of specialized clothing for children.


One of the most popular boys' style of all time and eventually a girls' style as well was sailor styling. Many children's garments from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century were made with sailior styling. Many girls garments are still available with sailor styling.


HBC is not yet positive about the chronology of the sailor style for boys. The style appears to have first been used for boys in the mid 18th centurty. It was not until Queen Victoria began dressing the young princes in sailor suits that the style really became popular. It lasted essentially a century, but still has not yet totally disappared.


Sailor-styled garments quickly begn spreading all over the world, but were particularly popular in European countries (especiallhy England, France, and Germany), America, and Japan. The royal houses of Britain, Germany, and Russia had a great deal to do in popularising the style. America essentially imported the style from Britain. Until the late-19th century, American fashions were essentially copied from Britain and France. The sailor style was just on of those fashions. The Fauntlreroy suit (1885) would be the first important American fashion exported to Eurppe. By that time the sailor suit wa a well implanted children's style in countless countries. Japan was unique in that they were mostly worn by girls, sepecially after they became the school unifoirm style. They were widely worn in many other smaller countries as well. The styles varied slightly, but where ever it went tended to maintain the unique style of the British Royal Navy. This is largely because most foreign navies, includuing the United States Navy adopted uniforms largely based on Royal Navy uniforms. Anothger interesting feature was that the style was especially popular with the middle class, perhaps because it was so widely adopted by royal families. It was less popular with working-class families in country after country. We are not entirely sure why. This includes both America and Britain. Remember that until after World War I, most countries were monarchies -- America, part of Latin America, and France (after 1871) were exceptions.


Quite a wide variety of garments were made with sailor styling.

Figure 2.--Sailor caps and hats were widely worn with Little Lord Fauntleroy suits during the late 19th and early 20th century. Notice the cap streamers carefullu laid on his ruffled collar.

Sailor dresses

Some mothers with boys not yet breeched were so fond of the sailor style that they wanted their boys to wear a sailor suit. Many did nmot believe, however, that their boys were ready to breech. Thus the sailor style dress was born. It was a dress with the characteristic sailor styling. They became increasingly commion as the style was also adopted for girls clothing.

Fauntleroy kilt

The kilt for many boys was a partial step toward the coveted staus of wearing kneepants. For fawning mothers the kilt appealed as it was almost like a dress. It also had the advantage that at the properpont, the kilt could be repaced with kneepants, but the rest of the outfit, jacket and blouse could continue to be worn.

Fauntleroy suit

The classic Fauntleroy suit was the garment, of course, which is most identified with the Faintleroy sytle. The suit described by Mrs, Burnett was a black velvet suit worn with lace trim, a red sash and long stockings. It reality she did not describe the now famous suit in great detail. Soon many variants of this basic suit appeared. It appeared in many different colors. Some variants, especially for summer wear were not even velvet. Some suits had ruffled rather than lace collars. One of the most significant additions were often huge bows to complement the white collars.

Hats and caps for Fauntleroy suits

The primary headwear with a boy's best party Fauntleroy suit was the wide-brimmed sailor hat. Other headgear was worn, especially for less formal occasions. The tam was a particularly popular choice.

Lace collars

One of the characteristic element of the classic Fauntleroy suit was fancy white lace collars, often quite large. Often the suits had matching lace wrist cuff trim.


American boys wore their lace collars with large carefully tied bows of different colors and materials. These bow were less characteristic of Englih and French Fauntleroy suits.


A silk or satin waist sashes might be added to a Fauntleroy suit for a formal occasion. Cedric in the book wears a red sash which helped add a splash of color to a black suit. Other colors might be worn with colored Fauntleroy suits.

Socks and stockings

Classic Fauntleroy suits were worn with long dark stockings. Bkack was the most popular choice, but some colored suits were worn with colored stockings, like the suits usually in a dark shade. After the turn of the 20th Centunry, Fauntleroy suits were also worn with white stockings and socks.


The early Fauntleroy outfits were usually worn with high top shoes, often looking like boots. As the 20th Century approached, low cut shoes became more popular. Stap shoes and buckle shoes were two popular choices.

Figure 3.--American boys at the turn of the century commonly wore tunic suits, often with tunic styling.

Ringlet Curls

One element of the Fauntleroy look were long shoulder-length ringlet curls. Not all boys wore ringlets with their Fauntleroy suits, but many did. Fauntleroy suits were not the only outfits with which ringlets were worn, but they were probably the most common. And it was not just little boys that wore ringlets.

More Information

Additional information on the Fauntleroy style is available on the following pages.

Mrs. Burnett

Mrs Burnett made many of the clothes for her boys when they were small. Cash at the time was shortband she made it a labor of love. She curled the boys' hair herself. And to entertain them during the tedious period of hair curling she would tell them sories. It was during these sessions that the story of Little Lord Fauntleroy was born.

Vivian Burnett

Nrs. Burnett's youngest so, Vivian. was in many ways the model for Cedric Erol. She did indeed dress him and his brother in fancy velvet suits. I'm not precisely sure what Vivian thought of all this, but he was very close to his mother.

The book

Mrs. Burnett's book was published in serial form in 1885 and in book form in 1886. It was an immediate success. It was not considered a child's book. Rather it was lauded by the rich and famous, including British prime ministers and American presidents. Mother's were of course impressed in the story of a sweet natured, darling little boy and his beautiful velvet suit.


The original illustrator of Little Lord Fauntleroy, Reginal Birch, may have had more to do with popularizing the Fauntleroy look than the authoress. Mrs. Burnett provides few descriptions of Cedric' clothes. The many wonderful Birch illustrations, however, show cased Cedric, his long curls, and his velvet suit.


Upon the sucess of her book, Mrs. Burnett launched highly lucrative stage productions. The boys and girls that played Cedric on the stage often wire very elaborate costumes and hair styles.

Movies and television

After the development of the movies in the 20th Century, there have been many productions of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Television productions followed. In contrast to the stage palys, the costuming was much less elaborate.


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Created: August 20, 1999
Last edited: 11:01 AM 11/20/2021