** sailor suits: national styles Austria Austrian

National Sailor Suits: Austria

Figure 1.--The unidentified Austrian boy here wears a long pants sailor suit with a fancy collar style which is repeated on the wrist cuffs. HBC is not sure what color the collar and cuffs were, probably light blue, but possibly red. Note how large it is. Mutter was clearly planning for him to wear it for several years. He looks to be 12-13 years old here. We are not sure when the portrait was taken. We would guess the 1910s or very early 1920s.

Austria was one of the many European countries in which sailor suits were particularly popular. Sailor suits were extremely popular in Austria just as in Germany, despite the Austro-Hungarian Empire having only a small navy. An important factore here was the royal families adopting the sailor suit. Here an important factor was the conventions set by Queen Victoria. There was no conections between the Austrian Hapsburgs and the British Batenbergs (Windsors), but there was with the Grman Hohenzollerns. This helped populrize the sailor suit throughout the German cultural area. The sailor suit is today almost associated with Austria, in part because it is the costume of the world-famous Vienna Choir Boys. This was primarily the case in Vienna and the other cities. We think it is less true, but crtainly not absent from village schools. School portraits are one of the best sources of popular fashion trends. HBC knows, however, little of the history of the sailor suit in Austria, but we have begun our asessment.


HBC knows little about the history of the sailor suit in Austria. No information on the chronology of Austrian sailor suits available yet as we have relatively few Austrian images. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had a small navy based in Italian ports. The Empire controlled Venice and areas of northern Italy. The popularity of the sailor suit may have come more from the German fashion influence than the emulation of the Austrian Navy. The earliest Austrian image we have comes from the 1880s. we believe that sailor suits were worn earlier, but we just have so few austrian images that we do not have any earlier example. A factor here must have been the popularity of the sailor suit among Austrian royalty. A good example is the family of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne until he was assasinated (1914). We note one unidentified Austrian boy wearing a standard white middy blouse in 1912. The unidentified portrait of the Austrian boy here is undated, but we would guess the 1910s or the very early 1920s (figure 1). We are unsure how the popularity of the sailor suit was affected by World War I and the fall of the monarchy. After the NAZI Anchlus (1938) the sailor suit rapidly disapeared.

Austrian Navy

An Austrian Navy sounds a bit strange today as Austria is now a small land-locked country in the middle of Europe that has since World War II (1939-45) cultivated a policy of neutralism. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was through much of modern European history a principal European power. Austria even had a modest naval tradition, defeating the Turks in the Battle of ???. In the late 19th century as the sailor suit was becoming widely acceted as a principal boys' style, the Austrians were building a modern navy which they operated from ports in what is now Italym such as Trieste.


Austria is a much smaller country than Germany. Even before World War I, while the Austro-Hungaraian Empire was a substantial part of Europe, Austria itself was a small part of the Empire. And Austria was not industrialized like Germany. This meant that the urban middle class was much smaller than in Germany. And of course it was among the urban middle class that the sailor suit was most popular. This does not mean that children in rural areas and villages did not wear sailor suits, but they were less common. This all affects the photographic record which is our primary source of information. As a result we have further images to work with to establish the prevalence od sailor suits in Austria. Most of the images we have found come from Vienna and other cities like Linz. Sailor suits were also popular among the upper-class anf aristicrats, but they were snall in numbers compared to the middle-class.


The major components of a sailor suit are the blouse or jacket and the pants. The cap or hat can add to the style, but was an optional item. The style of the sailor suit was largely deterined by the blouse or jacket. HBC at this time has to few images of Austrian sailor suits to reach any conclusions over styles. Flat top sailor caps as worn by the Austrain and German navies appear to have been popular in Austria. The Vienna Choir Boys wore very traditional styling including the standard three stripes on the collar of the middy blouse. The boy here wears a fancier collar style which is repeated on the wrist cuffs. HBC is not sure what color the collar and cuffs were, probably light blue, but possibly red. We see Austrian boys wearing sailor suits with many different types of pants, including long pants, bloomer knickers, knee pants, and short pants. This varied over time.


We believe that the conventions for sailor suits in Austria were similar to those in Germany. We see families dressing all of the boys in sailor suits and some dressing the girls as well. This was possible because there was a much wider age range for German and Austrian boys wearing sailor suits than was common in America and Britain. There were other European countries with a wide range, but we do not know of any country than there was a wider age range than Germany. Thus e quite commonly see all of the boys or girls and in some instances, all of the family turned out in sailor outfits, in some cases identical outfits. And this coulf mean from pre-school to the mid-teens. And the age range was even wider for girls than boys. As the phtographic record in Austria is much more limited than that of Germany, we cannot yet make a valid assesment of Austrian sailor suit conventions. What we have been able to find, however, suggests that there was little difference between the conventions in Austria and Germany. Only when we archive more images can we make any definitive assessment. We are constantly expanding the HBC archive and hope to add images here to develop our assessment.


The sailor suit was developed in Britain as an outfit for Queen Victoria's young sons (1840s). The monarchy was capitalizing on the populatrity of the Royal Navy. But the outfits not only proved popular with royalty and aristocrats, but the public at large, especially the middle class. And sailor suits was spread to many countries without large navies or even no navy at all. The sailor suit became enormously popular in Germany, including Austria. And the girls soon wanted in on the fun. A fashion dictum in modern times is that girls commomly wanted to wear boys' clothes, but boys had an aversion to wearing girls' clothes. We see girls wearing sailor outfits in Britain by the 1870s. We suspect that girls began wearing sailor suits in the German states including Austria at about the same time, although we do not yet have a large enough Austrian archive to defintively date it precisely. We do see Austrian girls commonly wearing sailor outfits in the late-19th and first half of the 20th century. They of course wore skirts with their sailor outfits rather than pants. Tge sailor blouses in contrast could be identical.

Austrian Choirs

The sailor suit is also popular for German and Scandinavian choirs. The use of the sailor suit, however, was a relatively recent development for the Austrian choirs. The Vienna Choir Boys only adopted it in the 1920s. The sailor suit is today almost associated with Austria, in part because it is the costume of the world-famous Vienna Choir Boys. Other Austrian choirs also wear sailor suits.

The Sound of Music

The sailor suit and Austria were further associated in the popular mind by the musical The Sound of Music. Both boys and the girls wore matching grey sailor suits in the film. The boys wore shorts and the girls skirts. The Van Trap children did actually wear sailor suits, but the only image HBC has shows them in dark long pants sailor suits.


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Created: January 5, 2001
Last updated: 5:00 AM 1/15/2020