American Sailor Suits: Late-Victorian Era--Styles


Figure 1.--This undated portrait was taken in St. Louis, Mossuri, probably taken about 1890. The suit has non-traditional styling and patterened material. Notice the bows at the pants hem. Also notice the stylish center part.

The styles seemed to follow British styles modified to reflect U.S. naval uniforms. There were, however, many similarities between American and Britis naval uniforms--so it is difficult to assess the actual inspiration on the boys' suit styles. Some mothers liked the sailor suit style that the bought dresses for their boys with sailor styling before brreeching. Little boys wore sailor dresses. At first boys wore sailor suits with long bellbottom trousers like the ones worn by sailors. As the 1870s progressed and knee pants became more common, the sailor suit in America was mostly worn with knee pants and long dark stockings. Some suits, however, were made with long pants in the English style. Often sailor suits were the only long pants suits that a boy might have. While long bell-bottom sailor suits continued to be made well into the 20th Century, by the 1880s it was the kneepants suits that most boys wore. Most sailor suits were made in knee pants styles. This is confired by the pervasiveness of these suits in clothing catalogs and the large number of images surviving showing boys in kneepants sailor suits.

Inspiration

The styles seemed to follow British styles modified to reflect U.S. naval uniforms. There were, however, many similarities between American and Britis naval uniforms--so it is difficult to assess the actual inspiration on the boys' suit styles.

Styles

We still see a range of sailor suit styles in the 1890s. The V-collar, back flap blouse with three-strip detailing was becoming standard, but as can be seen here here were many variations on the basic theme. And in addition to blouses, boys were still wearing sailor style jackets rather than blouses. The boy here is a good example (figure 1). Also worn in the the 1890s was a sailor blouse without the iconic V-collar and back flap. Rather there were large pointed collars with might have embroidered images iike stars. This is a little difficult to assess just looking at individual portraits. A good example of the range of size and prevalence is an unidentified group of boys photographed in 1892-93.

Garments

The expanding popularity of photography as well as the appearance of catalogs provide a wealth of information about late 19th century sailor suits. Most of the standard sailor suit garments beyond the enlistedman's Jack Tar suit emeged in the late 1870s.

Headgear

The initial headgear to be worn with a sailor suit was a wide-brimmed sailor hat. Gradually sailor caps appeared, the first was the flat top style.

Skirted Sailor Outfits

Some mothers liked the sailor suit style that the bought dresses for their boys with sailor styling before brreeching. Little boys wore sailor dresses. I am not sure when the first sailor dress or kilt was worn. It may have been the the 1870s.

Middy blouses


Jackets

Sailor jackets or shirt-like garments were made in a wide variety of styles. They were much more varied than the middy blouse. They had buttons like a shirt rather than being worn as a slip-over garment. They often had variations from the standard "V"-neck collar arrangements. More elaborate jackets might have a variety of elaborate detailong, including buttons, lace and ruffles.

Pants

At first boys wore sailor suits with long bell-bottom trousers like the ones worn by sailors. As the 1870s progressed and knee pants became more common, the sailor suit in America was mostly worn with knee pants and long dark stockings. Some suits, however, were made with long pants in the English style. Often sailor suits were the only long pants suits that a boy might have. While long bell-bottom sailor suits continued to be made well into the 20th Century, by the 1880s it was the kneepants suits that most boys wore. Most sailor suits were made in knee pants styles. This is confired by the pervasiveness of these suits in clothing catalogs and the large number of images surviving showing boys in kneepants sailor suits.

Stockings

Boys wearing kneepants in the late 19th century usually wore them with long stockings although short stockings began to appear by the turn-of-the century. Boys did go barefoot with sailor suits during the summer.

Shoes


Scarves and bows

The standard middy blouse was worn with a silk scarve. The more highly styled outfits often were made with the large bows thast became popular in the late 19th century. Bows might also appear on the boys kneepants and shoes.

Material

Winter sailor suits are traditionally with solid colored material like serge. Summer sailor suits were often made with white linnen. There were some stripped suits which gave a light colored effect. There were, however, also suits made in widely varying patterned material.






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Created: May 15, 2001
Last updated: 5:49 PM 4/17/2017