** sailor suit dickeys dickey dickie shield marinière Latz Einsatz

Sailor Suit Dickeys or Shields

Figure 1.--The son of French writer Emile Zola, Jacques, was almost always dressed in sailor suits as a boy. In this formal photograph he wears a winter sailor suit. It has a solid-colored dickey with an almost turtle neck. Note the embroidered insignia, I'm not sure what the design is. The photograph was taken about 1898-99, just before the turn of the century.

A dickey (also spelled "dickie") is a garment that resembles the front or collar of a shirt and is worn as a separate piece under a jacket, dress, or in the case of the sailor suit under the middy blouse. The dickie is soimetimes refered to as a vest or shield. In some cases the dickey was a small piece just covering the "v" of the middy blouse. Other alternatives were to actually attach the dickey to the middy blouse. Dickies could be plain or have an embroidered design. There were also stripped dickies. In other cases a kind of "t" shirt was worn under the middy blouse. This was the case for the French-style horizonal stripe shirts that served as dickies.


HBC has generally seen the covering between the "V" of the sailor collar referred to as a dickey. We are not sure about the origins of the term. American clothing advertisements in the 1910s referred to it as a shield. We do not know if the term was used in other countries or the foreign language terms. Hoopefully our readers will inform us about the term used in their country. We have also seen it referred to as a vest.

Foreign Lanuage Terms

We do not know what the foreign language termns for dickies are. There are two terms that are used in English, dickies and shields. Dickies is a generic term. I'm not sure precisely what shield refers to, I think it was primarily usded for dickies with embroidered designs, but am not positive about this. Hopefully readers in different countries will provide us the appropriate foreign language terms. A French reader suggests "un col marin", but I think this would refer to the entire sailor collar and not specifically the dickie. Our French-speaking reader writes further, "OK you are right. I went to Harraps'. Nothing about Dicky. Shield was " buckler ", but not in the sence used here. In reading your text, I believe that the real term is " marinière ". Le Petit Robert defines it "as a blouse without any openness on front and which is lower than the waist without griping". Take note my translation is approximate but clear enough. I suppose that the "col marin en V" was put over this marinière". The German term is "Latz" or "Einsatz".


The dickies worn with sailor suits varied. There were not only different tyles, but different types of dickies. This is difficulkt to assess with the photographic record because very different types of dickies look identical in a portrait because only the portion between the "V" collar shows. We have, however, collected some information from various sources explaining the types of dickies worn. The dickies also assumed a variety of forms. There were vest-like under garments, "T"-shirt like garmenrs, detachable dickies, and sewn-in dickies. We are not sure about the proper names for these different tyoes of dickies.

Figure 2.--Some boys, like this American boy, had dickies with stripes or solid colors instead of a embroidered ensignia.


There are also several different styles of dickies. Often they varied on the basis of the styles used in the uniforms of national navies. This was the case of classic sailor suits. Mothers being mothers, however, many were not quite satisfied with sailor suits based on uniforms. As a result, a fashion component is also often involved. Some dickies are solid colors other are much mote stylistic. Thus there are quite a range of dickies that are not based on uniform styles. Many outfits only loosely based on the sailor suit began to appear by the the 1870s. Soon outfits trimed with ruffles and lace appeared, hardly resembling actual sailor suits.

Without a Dicky

The vast majority of boys wearing sailor suits wire them with dickies. They were either te seoarate or sewn in type. The authors have noted, however, a few inages of boys wearing their sailor suits without dickies. This appears to have bern mostly a European fashion between World War I and II in the 1920s and 30s.


The types and styles of sailor dickies have varied over time. In part they followed changes in national naval uniforms. The embroidered separate dickies appear to have been most common in the late 19th century. After the turn of the 20th century stripes became more common. The chronological pattern varied somewhat in different countries. The sewn in dickies became increasingly popular adter World War I (1914-18), this was part of a generalized trend of simplifying children's clothing.

Country Trends

The designs on the dickies varies somewhat from countrt to country. Not all dickies had desisns. Some were solid colors or stripes, but many did have designs. Some were quite elaborate embroideries with many embelishments. HBC has not yet been able to collect sufficent information to develop many insights on the varying dickie styles worn in different countries, whichbappear to have varied over time. Anchors were popular on French dickies, although after the turn of the cebntuyry French boys often had stripped dickies. Popular American designs included anchors, eagles, and stars. Thr Tsarevitch in Russia commonly wore stripped dickies or perhaps a "T" dhirt-like garment, although I am not sure how common sailor suits were common among other Russian boys.

Figure 3.--This French fashion magazine shows a kneepants sailor suit and dickie, referred to as a vest along with an undershirt. It appeared in 1895 and was described as suitable for a 7-8 year old boy. Note the tape on the waist.

Complete Outfit

A boy's complere sailor suit might consist of a middyblouse or jacket with a dickie generally a vest-like garment. A "t"-shirt like garment might be worn during the summer with stripes. The dickie or vest was more common during the winter and would often have am ebroidered insignia of some type. The boy would also wear a buttoned undershirt-like garment called a "waist". The waist had a varying arrngement of buttonms to which the kneepants or long stocking supporters could be attached.

Undone Dickies

We see many images during the summers of bous wearing middy blouses with the dickey removed. This made the garment a little cooler to wear. Much less common is to see a boy (or even less so a girl) with their dickey not prperly buttoned. It is fairly common to see boys with other items of cloting somewhat ajar., such as shirts unbuttoned, but this is very rare for sailor dickies. We think this is because they were securely buttoned in place by mother before leaving home for school or for play. And there would be no reason for the boy to fiddle with it, even if he took the blouse off. Tere are of course countless reasons for a boy to fiddle with other garments, jackets, sweaters, shirts, belts, pants, hosiery and footwear. This means there are a variety oif reasons other items miht not be buttoned right or put on incorrectly. This does not seem to the case with dickeys. Thus on a warm day, a boy might roll down his long stockings, but is unlikely to unbutton his diskey--in part because he might lose it and mother would not be very happy aout that. The rare examples we have found are, however, useful because they show how the blouse was contructed and worn.

Support Garment

Some of the dickies/shields were apparently also waists. We are not sure how common this was. The middy style sailor suit with a blousethat was blouced at the waist with aawstring required trouser suspension. Blocing it sat the waist mean thast the middy blouse could not be used to support the trousers. Thus a child might need an underwaist to hold up trousrs and long sdtockings. Some of the shields as an option had buttons at the waist so that the trousers could be held up. This allowed the shield to serve two functions, one decorative the other functional. This can not be detected from the photographic record. Hopefully we can find some vintages clothing to show examples.


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Created: October 29, 1998
Last updated: 9:15 AM 2/13/2018