*** naval uniforms and boys clothes

Naval Influences on Boys' Clothing

sailor suits
Figure 1.--The classic sailor suit is based on the uniform of the country's navy. These teenage British boys are training to enter the navy. This photograph was taken about the turn of the century.

The most important military-style uniform influencing boys clothes, of course, was the sailor suit and sailor hat popularized by Queen Victoria when she began dressing the young princes in them during the mid-19th century. The style quickly became a sensation throughout Europe and America. No military style has ever approached the popularity of the boys sailor suit.

Sailor Suits

Few boys' clothing styles have been as imortant or so widey worn as the sailor suit. The sailor suit is certainly one of the classic styles for boys' clothing. Originally conceived in England, it soon became an internatiinally acepted style, easily crossing national borders. Interestingly, the classic enlisted man's uniform first worn by the Prince of Wales in 1846 was a relatively novel invention because the Royal Navy had only just begun to regularize uniforms for enlisted men. The classic sailor suit has changed little over time, although the pants worn with it have changed. While the classic style has changed little, there have been many variation on the classic style worn first by the British princes and subsequently by royals and commoners throughout Europe and America.


The designs for boys' sailor suits varied greatly. The classic sailor suit faithfuly followed the uniform of the national navies. The first suit worn by the future Edward VII employed long bell-bottom trousers like the ones worn by British sailors. As knee pants becane increasingly common for boys in the 1870s, sailor suits with knee pants worn with long black stockings became more common. Many adoring mothers diverged from the classic style. Sailor suits with skirts appeared for younger boys and girls. Lace and other fancy trim were added to many of these sailor dresses, although many retained the classic design for the middy blouse.

National Styles

Some of the distinguishing elements of national naval uniforms incorporated in sailor suits were:


The boy's sailor suit was first inspired by the Royal Navy enlisted man's uniform. Interestingly, the classic enlisted man's uniform first worn by the Prince of Wales in 1846 was a relatively novel invention because the Royal Navy had only just begun to regularize uniforms for enlisted men. Some attention had been given to officer's uniform for some time. Enlisted men until the mid-19th centurty, however, lacked uniformity and its the style and even color could vary substantally the period and whim of the clothing contractor and vessel capatain. Even the blue and white convention is a relatively recent development. A standardized uniform (rig) for enlisted men (ratings) was not established by the Admiralty until 1857. Of course while it was the British Royal Navy uniform that served as the model for the first boy's sailor suit, fashion designers were soon creating suits for boys which diverged radically from the first classic suit. Also as the boy's sailor suit spread across national boundaries, boys wanted suits based on the uniforms of their own navies. It was the Royal Navy, however, which set the standard for the boy's sailor suit.


French sailor suits has dickeys with horizonal stripes. Caps had a red pompom on top.



Russian sailor suits also employed dickeys with horizontal stripes.

United States

The American Navy intoduced the swabbie type sailor cap.

Figure 2.--The classic middy blouse changed little overtime, but photographs can be dated by the hats and pants. This photograph was probably taken about 1910. While the middy blouse often accurately reflected a country's naval uniforms, the pants worn by boys' were more likely to reflect contemprary pants' styles for boys.


It is interesting to speculate as to why the sailor suit became such a popular outfit for generatuions of boys and girls. After all the sailor, no mater what the country, had the reputation for being a bit of a rogue. Not exactly the reputatiion that would seem suitable for a child's clothing style. Cerainly the adoption of the sailor suit by Queen Victoria in the 1840s and then by royal houses throughout Europe was a major element in the suits popularity. The allure of the sea was perhaps a factor. After World War I, the terrible killing machine of the army caused Europeans to turn away from anything associated with the army. Sailor suits, however, continued to be popular. Boy choir groups in Austria and Germany changed from army to naval-inspired uniforms.


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Created: September 4, 1998
Last updated: November 2, 2002