Why do kids wear sailor suits?

Poor Albert Edward. In the summer of 1846, when he was four years old, the British crown prince, later King Edward VII, got his newest sailor’s suit. White blouse, long wide leg pants, large V-neck with white stripes, silk tie, straw hat.

Why poor Albert Edward? Well, while on a royal visit to the Channel Islands, he had to stand endlessly in suit to paint, his mother, Queen Victoria, thought creativity was very special. The package has stood the test of time: it can be found in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (UK).

Children wore uniforms of officers and sailors

The packaging immortalized in the painting is special because it broke with tradition. Until then, it was not uncommon for children from noble families and other notable families to wear the uniform of a miniature officer on special days. You can’t get rich kids to get used to it early enough that later they’ll be captain of a sea ship themselves.

But Queen Victoria chose an ordinary sailor’s costume. It wasn’t the first: as early as the 18th century, images of what might be called sailors’ suits were known in Germany and France, among other countries. But the British crown prince’s suit will serve as a model for sailors’ suits that will truly flood the world.

Boy in sailor suit, early 20th century.

Amsterdam City Archive

The elite and ordinary children wore sailor suits

Because that’s what happened. For a century, the sailor’s suit was unstoppable. It was the most popular children’s fashion of all time. At first only among the rich, then as clothes for “ordinary” people. The rise of the sailor’s suit was a sign that the boundaries between the different classes of society were slowly being replaced. While suits became more common in “lower” circles, children in “higher” circles also continued to wear them. You can call this special safely.

The sailors were strong and lovable

So sailors’ suits were suitable for everyone. That was according to Ignaz Mathy, the author of the book It sounded so cute on you, sailor suit cultural history (How beautiful it is to have such books), because of the “visual appearance and poignant appearance of this fashion: the sight of a child in sailor’s clothing aroused an almost reflexive love.” At the same time, the suit also had something difficult, just like real sailors. The suit fully met all the requirements for the image that parents had for their children.

With this outfit, you expressed that you were stylish

For decades, sailors’ suits were ideally worn on special days, like “Sunday” outfits. If I went out as a family that day, for example to church or to the park, the sailor suit was a great choice of clothing for my son. You expressed that you were a “fair” family. Catholic boys also wore a sailor’s suit on Eucharist. When the boys were photographed, with the school class or with the family, they also knew that their sailors’ suit would be taken out of the closet.

Why do children wear a sailor suit?

A family photo? Then the sons were raised in sailor suits.

North Holland Archive

The wealthy naturally had a tailor come into their house to make a suit to measure. But ready-to-wear has been on the rise, too. Many fashion stores have released their own sailor stripes. Packages were already available for young children from the age of two. How cute!

The package came with a nickel whistle

The suit of the British crown prince may have been the mother of all sailors’ suits, but the subject matter was endlessly diverse. At first, suits usually had long pants (just like real sailors), but in the 20th century, shorts took the upper hand. It was popular and still is a nickel whistle on a white rope that often comes with a sailor’s suit. It was in a special chest pocket.

Why do children wear a sailor suit?

The bravest is almost impossible.


The collar of the pack was not comfortable

It is almost inevitable that the children themselves must have hated their sailors’ suit. The stiff starch collar (“show collar”) did not fit well and perhaps most importantly, the package was not allowed to heat up.

There were also adults who saw it. The magazine was written in 1922 Dutch magazine: “Mothers who put on their son a sailor’s suit and long pants, offend the nature of children. The child does not take pleasure in wearing such a cumbersome dress, except for the desire to be noticed, he should naturally find such a pair of long, straight tubes unpleasant and oppressive – see if He could run and play with them!”

The girls also wore sailor suits

Sailor suits were especially popular among boys up to the age of twelve (or rather, among their parents). But it also turned out to be a hit with girls and women. They also began to wear sailors’ designs on special occasions. Swimwear and blouses were introduced with sailor stripes and I also saw them in sports clubs for girls and women, such as tennis, sailing and gymnastics clubs.

Matthey wrote: “The sailors’ dress for girls, playfully broke the strict division of roles between men and women: for a moment girls were allowed into the world of men.”

Why do children wear a sailor suit?

The girls were also screwed up.

Groninger Archive

The pilots were ultimately stricter than the sailors

After World War II, the sailor’s suit ended very quickly. In Germany, the market for sailors’ clothes collapsed: no one there wanted to put their children in anything resembling a uniform. Elsewhere, too, I was quick freaky if you wore such an old suit.

The ready-to-wear market became bigger and bigger: there was more and more to choose from. According to Mathie, the decline was partly due to the rise of (military) aviation: pilots are now stricter than sailors. Becoming a pilot was a new childhood dream.

They no longer express social differences in clothes

In addition, according to Mathie, the distinction between weekday and Sunday clothing has disappeared, in part due to increasing secularization. He writes: “A taboo arose to publicly emphasize social differences in clothing.” He believes that this phenomenon is the main reason for the decline in sailors’ suit.

In the 1960s, using your clothes to express that you were prettier or more important than anyone else became completely antiquated. The sailor’s suit helped smooth out the social folds between the rich and the poor, but it didn’t completely lose its elitist image.

Leave a Comment