Sailor Suit Fashion

Portrait of Thomas Chappell of New London, CT, as a Child

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

It was Great Britain’s Queen Victoria who popularized the sailor suit fashion for boys. In 1846 she gave the young Albert Edward, Prince of Wales a child-sized version of the uniform worn by crew of the royal yacht. The sailor suit very quickly became a trend among middle- and upper-class English and soon spread to continental Europe and the United States and Canada. What had been a trend became an established fashion in the 1870s when the Prince of Wales’ children were also decked out in naval-inspired clothing. Young girls, too, wore variations of the sailor suit. The fashion remained popular for boys until the 1920s.

The style of the sailor suit was in part determined by age. Very young boys, aged 2-3, wore naval style blouses and jackets as well as skirts. Older boys, aged 4-12, exchanged skirts for knickerbockers or bell bottom trousers. By the end of the 19th century there were many variations of the basic sailor suit.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Can you think of any cartoon characters who wear sailor suits?
  2. How and why does a particular fashion spread?
  3. How does a fashion trend reflect societal norms?