*** English boy clothes -- headwear

English Boys' Headwear

English sailor cap
Figure 1.--These English children were photographed in Woolrich. The image is undated, but we would estimate about 1885. We are unsure as to the identity of these two children. It does appear to be an Easter portrait. A HBC reader believes that they are brothers. Here the paliness of their outfits is a clue. Girls would have more likely worn colored dresses. The children appear to be wearing sailor tams. Tams would have been appropriate for both boys and girls. Image courtesy of the RD collection.

Engish boys have worn a wide range of headwear. There were many popular styles of sailor hats and caps. The large number of sailor styles were in part due to the long period in which sailor fashions were popular for boys, about 100 years. We notice sailor hats with various size brims. There were sailor caps with flat tops, soft crowns, tams, and other styles. The styles usually followed the standard uniform styles of the Royal Navy, but some like tams were specifically for children. These were notable in that sailor headwear was often worn by boys and girls. There were also a variety of school headwear, including both peaked caps and boaters. Paeked caps were especially common and also adopted for Cubs. School girls began wearing boaters, but never peaked caps. There were many other school headwear styles for girls, including berets and other styles. Flat caps were also worn by English boys, normally working-class boys. We also note boys wearing stocking caps. School caps went out of style in the 1950s, but were retained at many private schools. Boys began wearing American baseball caps in the 1980s.

Prevalence and Size

Headwear today is not a very important fahion element. Andvnot cpmmonly prn except in imv;ment weathr. This was very different in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Headwear was a very important part of not only fashionable dress, but also everyday dress by ordinary peoople, This included children--including the very youngest. Infants wore bonnets, which could be huge comapred to the child's sine, virtually engulfing them. Infant boys and girls wore the same styles of bonnets. Older girls wore basically small editions of their mother's hats. Boys had dedstinctive styles. Younger boys for some reason wore especially large headwear--often huge broad-brimmed sailor hats. Adults also commonly wore headwear. This was the case for both mnen and women. Headwear was also a social-class indicator. The well-to-do wore hats. Working-class people were more likely to wear caps.


English boys headwear has varied considerably over the years. We note a kind of peaked military cap in the mid-19th century. At this time the broad-brimmed sailor cap came into style. Sunsequent styles of sailor caps were also popular and followed changes in Royal Navy uniforms. The peaked school cap appeared as far as we can tell in the 1860s. At the turn of the century, the peaked school cap was the dominant style for boys. We notice some boys wearing stocking caps. It was even adopted by the Cubs in 1916. Older boys might wear various styles of flat caps. The school cap began going out of style after World War II, especially in the 1950s. Boys began wearing American baseball caps in the 1980s.

Headwear Types and Styles

We have begun developing information on many different headwear types and the styles fior each type worn by English boys. These styles have varied over time as well as the boy's age. Some styles are especially associated with English boys, although as Britain is so important in boys and men fashions, they also becme popular in other countries. The wide-brimmed sailor hat is one such example. English boys also wore different styles of sailor caps. Perhaps no headwear is more associated with British boys than the peaked school cap in different colors and patterns (Circles and pie sections). Many boys also wore flat caop. Youngr boys also wear tams. We have also noted stocking caps and a variety of other styles. In recent years we have also seen English boys wearing baseball caps.


We do not yet have any history information on ribbon headwear streamers. We habe no information on their origin. Because they are mos associated with sailor headwear (both caps and hats). Both noys and girls wore them. We suspect that as streamers were so common on sailor headwear that this was their actual origin, perhaps at the turn-of-the 19th century. They may have simply been a decorative to sailor headwear. I do not know of any practical purpose. Perhaps readfers will know more about this. While streamers are most associated with sailor headwear, we also notice them on Scottish headwear, both Balmorals and Glengarys. The streamers we see are mostly black. We notice them in different width and lengths with forked ends.

Chin Straps

Chin straps were very common for hats, but rarely for caps. This is a difficult topic to address. It is not a tpic much discussed in fashion circles. We know from vintage clothing that hats nit not caps were commonly done with chin straps. This includes just about all wide-brimmed and other sailor hats. As gar as we can tell, they were done in both string and elastic. Some seem thick and others are quite thin. Er think that the thins ones which seem more common were done in elastic. We are still trying to work this out. What we do not know is to what extent boys actually wore them. It is possible that it was quit common as younger boys weredresedby mother aor a nanny and thus usuall accepted how they were done up. It was possible to fold the chin strap into the inside hat band. Thus we do not know if the boys did that or actually used the chin straps. Because most if the available photographic images are from the 19th century, we rarely see the chin straps. Either the boys were not wearing the hats or not using the chin straps, at least it looks like it in the portaits. After the turn-of-the 20th century we begin to see family snapshots taken out of the studio. This we know little more, but his is a very shot period while the hts were still in fashion. we see the boys wearing the hats on their heads, but the chin strps are difficult to see. Ww also see the boys with the hats leld with behind theor heads, helds in place by the chin strap around the neck.


English boys and girls have generally worn detinctive headwear styles. Headwear was very common in the 19th and early-20th century. We ee range of styles for boys and girls. There are relatively few styles which both both boys and girls have worn. The primary exception here was younger boys who might wear some of the same styles as girls. The most common style that both genders wore wsere wide-brimmed sailor hats. Most sailor caps are, however, only one by boys. We see a few girls wearing sailor caps, but they were primaroly a boys' style. We also see both boys and girls wearing berets and tams, although only younger in England wore them. This was entirely differeht in France where men and bots wore berets. The exception here is the Scouting beret where after World war II the Scouts began wearing berets. We see some boys wearing baseball caps in the late-20th century. Unlike the United States, we do not see girls wearing them. Generally we see headwear generally going out of style after World War II, esoecially after the 50s. We see some schools, mostly private schools requiring caps for the boys and hats or berets for the girls, but even this was becoming less common by the end of the century. The same was true of the Scout/Guide movement.


Much of the headwear worn by British children, especilly thre boys had age conventions associated with them. This was especially true of boys. Age conventions were a little less imprtant fir girls. The headweatr types included caps, hats, hats and berets. It should be stressed that unlike today, headwear was an important part of fashion. People did not go outdoors without headwear, including children, even very young children. There were popular styles for children with notable age conventions. We note biys wearing both caps and hats in the 19th century. We do not have a lot of informatuion on the early-19th century, but by the later-19th century we have much more information and the governing rule seens to have been, the younger the boy, the larger the hat should be. The popularity of the various styles of headwear changed over time as to an extent did the age conventions. major changes occurred after the turn of the 20th century as hats began to decline for boys and caps became increasingly prevalent, especially the ubuquitious school cap. The school cap became an iciom of English boy hood and beczame fairly standard for school age boys. As a result, age 6 years when children began school became amajor point at which boys began wearing school caps. All of this began to decline after World War II in the 1950s when headwear began to decline as we begin to see far fewer school caps by the 1960s.


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Created: March 7, 2003
Last updated: 8:00 AM 12/2/2022