United States Sailor Caps: Styles

Figure 1.--This 1941 family snapshot shows shows Dickey wearing a World War II-style sailor cap, called a swabbie cap. His dad was a sailor. His sister June poses in Speedmorecart wagon--a standard for American children at the time. It was almost certainly red.

Sailor caps soon became more popular than hats. Wide-brimmed sailor hats wer not very prctical. There were several different styles, primarily following the uniform caps worn by the U.S. Navy. We note saucer-style caps in the late 19th century. Unfortunately we are not entirely sure about the proper name for these caps. The proper sailor caps were rather a formal style, often not worn casually. An exception was the swabie cap worn beginning in the 1920s. I think the swabie cap was a desstinctively American style. We see American boys wearing them through the 1940s, but they went out of style in the early-50s.

Commodore Caps

We see a few American boys wearing commodore-style sailor cap, at least I think this is what they wee called. Most catalogs just call them sailor caps. Unlike other sailor cap styles, this was a syle for officers, not ordinary enlisted sailors (ratings). Yacht captains also wore them. They were not very common for boys. And we have so few examples, we are not sure just who was wearing them. One might think that it was relatively well to do families, but we are not sure about it. One of the charms of the sailor suit was well-to-do children wearing the uniforms of ordinary sailors. This was just the concept of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. We are not sure though this was the case. Families in tune with fashion undertood this. Mor noveau-rich families or a leat those just entering the middle-class may not have understood the fashion niceties and associate conventions. We do not see these caps in Britain.

Saucer Cap

We note saucer-style caps in the late-19th and early-20th century, primarily the 1890s and 1900s. We hope to work out a more precise chonology as we archive more portaits. The saucer caps were based on actual U.S. Navy uniform caps. Thus the chronology of the cap as boys' wear is basically the same as that of U.S. Navy uniforms. They are common in the photograohic record, at least for boys from families on commfortable circumstances. The sailor suit was popular for boys from a fairly wide range of social classes, somewhat less common for working-claass boys. But we only see the saucer caps being worn by boys who look to be from fairly comfortable circumstances. A good example is the Scott boys in the 1890s. Given the time span, we do not just have studio portarit, but some snapshots whuch provide more socail information. The saucer cap like the broad-brimmed hat was not exactly made for boyish play, but we some see boys wearing them in play situations.

Soft Cap

We note various styles of soft sailor caps worn at the turn of the 20th century. They were somewhat similar to the saucer caps in that they had a kind of a band as a base, often with a tally,, but instead of the saucer, there was a soft top, looking almost like a tam in some versions. We mostly see these caps done in white. We are unsure just what they were called at time. We believe they were seen as a sailor style for younger boys. They were, however, worn with many different uniforms and not just sailor suits. They were worn with Fauntleroy suits and blouses as well as Bustern Brown suits and other tunic outfits. We see these caps mostly at the turn-of-the 20th century in the late-1890s and 1900s, into the 1910s. We are still working on a precise chronology. It was kind of a dressy style and not generally worn for play or school.

Swabbie Cap

An exception to the general conventions for sailor hats and aps was the swabbie cap. We note American boys wearinf these caps beginning in the 1920s. This was the uniform cap worn by emnlosted men in the U.S. Navy. We are not entirely sure when it was inroduced , but believe it was the 1910s. It was worn by sailors during World War I. Perhaps war surplus sales after World War I was a factor in th populariry of the swabbie cap. I am not sire why it was so popular. Unlike many other sailor caps it was worn as a casual style, not a dress-up cap and usually not with sailor suirs. It was a cap worn as a casul style for play. We see countless boys wearing it in the photogrphic record. We believe the boys wearing these caps did so out of choice and not because mothers purchased the caps. The aps were done in white and navuy blue, but we only see boys wearing the white caps. We are not entirely sure why boys liked it so well. Surely it was because of the poularity of the U.S. Navy. But the U.S. Navy had not played a major role in World war I so we are not entirely sure why boys like wearing these caps so well. There were two ways of wearing these caps, with the vrim pulled down and worn up. As with other sailor caps, it was usually just called a sailor cap. I think the swabie cap was a desstinctively American style. We see American boys wearing them through the 1940s. Thy were very common, especilly as the flat cap began to decline in popularity. They were a casual cap, not worn by boys wgen dressing up. The boy here is a good example as to the casual use of the cap (figure 1). It was mostly worn by pre-teen boys. And they were more commonly worn by boys not wearing sailor suits and those actually wearing sailor outfits. The swabie cap went out of style in the early-50s.

Unknown Cap

Here we will archive photographs of caps we are not sure about, either because we do not recognize the style or because the available photographs do not give us a good view of the cap. We only have one angle. This is usually enough, but in a few instances we are just not sure. There are not a lot of sailor caps that we are not familiar with, but several images are a little confusing. We will post them here and hope that our readers can offer some insights that we have not noticed.


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Created: 7:18 PM 10/27/2007
Last updated: 1:10 AM 3/20/2019