School Uniform: Garments--Sailor Suit Individual Country Trends

Figure 1.--The sailor school in Japan is primarily a girls' uniform style. We note a few primary schools where the boys also wear sailor suits. The name of the school may be Sotuen.

We have developed information on several countries where boys wore sailor suits. This was very common in Europe and the United States during the early 20th century. This was particularly common in Germany, but we note it in many other countries as well. We see a lot of boys in France and America also wearing sailor suits, but it seems more common in Germany. Curiously England where the sailor suit originated was not one of the places where it was more commonly sworn to school. Sailor suits were normally worn as a child's individul clothes and not as a school uniform. We have noticed very few instances in which the sailor suit was used as an actual school uniform. The primary exception here is Japan, but here the sailor suit was almost exclusively worn by girls. There seem to have been a few private schools in some countries which adopted a saior suit uniform.


Sailor suits were popular boys' wear in America, especially before World War I (1914-18). Sailor suits were one of the most common outfits for boys during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Even so, we noted more boys wearing sailor suits to school in Europe, escpecially France and Germany, than in the United States. After the War, sailor suits became even less common in America, at least for boys. We believe that this is in part because girls begn wering middy blouses to school. The sailor style became increasingly seen as a style for very young boys and girls. As a result it became increasingly less popular for boys.


A private school in Guyaquil during the 1980s had a white sailor suit uniform.


Interestingly it was perhaps least common in England, the country where boys first wore sailor suits and which had the most poweful navy. This was perhaps school clothing styles in England were heavily influenced by the clothing worn at the private preparatory and public schools and boys art these schools did not commonly wear sailor suits. The sailor suit was also worn in America, but perhaps because of the British connection not as commonly as in Europe. We note that state school portraits do not show large number of boys weaing sailor suits as was the case in Germany.


Wearing sailor suits was especially common in France and Germany. As a result they were often worn to school. They were not as common at school as in Germany. This was probaly because so many French boys wore smocks to school.


We note large number of German boys wearing sailor suits to school. This was especially the case before World War I. We have only limited information on the late 19th century, but we have quite a bit of information on the eary 20th century. German boys wore an amazingly varied diffent style of sailor suits. In any class portrait, there are at least a few boys wearing sailor suits and in some portraits quite a large number of boys are wearing them. Even after the War many boys wore sailor suits--at least in the 1920s. Styles became much more standardized. Almost all available images show boys wearing very traditionally styled sailor suits. Almost all boys Sailor suits became much less common after the NAZIs seized power in 1933. The NAZIs looked on sailor suits as suitable only for the youngest boys.


We see many Italian boys wearing sailor suits to school in the late 19th and early 20th century. The sailor suit seems especially popular in the 1910s. Younger children wore smocks, but we see many children in secondary schools, neginng abpit age 11 wearing sailor suit. We note many different styles. We do not notice a dominanant traditional style based on the Italian naval uniform. The popularity in secondary schools shows that the sailor suit as in other countries was especially popular with middle-class families. Working-class children generally did not go to secondary schools. These wee not school uniforms, but outfits parents chose for schoolwear. Sailor suits of course were not the only outfirs selected, but they clearly were a popular choice. Yhey seemed to have slowly declined in popularity after the early 1920s. We do not yet, however, have detailed chronological information. We still see sailor suits during World War II (1939-45). As far as we can tell, the sailor suit disappeared as a school style after the War. We also notice girls wearing sailor outfits, but not as commonly as for the boys.


We notice some South Korean dschools with sailor suit uniforms. We are notsure hiow commomn this was.


Japan when after the Menji Resoration in the late 19th century began building a modern school system along European lines. One aspect not coomon in European schools, however, were school uniforms. The Japanese decided, however, that school children should wear school uniforms, especially in secondary schools. This was at a time when many children still wore traditional clothes. The Government chose Prussian cadet uniforms for boys and English sailor suits for girls. This coresponded to the models used for the new modern Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. The sailor suit is still widely used as a girls' uniform at many Japanese secondary schools. It is also used at a few primary schools. This seems more common at private than public schools. A few primary schools have adopted it as a uniform for both boys ad girls, but this is not very common.


The Tsarist and Soviet school uniforms were a peaked military cap worn wuth jackets that either had an army or cadet look or a blue suit jacket. We see a few images of boys wearing sailor suits. Some boys did wear individual sailor suits, especially in the early-20th century both before and after the Revolution. School uniform rules were not strict or even non-existent for children in the early -Soviet period. When several boys are wearing the same style sailor suits, this suggests a school uniform. Sailor suit uniforms do not seem very common, but we see a few examples that do look like school uniforms to us. Unfortunately we are nor sure just what the sailor suits reresented. For younger boys we believe they may have been pre-school that incouraged the boys to wear sailor suits or a cadet school that an actual sailor suit uniform. We believe that there also may have been a naval cadet school.

Other Countries

HBC has noted sailor suits being worn to school in many other countries such as the Baltic republics, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and many other mostly European countries.

Unidentified Photographs

The sailor suit was so popular throughout Europe that it is very difficult to identify what country many images are from. We will post some of the images, hoping that HBC readers will be able to notice small details that might help to identify the countru involved. Some of the larger countries are very eay to idetify, the smaller countries are virtually impossivle to identify unless there is information on the card identifiying it. This is complicated by the fact that the sailor suit except in Japan was not a common school mandated uniform. Boys and girls commonly wore sailor suitso school, but it was their own clothes, not a standardized uniform. Let us know if you can identify the country.


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
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Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Long pants suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers] [Blazer] [School sandals]

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Created: 7:42 PM 10/17/2006
Last updated: 6:26 PM 3/28/2016