Sailor Cap Styles

Figure 1.--The sailor cap this little American boy is wearing is a little hard to make out, but it looks to be a tam. The image is undated, but we would guess it was probably taken in the 1920s. Note that there is no streamer.

Styles of dailor caps varied considerably from country to country. The varying national uniforms gave rise to many different styles worn by children around the world. Boys generally wore caps modeled on the headgear worn by contemporary sailors in their country's navies. As these uniforms changed so did the boys' styles. Popular styles followed the changing uniforms of the national navies. The flat top cap worn by British and American seamen beginning about the 1860s proved popular until the First World War. Other styles such as soft cloth caps became popular around the turn of the century. They were commonly worn with Buster Brown suits as well as sailor caps. Different styles were in many countries, but some styles were more associated with some counties than others. We also notice swabie caps which we begin to notice boys wearing after World War I. One problem we have here is that we are not sure what the proper name is for these different cap styles. We are hoing that a cap expert might assist us here.

Flat Topped (American-British style)

British and American boys wore a kind of flat topped sailor cap. The top extended out slightly over the top of the cap. This style was being worn by the American Navy in the Civil war (1861-65) and continued wearing it into World War I (1914-18). Boys were wearing this style cap by the 1870s, perhaps earlier. They continuing wearing it into the 1910s, but I have not noted it being worn into the 1920s. These caps were mostly black or blue. White flat-topped caps were much less common. I'm not sure why. It was wprn by boys with short haircuts as well as long ringlet curls. It was most commonly worn of course by boys wearing sailor suits. Unlike the wide-brimmed sailor hat, this sailor cap appears to have only been worn by boys.

Flat Topped (German-Russian style)

German and Russian boys wore flat-topped caps, but the top did not extend out like the earlier British style. This is of coyrse one of the many cap styles adapted for boys from asctual naval uniforms. We are not sure what the proper name is for these caps. The name of the ship would be worn on a band and visible on the front of the cap. These caps came in blue, black, and white. They were worn with streamers at the back. British sailors eventually adopted this style, including American sailors. We think that in America it was not worn as extensively as in other countries. We note American boys wearing this cap, but not very commonly. We note many more images of European boys, especilly German boys. We are unsure about the chronology of these caps which varied from country to country.

Soft Caps (American style)

American boys wore a flouncy, usually white soft cap. Different caps varied significantly in size and flouciness. Some may gave sise bows or streamers. I believe this style was most common at the turn if the 20th century and the 1900s. This style may have been inspired by French sailor caps, although I am not sure of the time line of the French uniforms.

Soft Caps (French style)

French sailors and eventually boys wore a white soft cap with a little red pom on the top.

Swabie Style

The American Navy changed its uniform after World War I. Enlosted sailors began wearing a new style od cap--usually white. I am not sure precisely what it was called, but have heard the term "swabie cap"--derived from the term for washing the decks--swabing. These caps became popular with boys and were commonlu worn in the 1930s and 40s as a kind of casual cap. Baseball caps were not yet the old pervasive style. They were also a lot cheaper than flat caps. A lot of the boys that wore them hot them from olde brothers in the Navy. Theu were not commonly worn after the early 50s.


Some caps are difficult to make out. We note some American boys at the turn of the 20th century wearing sailor caps that look rather like tams. The ones we have noted are dark caos with an embridered symbol on the front. We are not sure if there was a streamer. These caps may have also been worn in Europe, but we do not yet have confirmation of that.


Sailor caps came in a great diversity of styles. I'm sure there are other styles. I hope to develop further information on this topic, including details on these and other cap styles. In some cases we can noy make out just what style of cap a boy is wearing in available images. One infrequently worn style we have noted is a peaked cap that appears to have been worn in Germany.


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Created: March 7, 2003
Last updated: 10:39 PM 11/16/2004