*** middy blouses sailor blouse

Middy Blouses

Figure 1.--This boy wears a button-front middy blouse. Note that the stripes on the front "v" do not meet.

A middy or sailor blouse is a loose blouse with a "V" shaped sailor collar and usually large square extension in the back. It usually extends below the waistline to terminate in a broad band or fold. The sailor suit and middy blouse popularized by Queen Victoria in the 1940s for the young princes was accurately based on the actual uniform worn by British seamen. Boys blouses during the late 19th century could be quite fancy with both lace and ruffled collars. Less fancy blouses were also popular. Basic middy blouses were worn with sailor suits. While most were plain, there were also fancier styles made with lace and ruffles for little girls and boys.

Historical Background

The classic middy bloses is modeled on the uniform of the British Navy. Authentic ones had three white stripes at the cuff and neck, reprtedly to honor Horatio Lord Nelson, the famed British admiral, and his three great victories. This appears, however, to have been an after thought. The three rows of tape on the collar of the British blue jacket's jumper was authorized by the British Admiralty in 1857. Originally, it was suggested two rows of white, but for no reason the Admiralty decided on three. The idea of commemorating Nelson's three victories was never mentioned at the time. Therefore, the three lines on the collar of a bluejacket's blouse are selected for decorative effect and have no special significance.


Most middy blouses were made in the classic sailor style, but there were many different stylistic variations.

Classic pullover

The classic middly blouse was made in both blue and white, depending on the season. The trim of the "V" front, square back collar and cuff trim included three stripes. The white coolars had blue stripes and the blue suirts black stripes. The classic style was a pull-over blouse without buttons. >br>


Middy blouses with buttons appeared in the 1880s. These were never as popular as the classic style, but were sols in large quantities.

Fancy styles

There were also a variery of fancy styles. Boys of course preferred the pain cklassic middy blouses, but some mothers loved the fancy styles.
Lace trim: At the turn of the century some sailor suits for younger boys had lace trim. This style appeared in the 1890s, mirroring the success of the Fauntleroy suit and Fauntleroy blouse. These were generally sailor tunics rather than proper middy blouses and sailor suits.
Ruffle trim: At the turn of the century some sailor suits for younger boys also had ruffled trim. Some middy blouses combined both lace and ruffles. lace trim. This became popular at the turn of the century when fewer boys were being outfitted in dresses and breeched earlier. Often it was used with sailor tunics rather than plain middy blouses.

Figure 2.--While not as popular as the classic striped style, some middy blouses has elegant all-white collars. Note the patent leather strap shoes worn by this Austrian boy.


The most popular colors for middy blouses were appropritely navy blue, but many white suits were akso worn. Middy blouses were also made in black and other colors. The classic middly blouse was made in both blue and white, depending on the season. Often the blue blouses for winter were made in different materials than the white blouses for the summer.


The most common colors for middy blouses in the late 19th century was blue. Made in a heavy wool such as serge they were popular winter suits for boys. The trim of the "V" front, square back collar and cuff trim included three stripes.


The white suits were more popular in the warm summer months and were made in a lighter material such as linnen. The white suits became increasingly common after the turn of the century. Some white or off-white suits blue and other colored stripes. A few middy blouses were all white, but the most common varriant was a white blouse with varying amounts of color in the sailor collar--especily the striping detail. The collar detail was normally repeated at te cuff. The scarve and scarve knot varied. The color was normally blue, but this was not always the case. This appears especially common in European middy blouses. These white middy blouses were very commonly worn in Europe, somewhat less so in America. White middy blouses were worn with both white and blue trousers.


Summer suits were often made in light colors, off-white and bluues, These were often made in vertical stripes.

White and blue

One popular variant was an all white "V" front and back on a blue suit. There were no stripes. This style was popular in the 1880s and 90s, but never approached the popularity of the classic middy blouse.

Blue and white

Another variant was an all blue "V" front and back on a white suit. This was less common that a white collar on a blue suit. There were usually no stripes, but some suits had emroidered stripes.

Other colors

Middy blouses were made in a variety of other colors. Off white or grey middy blouses were popular after the turn of the 20th century for play during the summer. They did not show the dirt like the white summer suits.

Collar Variations

The classic sailor blouse was made with "V" fronts and square back collars. Some mothers did more than add lace and ruffles to the classic design. They actually changed the shape of the collar. Some were scalloped or made to fall straight down in front. They were also embellished with different styles other than the sailor theme of the middy blouse.

Modern Trends

Middy blouses were first worn by boys, but gradually middy blouses were also made for girls. This in part explains the gradual shift to younger and younger boys wearing them. Now only the youngest of boys will be seen wearing a middy blouse, but they are still used as girls' school uniforms in countries like Japan and Korea. Middy blouses have not entirely disaapeared from a modern boy's wardrobe. Middy blouses are still worn by younger boys for dress occasions, although the classic styling of the traditional middy blouse is not always seen.

Figure 3.--This offcolor, grey middy blouse was a popular choice in America for summer play as it did not show the dirt like a white suit.

Patterns and Examples

Details on garment construction are sometimes difficult to assess from period photography and drawinmgs. Details from old patterns or modern photographs of actual historical clothing often provide much more detailed images. The color is one important piece of information lacking in contemporary photography. Close up on the sewing and enbroidery are also often lacking in period photograpy. While they are not perhaps as interesting as actual period photography, such information is important in assessing historical clothing.


A variety of shirting fabrics were used for middy blouses. This varied substantially on a seasonal basis. Blue blouses for winter wear were made out of heavy warm materialn like surge. White blouses were made out of light-weight mterial, variouis cotton or linnen fabrics. Lawn was a popular fabric. The collar might be done in a different slightly stiffer material. We note some of the collars done in duck.


The sailor blouse was adopted by the British royal family as a boys' garmrnt for the princes (1840s). It quickly became a staple for boys' outfitting. We begin to see girls wearing skirted sailor oyutfits (1870s). Abd the sailor blouse or middy jad become a staple for girls (1890s) A good examole is American girl Frances Wells Quintin (1890).


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Created: September 20, 1998
Last updated: 6:15 PM 11/13/2022