The sailor suit for boys was popularized by Queen Victoria when she first dressed the future Edward VII in a white enlisted man's suit with bell-bottom trousers. HBC at this time does not have sufficent information to assess when girls also began wearing sailior inspired outfits. HBC notes sailor styling being used as the late 1870s for girls dresses, but the firstvuse may have even been earlier. The middy blouse, especially the white middy blouse with a blue skirt was commonly worn by American girls to school in the 1910s-20s. This may have been a factor explaining why the sailor suit declined in popularity amony American boys. Dresses with sailor suit collars were very popular as gym suits in girls schools during the first half of the 20th century. Also, many girls and women's bathing suits used both versions of the sailor collar. If you'll check out the Dover Everyday Fashions of the Twenties on p. 38 you'll find a "sports" outfit for teenaged girls consisting of a "middy blouse" and a pleated plaid skirt. Modified sailor collars are also shown on the other "sports" and "play suits" for older girls shown on the page. On p. 78 are more "middies" touted as a "costume for the schoolgirl or co-ed for sport or year round
Note the earliest girls' sailor suit styling that HBC has noted is from the 1880s. This does not mean that sailor dresses did not exist earlier. It means that we know that there were sailor dresses in the 1880s. Further research may well turn up earlier uses of the sailor styling for girls clothing. We also stresses that conventions may have varied from country to country. Thus just because sailor dresses appeared in France in the 1880s, does not mean that this was true for other countries. The importance of French fashions, however, suggests that such fashions may have soon been copied in other countries.
We have noted sailor styling elements commonly employed on girls dresses in the 1870s. It is often discrete and can not be clearly seen as sailor styling. A major exception is bathing costumes which do have more discrete sailor styling. We note some clearly sailor dresses by the late 1870s, but not classic sailor styles. That is to say dresses done in the actual style of Royal Navy uniforms. A good example of sailor dresses are the ones wrworn by the English princesses about 1879. Such dresses were presumably worn earlier, but we are not precisely sure about the time line yet.
HBC notes French fashion magazines in the early 1880s showed dresses with sailor suit features such as back flaps or front "V"s. By the mid 1880s, dresses clearly with sailor suit styling were common place. The tops of girls dresses were similar to many ways with the middy blouses being worn by boys. Some were the in fact the classic style worn by the Royal Navy. Aood examole here is Ida Cross in 1886. The girls dresses were often fancier and embelished more than the realtively oplain middy blouses worn by boys. The girls dresses, for example, may have lace and ruffles added to the basic sailor styling. There were also some plainer dreses. We do not yet know if a similar chronology was apparent in other countries.
While the sailor suit began as a boys' style, gradually it also became popular fior girls. We are not sure if it was the mothers or the girls that were the driving force, perhaps both. The styling for proper sailor suits were identical for boys and girls. The only difference was that boys wore sailor blouses with pants while girls wore skirts. We see many images of bothers and sisters wearing the same styled sailor suits. HBC notes that by the 1890s that it was common in England for whole families to be dressed in traditional middy blouses. A good example here is an English family of two brothers and a sister in D
eal, Kent. And younger boys might wear skirts as well, although this was not as common as other skirted styles. In fact, we see very young boys wearing sailir suita anbd pants that earlier woulf not yet have been breached. Not all girls with sailor styling wore sailor suits. We see sailor dresses in a wide range of styles. Some sailor dresses were styled tradituiinlly like sailor suits while other dresses just inclued sailor style features. And of course there were many variants in betwen those extremes. We tend to see more boys than girls wearing sailor suits. But girls wearung sailor styles was becoming increasinglky popular.
We note the British royal family in the 1900s wearing identical middy blouses. Many images show Princess Mary weaing smocks while her brither wear sailor suits. I believe she also wore middy blouses, but cannot yet confirm this with an image. We note many images of girls wearing sailor suits precisely like their brothers, only skirts rather than trousers. The hats and even some caps as well as the middy blouses were identical. We note a German girl in 1909 wearing a sailor suit which except for the skirt was the same style that a boy might have worn.
The middy blouse, especially the white middy blouse with a blue skirt was commonly worn by American girls to school in the 1910s-20s. Sailor dresses were also popular. We notice them in America and many European countries. This may have been a factor explaining why the sailorsuit declined in popularity amony American boys. Dresses with sailor suit collars were very popular as gym suits in girls schools during the first half of the 20th century. Also, many girls and women's bathing suits used both versions of the sailor collar. If you'll check out the Dover Everyday Fashions of the Twenties on p. 38 you'll find a "sports" outfit for teenaged girls consisting of a "middy blouse" and a pleated plaid skirt. Modified sailor collars are also shown on the other "sports" and "play suits" for older girls shown on the page. On page 78 are more "middies" touted as a "costume for the schoolgirl or co-ed for sport or year round utility wear."
We note numerous images of girls wearing sailor suits in the 1920s.
A HBC reader tells us that she played on her high school basketball team in Muberry. Indiana in 1930. Girls wore middy blouses and bloomers for gym. We still see many German girls wearing sailor suits in the early 1930s. We note a brother and sister wearing matching sailor suits about 1930. Sailor suits tended to decline in popularity after the NAIs seized power in 1933. We note two German girls with their brother, all dressed in sailor suits complete with caps. The image is undated, but we believe was taken in the 19830s. Unfortunately we can't read the cap tallies.
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