Sailor Suits: Germany--Background

Figure 1.--This unidentified German boy looks to be about 10 years old. He was from Ohlau, Schles. He wears a traditional white knee pants sailor suit, notice the dark, rather heavy looking long stockings. The portrait is undated, but vwas probably taken about 1905. A reader writes, "I notice that the boy here is wearing knee pants with sides pockets and a button fly. You can tell by the double fabric. Many sailor suits (from the images) did not have a fly but had side openings. Obviously this suit was for older boys. Also the way the long stockings bunches by the knee and then seems to be less bulky makes me think he is wearing knee length underwear."

The origins of the sailor suit are not with certainty. We have seen references to boys wearing sailor trousers in England during the first quarter of the 19th century. Apparently someone had the inspiration that boys should wear sailors' trousers. It is known with certainty that the style was popularized when Queen Victoria began to dress the young princes in sailor suits during the 1840s. The fashion spread to the continent, including Germany. This was no doubt helped by the royal family which included the British Crown princess Victoria who became the Prussian crown princess when she married Crown Prince Frederich. The sailor suit by the 1880s was one of the most popular styles for boys. We are not sure why the sailor suit became so popular in Germany. The British conndction may have neen a factor. But Prussia/Germany had no naval tradition which was part of the reason the sailor became so popular in Britain. The big power competition at the turn of the 20th century centered on colonies and the related naval competition. The sailor suit became even more popular in Germany than it had been in Britain. This continued through the 1920s. Much older boys wore sailor suits in Germany than in Britain or America, especially after World War I (1918), but declined somewhat in the 1930s and was only worn by younger boys after World War II (1945).


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Created: 4:10 AM 9/6/2009
Last updated: 4:10 AM 9/6/2009