Swiss Sailor Suits

Figure 1.--This Swiss boy wears a sailor suit in a photograph taken about 1897. This boy was from the German-speaking area of Switzerland. Note that his sister's frock has also been influenced by sailor styling.

Sailor suits were a popular style for boys throughout Europe. Unlike many of these countries, however, land-locke Switzerland had no national navy on which to base the style of boys' sailor suits. Even so, we see some Swiss boys wearing sailor suits. They do not seem nearly as common as in many other European countries. Switzerland is a diverse country with German, French, and Italian speaking areas. Fashions in these areas were influenced by fashions in the larger neigboring countries. And sailor suits were very popular in all those three countries. The styles worn in Switzerland probably reflected the styles popular in these three countries, but HBC at this time has few details about such stylistic differences. Actually we do not see all that many Swiss boys wearing sailor suits. As far as we can tell, sailor suits were less common in Switzerland than in most other European countries, although our information is still relatively limited.


We see some boys Swiss boys wearing sailor suits, but not very many. Our chronological information is still quite limited. HBC is uncertain as to when Swiss boys began wearing sailor suits, presumably at about the same time that boys in neighboring countries began wearing them. By the turn of the 20th century, some Swiss boys were wearing sailor suits. As there were no required school uniforms, the clothes children wore to school reflect popular styles. Our assessment of Swiss schools suggest that sailor schools were not very popular, far less common than in France, Germany, and Italy. This is certainly the case in the German speaking areas of Switzeland than the French area as smocks were common in the French-speaking catons. Sailor suits seem more common in the early 20th century than after Wold War I. We see very few sailor suitsat schools durung the 1930s. A Swiss reader reports to HBC that in the 1940s, "I never had a sailor suit and I believe only very few mates had them. They were not so popular and presumably reserved for sundays or important occasions, like First Communion ... until the cassocks took over."

Skirted Outfits

Sailor outfits were made in various skirted versions for younger boys. There were several different types of skirted sailor garments. We note sailor dresses, sailor kilt suits. and sailor tunics. Some of these outfits are not easy to identify. Saolor dresses, for example, might be made to look like sailor kilt suits. Sailor blouses might also be worn with skirts lppking rather like kilt suits. We do not have enough Swiss images, however, to know just how popular these various garmemts were over time. Nor do we know much about styling. We suspect in Zurich with a largely German-speaking population that trends and styles were similar to those in Germany.


HBC is unsure at this time as to what kind of pants Swiss boys wore with their sailor suits. Presumably kneepants an long stockings were common at the turn of the 20th century. Short pants with kneesocks increased in popularity during the 1910s and became common in the 1920s. Boys might wear long-over-the-knee stockings during the winter. HBC is unsure as to how the type of pants worn may have been affected by the varying fashion trends in the French, German, an Italian speaking catons.


The sailor suit in Switzerlan was worn much like sailor suits in other European countries. They coul be worn for both play an dress occasions. As the sailor suit began to decline in popularity by the late 1920s, it increasing began to be seen as a dressy outfit. A Swiss contributor reports, "Boys with a Sunday sailor suit, when back from restaurant or friends or walk ... would be asked by mother to get back to day to day clothes or smocks before going out to play because these suits were quite expensive and intended as well for younger brothers.

Homemade Clothes

Many Swiss mothers sewed quite a lot of their kids clothes, especially girls, but also smocks or pants for boys. Sewing a sailor suit, howver, required nearly professional skills.


HBC at this time does not have sufficient information on Swiss sailor suits to assess styles. The suit pictured here appears to be a fairly standard suit. The boy wears a white dickey. The collar on the middy blouse has one primary stripe rather than the three traditional stripes. HBC is unsure as to what color the boy's suit was.

National Differences

Unlike many of these countries, however, land-locked Switzerland had no national navy on which to base the style of boys' sailor suits. Even so, sailor suits were commonly worn by boys in German, French, and Italian speaking areas of Switzerland. The styles worn probably reflected the styles popular in these three countries, but HBC at this time has few details about such stylistic differences.

First Communion

Sailor suits were popular for First Communion, but have been largely replace by cassocks. Note here the similarity between cassock and school smock, all boys being dressed with a uniformity rule in front of Jesus or teacher, social differences being erased.

Individual Experiences

A Swiss reader writes, "I recall very well that I too had to wear sailor suits on special occasions and on weekends in Switzerland. I hated them. Besides having to wear the "Gstaeltli" to hold up the stockings, we had to wear some kind of "contraption" that held the sailor collar/flap up. Then on top of that came the jacket, which was very tight and which we could not put on or take off by our selfes. I felt like in "prison" whioth that outfit on."


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Created: January 6, 2001
Last updated: 10:56 PM 1/12/2008