Skirts and Pants Worn with Sailor Suits

Figure 1.--This American boy pictured with his sister wears a dark blue sailor suit with an all white sailor collar. His middy blouse has a chief rank and white wrist cuffs. He appears to be wearing above the knee knickers which have a button closure at the hem. Note that he and his sister appear to be wearing similar strap shoes, although the cross bar or strap is slightly different.

Boys in the Victorian era wore either long or short pants with their middy blouse. Some of the earliest sailor suits had long trousers, often with bellbottom trousers like those actually worn by British seamen. These bell-bottom trousers, which came to epitomize 1960s and early 1970s fashion, were thus actually a practical item for sailors living aboard ship. The wide, flared, legs were easy to roll up above the knees when swabbing a deck or wading through slightly flooded spaces. As the 19th century progressed, however, knee pants became increasingly common. By the late Victorian and Edwardian period knee-length pants became almost universal. Smaller boys might wear a modified kilt-like sailor suit with a regulation middly blouse worn with a white or blue kilt-like skirt. Girls and younger boys wore skirts/kilts.

Sailor Dresses and Kilts

Young boys for centuries were oufitted in dresses identical or virtually identical to their sisters. This practice continued throughout the 19th century. The styles of boys' dresses, however, began to become increasingly destinct from those for girls after the mid-19th century. Although some mothers still preffered the fancier styles for girls. There were, however, no clear distinction and if a mother saw a dress she liked, she could buy it for her son regardless of who it was designed for. Many dresses were sold as children's dresses without identifying gender. Department stores after mid-century would carry several differnt styles which were usually referred to as kilt suits. They usually were available in sizes 2 1/2 to 6 years old. These kilt suits were in addition to dresses designated specifically for boys. One of the most popular styles for these dresses, especially for boys, was the sailor style. Mothers who did not think their sons old enough for a proper sailor suit worn with kneepants, could chose sailor style dresses and kilt suit.

Trousers and Pants

Boys have worn all kinds of trousers and pants as part of their sailor suits. Some of these trousers, such as bell bottoms, were modeled on the trousers actually worn by sailors. Others such as short pants were based on the styles of pants more commonly being worn by boys with other outfits. Boys have worn bell-bottom pantaloons, knickers, kneepants, and short pants with sailor suits. The only style of pants not worn has been knee breeches. The popularity of these different styles has varied over time and from country to country. While younger boys might wear skirts with a sailor suit, only boys wore pants.


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Created: October 5, 1999
Last updated: 12:11 AM 3/25/2007