Pants Worn with Sailor Suits

Figure 1.--These boys wear identical sailor suit, probably about 1910. They were from Florence, South Carolina. At the time knee pants were very common, but note their pants do not have the ornamental buttons usually associated with knee pants. The only difference in their outfits is that the younger boy has bows on his shoes. .

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.

Knee Breeches

Knee breeches were one of the only types of pants not generally worn by boys with sailor suits. This was true because the sailor suit was not a commonly wornnstyle for boys when knee breeches were worn. In fact, the fashion of specialized boys clothing was just becoming accepted when knee breeches began to decline. Also the boys' sailor suit was always styled after an elisted man's uniform. Knee breeches were worn by officers while the ordinary seaman wore pantallons or bell bottomed trousers.


The first boys' sailor suits were made with pantaloons, the bell bottomed trousers worn by sailors in the late 18th century. Tradition has it that the wide cuffs were made so that a sailor could easily roll them up when swabing the deck. This style persisted through much of the 20th centuries. The famous white sailir suit worn by the future Edward VII was worn with bell-bottom pantaloons.


Boys wore long trousers with sailor suits, usually the bell bottom style. Thevlong pants sailor suits were not the most common, but they were available as early as the mid-19th century. Often boys wore long trousered sailor suits even though the rest of their outfits were kneepants, knickers, or short pants. Often the long pants worn with a sailor suit were the first long pants a boy might wear.

Bloomer Knickers

Boys also wore bloomer knickers with sailor suits. This appeared most common in the early 20th century before World War I. These bloomer knickers seem to have been most common in Europe. American boys more commonly wore straight knee pants. A good example is an Austrian-Germam boy in 1911.


Knicker sailor suits do not seem as common as either shorts pants or long pants sailor suits. While not the most common style of pants for sailor suits, they were worn by English boys in the late 19th century. They were also worn by American boys, especially in the 1910s and 20s. Available images are often not clear enough to show the type of hem closures that the knickers had. We note boys wearing both above and below the knees knickers, generally with long stockings rather than kneesocks. Dark long stockings seem the most common. In the late 1910s and early 20s, a few boys wore above the knee knickers asiloar suits with kneesocks.


Kneepants were especially common with sailor suits, beginning in the 1870s. At the peak of popularity for the sailor suit, from the 1880s-1900s, they were primarily worn with kneepants and long stockings. Kneepants sailor suits were especially common in the United States. Usually virtually all sailor suits were made with kneepants, except for a few with long pants. After the turn of the 20th century boys began to wear their sailor suits with kneesocks or three-quater length socks rather than long stockings. This was especially prevalent in France even before the turn of the century.

Short Pants

After the turn of the 20th century, short pants began to replace kneepants for sailor suits. This was less true in America where some boys wore knickers with sailor suits. The short pants sailor suits in America were primarily worn by younger boys. This was also true in England where boys stopped wearing sailor suits once they began their prep school at about 8 years of age. On the Continent, however, older boys continued wearing sailor suits, even short pants sailor suits through the 1930s.


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Created: 12:34 AM 3/25/2007
Last updated: 4:18 AM 2/8/2009