Movies and Television Productions Depicting Sailor Suit Costumes

Figure 1.--Tadzio, the Polish boy in 'Death in Venice' usually wore traditionaly styled sailor suits--both blue an white ones with wide-brimmed hats. Given the time period depocted, this is an accurate representation. Often films make no effort to show time appropriate styling.

Sailor suits have been depicted in a great many movies and television programs. Thecsailor suit was one of the most popular styles for boys and akso very popular for irls. Boys wore it for about a century. Thus it is understandable that vit is idly used in film costuming. The accuracy of the production of the suits and other fashions predicted has varied greatly. The sailor suit and was worn over an extremely long period of time during which styles varied. Thus many different types of sailor suits and hats can be seen in movies. Often boys in sailor suits appear only fleatingly and have no real impact on the movie except for establishing a kind of period ambience. In some films, however, the boys wearing sailor suits have major roles in the film and are quite prominently depicted.

Almost Angels (Austria/United States, 1957/62)

I'm not sure about the title of the film shown here. One HBC contributor reports that there is a Disney movie in which an "all-American" boy joins the Vienna Boys' Choir, albeit Austrian. The film was entitled Almost Angels (1962). It was filmed entirely on location in Austria. It is the story of two Vienna choir boys who become best friends. They try to cover up the fact that one of them is losing his golden tones. It starred two boys who were quite busy child actors. One was Vincent Winter, a British actor, and the other was Sean Scully (who was the one also in The Prince And The Pauper). The story centers around Tony Fiala, who wanted to become a Vienna Choirboy, and Peter, one of the senior Choirboy. At first Peter does not like Tony because it seems like the choirmaster takes a liking to Tony and pushes Peter to the background. However, after an incident in which Tony takes the blame for himself rather than blame Peter, the two become fast friends. One reviewer reports, "Overall, it is a wonderful movie that gets you behind the scenes of what it is like being a Vienna Choirboy. I highly recommend it."

Dangerous Holliday (1937)

Hollywood set the pattern of imitation long ago. Republic Pictures noted the success of the musicals that Sol Lesser did with Bobby Breen. Republic created "Dangerous Holiday" as a suitable movie vehicle for violin prodigy Ra Hould. A young violin prodigy, Ronnie Campbell, with greedy relatives is unhappy about having to practice all day. Hr wears wqhite and blue sailorvsuits as well as Eton suits. He is coddled by his parents and handlers and misses playing and roughhouse like a regular boy. He runs away from home and alarms start ringing--it is assumed that he has been kidnapped. Ronnie males friends with street-urchins who come accross a gangster hideaway. Of course the kids outwit the crooks and in true Hollywood fashion, his parents promise to give Ronnie more freedom. Hedda Hopper appears in the film at just the time shee is beginning to become a major gossip columnist. Ra wears sailor suits, both white and blue ones as a prodigy. After he get his parents sorted out he begins wearing a regular suit. HBC readers might want to have a look at the prodigy pages.

Death in Venice (1971)

Classic story by Thomas Mann about the fatal attraction of a famous, but dying composer to a radiantly beautiful young boy who proves to be an angel of death. Mann's uncharacterictically brief novella Death in Venice is a classic of German literature. It was made into a movie in 1971. The movie, of course set in Venice, was a painstaking recreation of high Edwardian fashions, including many examples of boyhood fashions. Beautifully filmed with a nice sailor suit, but the boy who plays Tadzio is too old for the part and wears a long pants sailor suit. Mann's book is very explicit on the subject, Tadzio wears a short pants sailor suit. It was a real pity because the movie is such a meticulously filmed costume drama. There are even a few boys in short pants sailor suits in the back ground, but they are quite small. Tadzio does have some nice sailor suits as well as other nice outfits and it is a real shame they have long pants. Tadzio does appear in an old fashioned bathing costume which he gets beat up in. I think it was made in Italian with English dubbing, but there is very little dialogue so it didn't make any real difference.HBC is unsure, however, as to just how accurately depicted the fashions were. Another problem is that the boy chosen to play the Polish boy upon whom the film focuses was much older than the boy in Mann's book.

Fanny and Alexander (Sweden, 1983)

Fanny and Alexander is a wonderful Swedish language costume drama of two orphaned Swedish children in a large, protective family. Alexander often wears kneepants sailor suits and long stockings. A real classic. Alexander (Bertil Guve), who I would say is about 12 years old, and his sister are the center of the movie and many scenes are shot from their point of view, although there are long involved scenes without them. The children have an idyllic childhood until their widowed mother remarries. Alexander falls out with his hypochritical stepfather and his hideous mother and sister. They have a far different idea about how children should be brought up. Set in Sweden at the turn of the century. Alexander wears several knee pant sailor suits. There is also a younger boy, a cousin of Alexander, who appears briefly in a few scenes. He wears a sailor suit with short white socks, Alexander always wears long stockings. He also appears a lot in a night dress. The boy plays his part beautifully. I thought it was especially touching how he clung to his teddy bear. The film stars Ingemar Bergman.

Figure 2.--Dickie Moore is seen here wearing a velvet sailor suit in "Heaven Can Wait," set in upper-crust New York about 1880.

Heaven Can Wait (US, 1943)

This diverting movie was about a charming, but rogish man who loves women--a bit too much. The movie follows him from boyhood to old age. As a boy he wears a stylish sailor suit, complete with flat-style sailor hat and streamer. The main charactered, Henry Van Cleeve, is pictured as a child, played by Dickie Moore, wearing a blue velvet sailor suit.

Life with Father (US, 1947)

This film is set in 1880s New York. It is quite a well done film about a large New York family in the 1880s. The youngest boy, Harlan, had quite an impressive wardrobe. I understand he was not to pleased with the outfits he had to wear, especially the kilts. He wears a kilt suit, a Fauntleroy jacket and lace collar with a kilt, and kneepants with a Fauntleroy blouse. He has an enormous broad-brimmed sailor hat with streamer to wear with his Fauntleroy blouse. The only outfit he did not wear was a sailor suit, but his older brother wore a simple one. It is interesting that he wore both kilts and keepants. Both younger brother wear large sailor hats.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (US, 1921)

Plucked from the sloppy streets of 19th Century New York to live in a mammoth English estate, young Cedric finds himself swaddled in the trappings of wealth. He inocently proceeds to teach his dour and miserly grandfather, the Earl of Dorincourt, to once again embrace life and happiness. Film legend Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart, plays both Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother, in this early silent version. A double-exposure camera trick allows Mary Pickford to play two roles in this 1920s classic. I believe that this was the first film productions, at least the earliest one I know of. It was not unusual for a girl or young woman to play Little Lord Fauntleroy in many theatrical productions. This is the only film production, however, that I know of with Cedric played by a girl or woman. The costuming was quite close to that depicted by Reginald Birch in the first edition of Mrs. Burnett's book, long curls, elaborate lace collar, lace wrist trim, and sash. I think she also wore a sailor suit, but am not sure.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (US, 1936)

This is the classic version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Freddy Bartholmew played Little Lord Fauntleroy in this black and white film. The producer clearly sought to downplay the hero's sissy image. Hollywood evidently did not strive for period accuracy in this film. Freddy does have a velvet suit with lace colar. I have seen studio stills of it. He does not appear in it extensively in the film. He has several differentbsuits which he commonly wears, including a Norfolk suit. He does wear a velvet suit, but mostly with a less Fauntleroy looking Eton collars. He also wears a sailor suit.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (UK, 197?)

The BBC produced a TV version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. It was carried on PBS's Masterpiece Theater in the United States. The producers made a virtue of not putting Cedric in a sissy velvet suit, but as a touch of irony the boy who later turns up as an impostor is wearing a classic velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy, having been put in it by his scheming mother in an effort to impress the Earl. I believe Cedric also wears a sailor suit.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (UK, 1980)

Ricky Schroeder played Little Lord Fauntleroy. Alec Guinness played his grandfather. Excellent TV remake of the 1936 classic film about the impoverished New York boy who inherits an enormous estate. The superb photography won an Emmy Award. Cedric's velvet suit is a dark blue and the costuming is accurate. There is even one scene where his mother holds up the suit which she is sewing and exclaims how much Ceddie is going to dislike it. Cedric has longish hair, but no ringlet curls. Cedric also wears a light blue sailor suit.

Little Lord Fauntleroy (UK, 1995)

The BBC produced another version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Ironically the same young American actor, Michael Benz, that played in the Mike and Angelo Fauntleroy spoof described below, played Cedric in the newest BBC dramatisation. However, he only wore his plush blue velvet suit for only one scene, a party at the castle. It was quite an elaborate blue Fauntleroy suit with an delicate lace collar with several points rather than a rounded design. In addition, his hair was styled more like a boy might actually have worn his hair than any other major version of Mrs. Burnett's classic. Otherwise, however, he wore more manly tweeds. This is typical of most Little Lord Fauntleroy productions to play down the costuming. This film was condensed from the BBC television miniseries. I'm not sure if he wore a sailor suit.

An Orphan Boy of Vienna (Austria, 1936)

An Orphan Boy of Vienna is the touching story of an orphan boy who meets a street singer who gets him accepted by the Vienna Boys Choir. It is one of the few films in wich the Vienna Choirs Boys are involved. Orphan Boy of Vienna will be of interest mainly to boy choir historians and serious film collectors. It was produced in 1936, a year before the NAZI Anchhluss, by a company operating in Vienna and Amsterdam. This early musical was directed by Max Neufeld and features songs by the actual Vienna Boys Choir.

Song of the South (US, 1947)

This land-mark, but now little-known Disney classic pictured a southern boy during Reconstruction wearing a velvet suit and hated lace collar. He also wore a blue sailor suit, but only in a few scenes--based on my now faing memory.

Sound of Music (US, 1965)

The musical blockbuster Sound of Music set in Austria is of course the film which comes to mind most readily when sailor suit costimes come up. This is the musical version of the trap family saga. The boys are outfitted in grey short pants sailor suits, with green trim. I'm not sure how common this color combination was in Austria. The sailor suit was still worn in early 1930s Austria, althogh the popularity with older boys ha declined. After the NAZI take over in 1937, the popularity of the sailor suit declined further. In the movie the children were apparently wearing the sailor suits as their basic clothes, although they had lederhosen outfits for more formal wear. I'm not sure what the Trapp children actually wore.

Unidentified Examples

We have found some examples of boys wearing sailor suits in the movies. Give the long period over which sailor suits wre wirn, it was n easy way of giving boys a period look. We have not yet been able to either identify the young actors or the films involved in severalmimages we have found. Do let us know if you recognize the child actors or movies.


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Created: June 20, 2000
Last updated: 6:28 PM 8/26/2012