Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sailor Style Evolution Part 1: Nautical Fashion is Born

Cigar label, 1887

Okay, so when I set out to chart the history of nautical fashions it was supposed to be a small project but - as seems to be the way with me - once I started I got really into the research, and wound up amassing a collection of over one hundred images! So what I'd planned to be a single post will actually take up most of the week (we can call it Nautical Week!).

Our story starts somewhere in the mid 19th century, when the four-year-old Prince Albert Edward (the future Edward VII) was dressed in a miniature sailor uniform. Standardised uniforms for the Navy had only been introduced in the early part of that century. After the young Prince's The sailor suit became - and has remained ever since - a perennial favourite for children's wear, though for this history I'll concentrate on the style's evolution in adult fashion. By 1871 the nautical motif had made the transition into ladies' clothing.

1871 fashion plate (source)

Early examples of sailor style are intended to be worn for appropriately nautical pursuits, such as these jaunty "yachting costumes".

Yachting costume, 1895 (source)

Yachting costume, 1898 (source)

Yachting costume, 1898 (source)

Boating Girl, 1906

Bazar of Fashions, McCall's Patterns, June 1906 (source)

When swimming (as opposed to the earlier trend of 'sea-bathing' - literally being dunked in the waves) gained popularity in the late Victorian era, fashion again turned to nautical style for the new wave of bathing costumes.

Swimming costume, 1898, from Ageless Patterns.

Swimming costume, 1898, from Ageless Patterns.

Late Victorian swimwear

Drawing by Charles Gibson, c1906

Ivory Soap advert, 1909

In the later Edwardian period, nautical styles took their first (very) tentative steps away from the sea and into mainstream fashion, as seen in the two illustrations below (although she's clearly at seaside, for the first time she's illustrated not on an actual boat).

1908 (source)

Waists, 1908

Continue reading Part 2: The Rise of the Middy.


  1. I can't wait to read the rest of these posts, this is such a fascinating topic!
    From Carys of La Ville Inconnue

  2. This is so cool! I never thought about HOW sailor outfits for girls came to be, and I do love the nautical look.

    Arianne from A + B in the Sea

  3. These are amazing! I adore everything with a sailor vibe, ah so cute!

  4. LOVE IT. How cool are those nautical bathing suits!!! Can't wait for the next installment!

  5. You have no idea how excited I am about this week! I love nautical fashions and it's my summer wardrobe theme. :)

  6. I LOVE this post! Mmm... Victorian sailor goodness. Thank you for sharing.
    I might need to make up those Ageless swimsuits someday...

  7. What practical costumes for yachting and swimming... ;-) Seriously, though, what a fun topic for a series of posts. Can't wait for the next one.

  8. The nautical swimsuits could easily be mistaken for dresses nowadays! Love this topic!

  9. Everything should have a sailor collar. Brilliant to see these images :) What a great blog


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