Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sailor Style Evolution Part 2: The Rise of the Middy

Continuing from yesterday's Sailor Style Evolution Part 1, we're moving into the 1910s.

By the early 1910s, nautical had established itself within the mainstream as a true style, and was appearing alongside other regular daywear. "A sailor dress is always stylish," says Sears in 1915.

Pictorial Review, April 1913 (source)

Sears and Roebuck, 1915

By 1915 the real star of the nautical show was the Middy blouse. The true Middy (short for Midshipman) is a loose-fitting blouse with sailor collar, and it was popular as casual or sportswear for its comfort (allowing ease of movement) and hard-wearing practicality.

Summer camp group in Washington, D.C., 1915 (source - via Unsung Sewing Patterns)

The Eaton's Department Store advert in the Toronto World impresses the popularity and practicality of the Middy for all ages (sizes range from age 6 to a 44 bust: these were not reserved for juniors). Materials on offer range from sturdy cotton to stylish, slinky silk jersey, and in various colours.

Eaton's Daily Store News, 1916

Nautical styles gained ground during the Great War as patriotic fervour ran high and fashion reflected military uniform. The look was promoted by advertising artwork such as this "Join the Navy" poster.

Navy Poster, 1917

Pictorial Review pattern for Middy blouse, c1917

At some point the idea had emerged to make middies and sailor dresses in colours other than navy and white. Fashion detailing such as smocking and shirring was also sometimes added.

1917 advert for Henry Cobb sailor-collar blouse available in "white, sky, rose, lemon, maize, champ., navy, black". The model on the right is wearing a straw 'sailor' hat with the word "Victory" on the hatband.

Blouses and Middies in the Simpsons catalogue, 1918 (source)

Standard Fashion pattern for a ladies' middy dress with two sailor collar variations, 1918 (source)

Middy style sweaters from 1919 (from Wearing History)

Advert for Paul Jones Middies, c1920

Middy blouses proliferated in the early 1920s, but were intended primarily as leisurewear, judging by illustrations showing girls in middies with various sports equipment. Meanwhile, Sailor dresses and ensembles in various colours (red gingham with mustard? Yes please!) continued to appear sporadically in mainstream fashion.

Sears & Roebuck, 1921

Montgomery Ward catalogue, 1922 (source)

Sears & Roebuck, 1922

Middy blouse c1923 (from EvaDress)

Sears & Roebuck, 1924

Sportswear, 1927

Middies in Bella Hess, 1929

It was around this time, incidentally, that the sailor dress started to be adopted as school uniform in Japan.

Continue reading Part 3: Nautical Sails Again


  1. so fascinating! I believe that middies were worn over "man-o-war" bloomers by girls in gym classes at school as well in the 20s.

  2. You're quite right - I forgot to mention that! There's a good history of the gym suit at

    xx Charlotte

  3. Wow, what wonderful information. I've always been attracted to sailor inspired clothing. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love these posts so much! My head is just reeling with all the inspiring images!

  5. I can't help thinking that maybe Lycra hasn't done so much for leisure wear. Everybody in these illustrations is so darn cute!

  6. Gorgeous! Great post, thanks for sharing these lovely images. Particularly like the 1927 one.


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