M966.159.26.1-6 | Sailor suit

Sailor suit
1890-1900, 19th century
Gift of Mrs. Victor Ledain
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Suit (38)
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Keys to History

The sailor suit is an example of people emulating a fashion first worn by members of the Royal Family.

In the 19th century, The Royal Family may have wanted to instil a sense of patriotism and national pride in their country by dressing the young Prince Edward VII (1840-1910), the eldest son of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in a version of Great Britain's Royal Navy uniform. In 1846 the Prince had his portrait painted while wearing the sailor suit and once the portrait was reproduced in the popular press, mothers of all walks of life hurried to dress their little boys like the Prince, making the sailor suit a very popular fashion for boys in the 19th century.

The sailor suit was intended as casual wear, but it is still made up of many different parts. An adult would have needed to help the boy dress, buttoning on the collar and cuffs, and fastening the top to the pants.

  • What

    This sailor suit is decorated with a crown and anchor motif on the sleeve and is comprised of six parts: a blouse, a dickey, a collar, cuffs and pants.

  • Where

    This child's sailor suit was inspired by Great Britain's Royal Navy, which in the 19th century, was a source of national British pride and the most powerful navy in the world.

  • When

    A label stitched into the blouse reads in part, "Laundresses should use only Pure Curd Soap and tepid water, they must not scrub garments", gives the idea that the laundries of the era might have been harder on the clothes than the children.

  • Who

    Copies of sailor suits worn by English, German and Russian princes were adapted into miniature versions and worn by children of all walks of life.