Historical Sew Monthly #4: “War and Peace”- The ambiguous nature of the sailor suit

The first thing that came into my mind when I saw the HSM-Challenge for April „War and Peace“ was a sailor suit, and I thought of it as a symbol of (pre) World War I war enthusiasm and therefore as a war garment. But as I started to research the topic, I realized that it is not that simple. I came across a book called „Der Matrosenanzug. Kulturgeschichte eines Kleidungsstücks“ (The sailor suit. Cultural history of a garment) written by Robert Kuhn and Bernd Kreutz (online available here) which traces the history of the popular kids garment in Germany back to the 18th century, when a little three year old, later the German Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm III, got a sailor suit as a present from his grandmother. However, the sailor suit didn`t get popular in Germany until 1862 when Queen Victoria gave an original English sailor suit to her grandchild Wilhelm, also three, who should later become the German Emperor Wilhelm II. From this point of view, one could say that a period of peace (between England and Germany) and not war lead to the popularisation of this garment in Germany.

Sailor Suit , 1907 (from my family photo album)

Sailor Suit , 1907 (from my family photo album)

In 1889 , the Swabian fabricant Wilhelm Bleyle (Swabia, by the way ist in Southern Germany, far away from the sea) started the mechanical production of sailor suits, a kids garment which should become extremely popular in the following years and should even influence adult wear (think of sailor collars on dresses from the 20s). On the one hand, they could be seen as a symbol for strenghend national confidence and maritime power and also used on war propaganda (which would qualify them as a war garment), on the other hand just every boy wore them between 1900 and 1920 and it didn´t seem to have any political significance. Bleyle even avoided to use war references in his advertisments during war time.

And then, after WWI something interesting happend: the sailor suit became the offical uniform of the world famuos boys` choir „Wiener Sängerknaben“ . How could that happen (Vienna is as far away from the sea as Swabia, Austria does not even have a coast (any more))? Before 1918, the boys wore imperial uniforms and with the end of war and monarchy they had to find something else. And because every boy alredy had a sailor suit in his closet, this became the new uniform and still is today. Seen from this point of view, the sailor suit again is a garment of peace (and not of war).

Sailor Shirt (with dinosaur)

Sailor Shirt (with dinosaur)

And to be honest, this made it much easier for me to make one (not a full suit but a shirt for the beginning) for my three year old, who hopefully shall not become an emperor and live in peaceful times.
I used a modern pattern as a basis and constructed a collar myself. As I had major problems with the facing next time I would rather search for a commercial pattern (any recommendations?).

my little sailor at the Tweed Ride Vienna

my little sailor at the Tweed Ride Vienna

Fabric: 1 yd of medium light blue cotton, black lightwight fabric for the “sub- collar”
Pattern: modern pattern for simple linen shirt (from Sewing for Boys) with self constructed collar
Year: somewhere between 1880 und 1930
Notions: 1 yard white whatever for the collar
How Historically Accurate is it?: Made from a modern but quite simple and therefore universal pattern with a self constructed collar inspired by period pictures. The collar did not turn out how intended. Fabric should be OK. So maybe 30%.
Hours to Complete: ~7 hours
First Worn: Easter + yesterday for the Vienna Tweed Ride
Total Cost: 4 Euro for the fabric, 1 Euro for the ribbon

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3 thoughts on “Historical Sew Monthly #4: “War and Peace”- The ambiguous nature of the sailor suit

  1. Pingback: Die “komische Bluse” beim Vienna Tweed Ride 2015 und beim MeMadeMittwoch | Blumen und Federn

  2. Pingback: The HSF/M: Favourites for Challenge #4: War & Peace | The Dreamstress

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