Sailor suit

A sailor suit is a uniform traditionally worn by enlisted seamen in the navy, and other government funded sea services. It later developed into a popular clothing style for children, especially as dress clothes.

Origins and history

In the Royal Navy, the sailor suit or naval rig[1] is known as Number One uniform and is worn by able rates and leading hands. It is primarily ceremonial, although it dates from the old working rigs of Royal Navy sailors which has changed continuously since its first introduction in 1857.[2]

The blue jean collar is perhaps the most recognisable item of the sailor suit, and tradition says that it dates from the times when seamen wore tarred pigtails.[3] This is in fact false, as the collar was not part of uniform until after pigtails disappeared.[2] The three stripes have nothing to do with Nelson's three victories but was simply standardised to three when uniform was regulated.[4] It is often considered lucky to touch a sailor's collar.[5]

The bell bottomed trousers were designed so that they could be rolled up easily when scrubbing the decks. Ratings used to have either five or seven horizontal creases and this did not represent the seven seas or five oceans but depended on the length of the sailor's leg.

The lanyard was originally used to carry a bosun's pipe, a wind-instrument like a whistle which was sounded on occasions such as before issuing orders.

In the United States, the first standard uniform was issued in 1817. Through government procurement, winter and summer uniforms were provided. White duck jacket, trousers and vest made up the summer uniform, while the winter uniform consisted of a blue jacket and trousers, red vest with yellow buttons and a black hat.[6]

Sailor suits were also worn by sailors in the Royal Canadian Navy and disappeared in 1968 when the Canadian Forces was established and uniforms were standardized for the unified forces.

As children's clothing

In 1846, the four-year-old Albert Edward, Prince of Wales was given a scaled-down version of the uniform worn by ratings on the Royal Yacht. He wore his miniature sailor suit during a cruise off the Channel Islands that September, delighting his mother and the public. Popular engravings, including the famous portrait done by Winterhalter, spread the idea, and by the 1870s, the sailor suit had become normal dress for both boys and girls all over the world. Some Western cartoon and comic characters use a sailor suit as their trademarks; examples include Popeye, Donald Duck and Spoilt Bastard. Sailor suits have been worn by the members of the Vienna Boy's Choir on their international tours.

A female version of the sailor suit, the sailor dress, was popularly known in early 20th century America as a Peter Thomson dress in the early 20th century after a naval tailor based in New York and Philadelphia.[7]

When doing the Sailor's Hornpipe dance, a Highland character dancer is required to wear a sailor suit.

Sailor school uniform in Asia

Many schools in some Asian countries, typically in Japan, Philippines[8],Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, have adopted sailor outfits as a school uniform.[9]


Sailor suits are especially common in Japanese girls' schools, known as sailor fuku by the Japanese. They are so common that the image of the outfit has evolved to be strongly associated with youth and female adolescence in popular culture. As a result, sailor uniform are seen very frequently in Japanese teen dramas, movies, anime, manga, music videos and concert performances of pop teen idol groups' (notably by Hello! Project, AKB48, Nogizaka46, and Onyanko Club).

See also


  1. "British Empire: Glossary: R".
  2. 1 2 Royal Navy, The History of Rating Uniforms Archived April 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. "Royal Navy in world War 2 - Life and Customs".
  5. Encyclopedia of Superstitions 1949, Edwin Radford, Mona A. Radford, Kessinger Publishing (p. 208)
  6. Charles A. Malin, Ratings and the Evolution of Jobs in the Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department, Washington DC, 1971
  7. Brooks Picken, Mary (1923). Textiles and sewing materials: Textiles, laces, embroideries and findings, shopping hints, mending, household sewing, trade and sewing terms. International textbook company. p. 250. A kind of dress worn by young girls, the waist of which is made in exact imitation of a sailor's blouse. This style of dress derives its name from its creator, Peter Thomson, who was a tailor in the navy...
  8. "anime uniform same as your school uniform". Crunchyroll. Retrieved 2018-05-14.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-08-17. Retrieved 2015-08-28.

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