Nautical style in fashion can trace its beginnings to Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s portrait of  the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward. He was about 5 years old when it was painted. His mother, Queen Victoria, commissioned the painting, dressing the young prince in a miniature version of the then newly standardized white and blue uniform of the Royal Navy. By dressing her sons in naval uniforms, Queen Victoria very prudently showed her solidarity with her country’s navy. Her Majesty’s Royal Navy was the most powerful navy in the world at that time and became a symbol of the United Kingdom’s colonial empire and position as a world power.

winterhalter albert edward

Since royalty were the trend-setters of the day, just as they are now (hello Kate Middleton), the sailor suit fashion for children quickly spread across Europe and the United States. Elements of nautical style began to slip into adult fashion and continues to endure, off and on, to today. Although right now, it’s a shame that it’s mostly the naughty sailor themed Halloween costumes where we see the full style these days.

An Edwardian fashion illustration from McCalls in 1906:

McCall June 1906

Magazine ad from the 1930s.

Magazine ad from 1930s

Here are typical 1940s sewing patterns with the Sailor Gal theme during the Swing Era. A woman could show her patriotism during WWII by stitching up a fetching Sailor Dress.

1940s 1

1940s 2

The 1950s added nautical touches for some novelty:


Sorry, I am just not lovin’ the Butterick 4846 “The New Look” version of the sailor dress. Those dresses look staid and are taking themselves way too seriously. Butterick 7444 and 8595 look more fun and have spark and freshness.

Sailor themed patterns from the 1960s. The one on the left is 1969, and the one on the right is from earlier in the decade, Mad Men era. Joan could rock this look.
1960sAnd here are Sailor Girl Halloween costumes available today. Seems the sailor theme in fashion nowadays is more of a provocative thing to do. A young friend of mine who is college age told me that there is a new way you say what you want to be for Halloween. You just put the word “slutty” in front of whatever theme you are choosing, for example, if you want to be a Snow White for Halloween this year, you say a “Slutty Snow White”. Hmmmm.

Sailor costumes