This charming two-piece sailor suit is from the textile collection at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA. The records are currently silent on the provenance of the ensemble, so nothing is currently known about the family or maker or wearer of the simple, but well-crafted shirt and trousers. Nonetheless, it has the ability to conjure up images of New England’s long relationship with the sea and the maritime trade. Made of homespun and entirely hand stitched, incredible care went into its planning from the hand stitched blue, denim-like collar to the two milk glass buttons of the drop front trousers. Even the shirt ties are placed with care. It is dated circa 1840-1850 based on men’s clothing of the time. When placed on the mannequin, the little sailor assumes a jaunty, playful air.
The three piece English sailor suit below is from slightly later in the 19th century (Courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art @LACMA)
Boy's sailor suits will continue to be popular through the Edwardian period but they are generally of finer fabrics, such as blue velvet, often with trimmings and fancy buttons and do not bear the same sense of "activity" conveyed by the Strawbery Banke example. (An example of an Edwardian, c. 1912 sailor suit may be found at http://bartoscollection.com/boy02sailorsuit.html)
Mannequin, Astrida Schaeffer, Schaeffer Arts
Image, courtesy Strawbery Banke Museum
Photograph, Tara Vose Raiselis
Exhibited:“Through the Eye of the Needle: Family Stories, Sewing Stories” Portsmouth Athenaeum, Winter 2009; "Thread" Strawbery Banke Museum 2012.