Know Your Sailor Hats

A sailor hat instantly conjures images of a naval officer or fisherman standing atop his seafaring vessel, gazing at the horizon in anticipation of a yet-to-be-reached destination. Although generally considered a practical aspect of a mariner’s uniform, the history, and transformation of the sailor hat through the ages, including its influence on contemporary society, may surprise most.

Set sail and discover the sailor hat, its rich history, and its various forms.

What Is a Sailor Hat?

A sailor hat is a type of headwear worn by sailors in various navies around the world. It has a high-domed top and a low-rolled brim. This type of hat is made of cotton or canvas fabric in the shape of a wedge.

A streamer and a tally are usually included with the hat. Other embellishments, such as a cockade or badge, can be added.

The tally is an essential component of a sailor hat. Enlisted sailors wear a black ribbon with a gold or yellow inscription.

The inscriptions possess the unit’s name or the navy where the wearer is assigned. This marking is frequently found on the front of the cap. The tally’s end is tied into a bow and worn above your left ear.

Streamers carry the name of the ship on which the sailor is currently sailing. These streamers are typically black satin ribbons on the back of a sailor hat. It is usually made up of two strands of ribbon with forked ends. Some streamers are made to wear on the hat’s side.

The Origins of Sailor Hats


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The sailor hat was first worn in 1811. The Russian navy was the first to adopt this style, which improved over peaked caps. Peaked-style caps have a pointed top and are close to the head. The marine environment inspired the new sailor hat design.

In the 1870s, these sailor hats became a standard part of the naval uniform. Rather than wearing broad-brimmed hats, navies adopted a new style of sailor hat that was far more comfortable.

Because these hats do not have brims, they appear more practical to wear since they are easy to keep on in high winds. Hat styles varied from country to country over time. This hat style became popular in most of the world’s navies in the mid-nineteenth century.

In the twentieth century, sporting a sailor hat became fashionable for young boys. This is consistent with wearing a full sailor suit, popularized in the 1840s by Queen Victoria’s sons. The trend continued by transforming the hat into wearable items for young boys.

Wearing sailor hats and suits became fashionable and popular in Europe and America, though their styles evolved differently. This is because sailor suit trends follow the styles worn by national navies, which vary by country.

A man’s mid-day and formal suit included a sailor hat. Men typically wear these hats completely on their heads. They sometimes place the hats on one side only or in an angled position.

Men wear these hats and sailor suits for costume parties and formal occasions.

Types of Sailor Hats

Because sailor hats were made in various styles, we have many sailor hat types.

Classic Style

a woman wearing a long-sleeved striped dress and a sailor hat sitting on a rock

Broad-brimmed sailor hats first appeared in the 18th century, modeled after the straw hats worn by British sailors. They were not widely worn at the time because the fashion for distinctive clothing for children was just getting started.

In the mid-nineteenth century, men began wearing sailor suits and mandatory sailor hats. The impetus came from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who started dressing their sons in sailor suits. Throughout Europe, the monarchy was under attack.

The decision to wear a sailor suit was a wise political move. It linked the monarchy, represented by the young princes, to the reputation of the British Navy. The trend was fully embraced by British mothers and parents all over Europe and America.

By the 1870s, the sailor suit had become extremely popular, possibly the most important men’s fashion through the early 1900s. Headgear was essential to any outfit in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Sailor hats were worn with more than just sailor suits. A wide-brimmed sailor hat was traditionally worn with a man’s party suit, like a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. A man could wear a sailor cap or another type of cap, but a wide-brimmed sailor cap was typically considered the best choice when worn for formal occasions.

Many mothers favored the sailor suit look so much that they would dress in it before breeching. There were many styles of sailor dresses and middy blouses to wear with kilts/skirts. Boys in dresses wore either the British-American-styled flat-topped caps with wide tops or broad-brimmed sailor hats.

Small boys who act as ring bearers at official weddings still wear the historical straw-hat style. The suits are made in numerous classic styles. Only a few outfits include hats; when they do, they are typically broad-brimmed sailor caps.

Royal Navy Style

In the 1840s, the Prince of Wales sported the sailor hat the Royal Navy enlisted personnel wore. It had a small brim and a slightly rounded crown.

Narrow Brim


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Older men in suits would wear sailor hats with narrower brims. From the 1870s to the 1890s, these narrow-brimmed hats were popular, but after the beginning of the century, older men wearing sailor caps would most often wear caps. The narrow brim hats were usually without a chin strap and with a hat band but no streamer.

Flat Crown

Flat-crowned sailor hats first popped up in the 1870s and were worn by older and younger men, with the width of the brim as the primary distinguishing feature between the two styles. Flat top hats, including those with large brims, did not always have streamers.

Typically, these hats had short streamers or no streamer at all. Boaters, of course, wear flat-top sailor hats. Boater hats are thought to have evolved from flat-top sailor hats.

Breton Sailor

The Breton sailor hat is a French-style hat that both men and women wear. It has a brim that rises evenly all around.

Turned Brim

Men in various styles wear wide-brimmed hats with turned brims. The brims are flipped in various directions; some are turned up, while others are turned down.

The brims are also sporty, with one side turned up and another left normal or turned down. These hats were popular for only a short time, primarily in the 1910s. They were worn with various outfits, such as sailor suits and tunics.


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