Sloppes, Merchant and Navy Uniforms

The Sloppes Chest / Kit

The basic clothing items of the sloppes chest are:

We will examine the history each of these items on subsequent pages in much greater detail, but it may be roughly assumed that sailors' by the early 18th century wore petticoats and breeches, grey kersey jackets, woollen stockings and low-heeled shoes, and worsted, canvas, or leather caps. Worsted is thread or yarn made from wool - the word comes from the town of Worstead, England where the material is beleived to have originated. Canvas, leather, cotton, and coarse cloth were the principle materials used in sailors clothing, and tin buttons and coloured thread the most ornamental part of the costume.

A sailors' work clothes did not differ very greatly from those worn by peasants on land, except for the coat or jerkin in place of the doublet. Certainly there was nothing that could be described as any sort of general uniform which differentiated the seaman from the landsman, or even was common amongst all seaman, "every man dressed as seemed good in his eyes"

The "Slops" were available to the crew members, but because of the high cost, the men usualy had to be ordered by ship captains to draw the items from the purser's slop chests, with the costs being charged against their pay. The ship's pursuer usually brought the ship's slops from a contractor, commonly known as at that time as a "slopseller".

Adam Baldridge, a pirate turned merchant was a "slopseller" to the pirates at Madagascar, and received a shipment of clothes on 7 August 1693. The consignment included "44 paire of shoes and pump, six Dozen of worsted and threed stockens, three dozen of speckled shirts and Breaches, twelve hatts…"

Because of the high cost, most seamen made their own clothes on board, for few could afford the slop chest, and old canvass and some material was set aside for this.

According to Charnock's Marine Architecture it wasn't until about 1663, that "sailors began first to wear distinctive dress. A rule was that only red caps, yarn and Irish stockings, blue shirts, white shirts, cotton waistcoats, cotton drawers, neat leather flat-heeled shoes, blue neckcloths, canvas suits, and rugs were to be sold to them. Red breeches were worn."

In privateer and pirate ships, clothing and material seized from captured prisoners and cargo was important booty. A passenger, who sailed aboard a vessel seized by Edward Low, submitted an advertisement to the Boston Newsletter, published in the 18-25 June 1722 issue, that listed a variety of garments the pirates took:

…one scarlet suit of Clothes, one new gray Broad Cloth Coat, 1 Sword, with a fine red Velvet Belt…nine Bags of Coat and Jacket Buttons, a considerable quantity of sewing Silk and Mohair, Shoe Buckles…one Scarff of Red Persian Silk, fringed with black Silk…one Beaver Hat bound with Silver Lace… (British, v. 1, 287)

Plundered clothing was often auctioned at the mast by the quarter-master or purser, and pirates paid for these garments from their share of booty. One of the common rules, was those who had boarded the prize were guaranteed a "shift of clothes" from the captured vessel.

James Parrot, one of John Quelch’s men, received enough silk "as would make a pair of breeches" as part of his share of the prize.

Indeed, the pirate and privateer captains, had a simliar procedure of a "slops chest", where it was known sometimes as a "common chest" -- removing articles without paying for them could indeed create friction amongst the crew:

The Pirate Captains having taken these Cloaths without leave from the Quarter-master, it gave great offence to all the Crew; who alledg’d, "If they suffered such things, the Captains would for the future assume a Power, to take whatever they liked for themselves." So upon their returning on board next Morning, the Coats were taken from them, and put into the common Chest, to be sold at the Mast.

All seafaring men, be they pirate or not, also liked to dress up when they went ashore. By contrast, they acquired elaborate colourful clothes for going ashore, rich with silver and gold ornaments. After the exertions, dramas and terrors of the sea, they took their pay to the nearest seaport, spending freely on wine, women and song.They preferred to copy the gentry and would swagger in their finery to impress the women. In one account, Père Labat describes a group of pirates after capturing a ship laden with rich clothing, as a "comical sight as they strutted about the island in feathered hats, wigs, silk stockings, ribbons, and other garments."

Samuel Kelly, an english seamen in the eighteenth century, writes that he "exchanged my old sea clothes for a fashionable blue coat, ruffled shirt, etc. with my hair dressed and powdered." For most people, this was their only sight of the sailor – a larger-than-life, exotic figure, usually drunk and apparently carefree. However, the same men, once afloat, were transformed into skilled professionals.

Uniforms for members of the Royal Navy began to be formalised in 1748. Up until then ships’ companies dressed in whatever they owned. In that year the Admiralty decided to regulate naval officers’ uniforms.  The Admiralty order promulgating the uniform regulations of 13 April 1748 commenced:

"Whereas we judge it necessary, in order the better to distinguish the Rank of Sea Officers, to establish a Military uniform cloathing for Admirals, Captains, Commanders and Lieutenants, and judging it also necessary to distinguish their class to be in the Rank of Gentlemen, and give them better credit and figure in executing the commands of their superior officers; you are hereby required and directed to conform yourself to the said Establishment by wearing cloathing accordingly at all proper times; and to take care that such of the aforesaid officers and midshipmen who may be from time to time under your command do the like.."
Prior to 1748 officers, and captains of ships in particular, had worn what they pleased. It has been recorded that one captain had worn a plain black tailcoat and a white top hat. This type of headgear may seem out of place at sea but was commonly worn until 1850 or later. It enjoys a special use to-day though not in our own service: it is the custom in some ports which are icebound in winter for the mayor to award a black top hat (and often a gold- or silver-headed cane) to the first merchant captain to enter the port after the first winter season. Another captain is said to have worn a coat of such thin material that his red braces showed through. Several Royal Canadian Navy officers knowingly perpetuate this custom, if it is one, of wearing red braces.

For those wishing to emulate pirate/priveteer dress, in developing a costume just remember that functionality is the key to success at sea. There is little need for fancy armour or gold braid while climbing out on a yardarm. It is comfort, cost, position withing the crew, as well as personal style which determined a sailor's outfit.

Also, because a sailor travelled the world over, he or she may have borrowed bits of different articles of clothing from a variety of countries and cultures. There are some examples exisiting of western and eastern culture mixed together, although this was somewhat uncommon in European sea-going traditions.

In the past, just as is the case today noble fabric commands a noble price, and when first starting out you may want to develop a basic set of clothes which can be further expanded upon with proceeds from future conquests. Once you have your "working" set, you can then think about a suit of clothes to wear for going ashore or those occasions at "court".

Privateer & Pirate Clothing - Hats

By far, as is the case today, one of the sailor's most distinctive garments is the hat. While many pictures and descriptions of sailors suggest a kerchief is placed over the head, this is historically inaccurate for the 16th and 17th century. 

Leather Skull Caps

The most basic piece of medieval headgear was leather "skull caps" with the ability to be secured  by lappets at the chin. Such a design was an advantage for the sailor - the materials were simple and cheap, and it was much less likely than a cocked hat to be blow off in a storm or heavy wind. The caps later evolved to a very common woolen knitted variety known as the "monmouth cap" 

Leather Skull Cap


Evidence of an early "Skull Cap"

Diagram 1a: At Tollbund Bog near Viborg, Denmark, in 1944, the body of a man was discovered in almost perfect condition, preserved by the bog water for 2000 years. He was wearing a cap sewn from eight or nine pieces of leather with fur side inmost and conical rather than dome-shaped, crown with a band along the lower edge and a chin strap. The head and shoulders of this man, who still wears his cap, can be seen in the National Museum at Copenhagen.


Flat Caps, Monmouth Caps, Tams & Thrums

In the 15th & 16th centuries, head-gear during this time was usually a domed knitted cap (known as a Thrum) or bluntly peaked cap of felt, heavy cloth, frieze, or fur. It often had a piece of lined fur or a band of cloth to secure it to the head or occasionally lappets under the chin. It could be very secure fitting, such a monmouth cap or more of a stocking as worn by the Spanish, Spanish hats tended to have a more "flat" appearance.

Diagram 1: From Ye Old Book Of Seadogs

sailor hat examples
Diagram 2: 16th & 17th Sailor caps from old manuscripts and woodcuts.

   Spainsh Sailor Cap 

The Monmouth Cap

Original 16th Century Monmouth CapWith the Monmouth Cap, and cutlace by my side,
Striding at least a yard at every stride,
I'm come to tell you, after much petition,
The Admiralty has given me a comission

-A Satrye on Sea Officers. Sir H.S., published with the Duke of Buckingham's "Miscellanies" (1825).

Seafarers since the 1570s favored the Monmouth cap, a "skull cap" which was knitted from brown wool. During the early Tudor age they were given as gifts to aristocracy, but by the end of the 16th century knit caps were so common as to be regulated so that each each man must have one, and that none should be brought from overseas.

Elizabeth I, in order to increase the wool trade and production amended the sumptuary laws in 1571. It was titled, “An Act for the Continuance of the Making of Caps”  and lists fifteen crafts related to their production. It also required “… all [males] above the age of six years except some of certain state and condition, shall wear upon the Sabbath and Holydays, one cap of wool knit, thicked and dressed in England, upon the forefeiture of 3s 4d …”

Despite being legislatively forced to wear the cap, gentlemen preferred the fashion. In fact, the earliest mention we have of a Monmouth cap by name is in 1576, in a letter from Lord Gilbert Talbot of Goodrich Castle to his father, the ninth Earl of Shrewsbury, accompanying a gift to the Earl of “a Monmouth Cappe.” This reference indicates that not only were the caps popular enough to have their own name by then, but also that they were fit gifts for the highest noblemen in the realm.  It has been described as, "..the most ancient, general warm and profitable covering of men's heads", Thomas Fuller 17th Century.

Example of a Monmouth Cap
An example of a Monmouth cap

Elizabeth's legislature failed to increase the wool trade in England and the law was repealed in 1596. However, the caps remained extremely popular amongst seaman.

For their last voyage to the West Indies in 1596, Francis Drake and John Hawkins paid over 40 pounds for thirty-six dozen caps (432), at a cost of about 2s 6d each for their expedition.

Monmouth caps have been mentioned in Shakespeare, "the Welshmen did good service in garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which your Majesty know to this hour is an honourable badge of the service" in his play Henry V, Act 4, Scene 7. 

Captain John Smith, a leader of Jamestown Colony and leading figure in the Pocahontas story, wrote an instructional pamphlet for the benefit of English colonists, and a Monmouth cap is near the top of the list of items for one’s kit.

Sailor with monmoth cap leaning on cannon circa 1775
A sailor with Monmouth cap circa 1775

In the 1620s, the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s sponsors ordered Monmouth caps as part of the outfitting of one hundred men heading for the New World. The caps are described as “thick, warm, fulled by hand- and foot- beating and much favored by seamen.” Some of them, at least, were red in color. 

In later years, the popularity with the general public had waned, but they still remained popular with seaman. Monmouth caps continued to be regular military equipment for both the army and navy throughout the seventeenth century. Military lists dated in 1627 and 1642 call for the supplying of caps for soldiers and sailors. Throughout the seventeenth century, caps appear in lists of naval clothing.  

Daniel Defoe, in his 'Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain' written in 1712, describes 'Monmouth Caps, sold chiefly to the Dutch seamen. Peter the Great worked in the Dutch shipyards of the East India Company in 1697 and returned to St Petersburg wearing a 'Monmouth', bought in Amsterdam which is now in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad.


  sailor on a gun with cap 
A Sailor fishing off a cannon - circa. 1775 

In the United States Of America, the caps continued to be worn throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by planters and 'the lower orders', in this case, negro slaves. Orders for large quantities were sent to London, up to fourteen dozen at a time and the Massachusetts Bay Company ordered two each for plantation labourers in 1629, together with one hat and five red knit caps.

George Washington ordered four dozen from Liverpool in his own handwriting, among 'Coarse Goods for the Estates Use' in 1759. When by Act of Common Council in 1665, all caps had to be taken to Blackwell Hall, only Monmouth and Bewdley caps were exempted. As late as 1768, the Virginia Gazette records: 'Fredericksburg, August 29, 1768 - Run away from the subscribers... The Mulatto fellow named Jack carried with him a Monmouth cap, a brown linen shirt and trowsers...’

After the 1800s the Monmouth Cap generally appears only in lists involving Seamen.

Privater & Pirate Clothing - Hats Cont.

Cavalier Hats

While hats have always played a role of reflecting social distinction, in the 17th century, dress and headdress were adopted to reflect specific political and religious affiliations.  In the beginning of this period, the high and nearly brimless of the Elizabethan period receded as a fashion in favor of the lower, wide brimmed hat.  This transition is further reflected in the gradual lowering of the high, stiff Elizabethan collar.  The high collar greatly inhibited the wearing of a widely brimmed hat as the brim would impact any time the wearer tilted their head to the side or back.

Cavalier HatIt has been suggested that this fashion change was influenced by the popular spread of Swedish military dress during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in which the English soldiers would have had contact with their fellow Swedish Protestants beginning in the 1630s.  Swedish military dress suggested a certain fluidity of movement.The blooming pantaloons, blousy, ruffled shirts, floppy turned down boots, and of course the cavalier hat, all reflected a looseness of stature and a  military swagger.  J. F. Crean describes, "the wide brim of the cavalier's hat almost presupposes beaver felt: its broad brim was based on the shape-holding qualities and resilience peculiar to beaver felt."


Sailors, Captains, Ship owners and other seagoing merchant noblemen were quick to adopt the "cavalier" style hat. The Cavalier hat gets it's  name from supporters of King Charles I during the English Civil War, known as cavaliers

These hats featured a wide brim. The swaggering Cavalier hat was conspicuous with broad brim either rolled or cocked and ornamented with long ostrich feathers, known as "weeping plumes." The crown was often encircled with a jeweled necklace or a silk band sewn with gems. A large gold ornament held the plumes. In those days of free sword play, the feathers were placed to the back or left side of the hat, permitting freedom of the sword arm. Furthermore, in court, the hat ornament was often a love token, and the position on the left side signified the heart or love. The decoration has ever since remained on the left side.

Most cavalier hats were made of felt or frieze, but by the 17th Century,with the strong beaver trade in the Americas, meant that the wealthy could afford a fine beaver pelt.  The resultant high expense meant that beaver hats were extremely costly and generally worn only by the wealthiest of classes. 

What is Felt? Isn't that a modern invention?

Felt is a mass of wool and/or fur. It is not woven, but rather pressed and manipulated in a centuries-old process using hot water and steam to create the strongest, smoothest, lightest, most water-resistant natural fabric known.

Felt has been used for producing headwear for many centuries and is perhaps the oldest textile material. Archaeological evidence shows that from very early on, people had discovered the tendency for fibres to mat together when warm and damp, many years before they learnt how to spin and weave yarn.

To this day there are three varieties of felt used for hat making: wool felt, fur felt and beaver felt. Beaver felt hats date back as far as the 14th Century with the majority of production being based in Holland and Spain. European beaver skins were first sent to Russia to be used as coat trimmings and then re-imported into Holland as used furs would felt more easily. By the early to mid 1600s the beaver's European breeding grounds became exhausted, after which time North America became the main supplier of skins to the trade.

Each manufacturer of felt closely guards their exact felt making process and formula. According to legend, St. Clement (the patron saint of felt hatmakers) discovered felt when, as a wandering monk, he filled his sandals with flax fibers to protect his feet. The moisture and pressure from pounding feet compressed the fibers into a crude, though comfortable felt. Similar legends suggest that Native Americans or ancient Egyptians "discovered" felt by way of fur lined moccasins or camel hair falling into sandals. To the hat industry, whoever was first is not as important as the fact that felt hats function well. They are durable, comfortable, and attractive.

Tricorn Hats

At sea, the wide brim of the cavalier hat could be unwieldly, as a result, the sides and back were pinned up, forming three triangles. Its distinguishing characteristic was a practical one, particularly at sea: the turned-up portions of the brim formed gutters that directed rainwater away from the wearer's face, depositing most of it over his shoulders. Before the invention of specialized rain gear, this was a distinct advantage It first appeared sometime after 1650, and it became popularised, in 1667  when war broke out between France and Spain in the Spanish Netherlands. During the subsequent military struggle, its use spread to the French armies. The style was brought back to France, where its usage spread to the French population and the royal court of King Louis XIV, who made it fashionable throughout Europe, both as a civilian and military wear.  By the mid 1700's, the ramshackle privateering fleets of various nations became unified into a single fighting force, and with it rank, order, regulation and common-dress. It was at this time that the National Navies of the world made their appearances, and seamen were organized by rank and file. The casual seaman and fisherman became a member of the merchant marine, and great fighting "ships of the line" were organized into fleets for the defense (and offense) of state. Officers' hats seemed at this time first to have been a tricorne - or three-cornered - hat which was universal wear for gentlemen in the 1700s and beyond. This was often adorned with a cockade and gold lace. Again however, it was a matter of convention rather than Admiralty orders which were responsible for this uniformity.

Although the officers wore tricorns, onboard ship, a common sailor at this time either wore a wide-brimmed hat or a "skull cap". In 1706, a contract with a London clothing merchant to outfit sailors listed: "Leather caps faced with red cotton and lined with black-lined at the rate of one shilling and twopence each". Around the year 1740 sailors were wearing a wide-brimmed hat made out of a tarred sailcloth and from this came the nickname 'tarpaulin' which eventually became 'Jack Tar'.

Thus, the name 'Jack' came to described any sailor. The sailor's pigtail - the longer the better - was also a fashion of the mid-1700s. Many men wore the pigtail up on top of their head, only displaying the full length of it on special occasions such as Sundays.

For a time in the mid-1700s, sailors imitated their officers a little in converting their headgear, at least when ashore, into a tricorne hat by tacking the brim in three places to the crown. This practice was discarded towards the end of the century, with a low-crowned hat with a narrow brim being worn.

In the early 1700s, hat making had begun to thrive in America. Britain responded with the HAT ACT of 1732, which forbade the export of beaver felt hats made in the colonies. Britain forced Americans to buy British-made goods and pay heavy taxes on them. Consequently, Americans paid four times more for cloth and clothing than people in Great Britain, adding to the grievances leading to the American Revolution (1776-1783). The Tricorne soon became an icon of the American Revolution, and symbolized "taxation without representation", and was worn by the fledgling colonial and militia troops and navy.

Around 1795, officers' hats went through a transformation. Gold lace became confined to flag officers in both dress and undress uniforms; captains wore it only in full dress. The three-cornered hats became two-cornered. It was at first worn 'athwartships' by all, but this soon became the prerogative of flag-officers, and others wore the hat fore and aft. 

The tricorne quickly declined in use at the end of the 18th century. It evolved into the bicorne, which was widely used by military officers in Europe from the 1790s until World War I, not completely fading out of style until World War II. For enlisted soldiers, the tricorne was replaced by the shako at the turn of the 19th century, which had become the new dominant style of military headgear from 1800 on. As the fashionable hat for civilian men - and the sailor, the tricorne was overtaken by the top hat.

Bi-Corne Hat

The bicorne or bicorn (two-cornered) or cocked is an archaic form of hat associated with the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Primarily worn by European and American military and naval officers, it is most readily associated with Napoléon Bonaparte. In practice most generals and staff officers of the Napoleonic period wore bicornes, and it survived as a widely worn full-dress headdress until at least 1914.

Descended from the tricorne, the black-coloured bicorne originally had a rather broad brim, with the front and the rear halves turned up and pinned together, forming a semi-circular fan shape; there was usually a cockade in the national colours at the front. Later, the hat became more triangular in shape, its two ends became more pointed, and it was worn with the cockade at the right side. This kind of bicorne eventually became known in the English language as the cocked hat, although to this day it is still known in the French language as the bicorne.

Some forms of bicorne were designed to be folded flat, so that they could be conveniently tucked under the arm when not being worn. A bicorne of this style is also known as a chapeau-bras or chapeau-de-bras.


Admiral Nelson
   Admiral Nelson - circa 1798

In the late 18th century Royal Navy officers developed a distinctive uniform comprised (in full dress) of a cocked hat, dark blue coat with white collar and cuffs, and dark blue or white trousers, or breeches. One of the most distinct elements of a naval officers uniform was the cocked hat, and this became particularly popular during the "Napoleonic Wars" in the early part 19th century, and was a part of the British Royal Navy formal  dress until 1939. Halfway through the Napoleonic wars the sailors' formal hat - if he had one - was made either of leather or japanned canvas.

The general sailor did not wear cocked hats after 1780, and when worn by officers they were worn athwartships until 1795, and fore-and-aft from that year, at first for only Captains and below. Flag Officers wore cocked hats athwartships until 1825. The cocked hat for the sailor was replaced with a shiny black tarpaulin hat with the name of the ship on a broad black ribbon. 

Also known as a bi-corne, the cocked hat is often referred to as a French or "Napoleon Hat", but in actuality it was widely used in navies around the world. The cocked-hat was not only worn by British Admiral, Lord Nelson, but also by captains in the fledgling United States Continental Navy, such as John Paul Jones, as early as 1776.

Captain John Paul Jones,
U.S. Continental Navy (circa 1776)

An important part of the cocked-hat was the cockade. In the 18th century, a cockade was pinned on the side of a man's tricorne or cocked hat, or on his lapel. Women could also wear it on their hat or in their hair. A cockade uses distinctive colors to show the allegiance of its wearer to some political faction, their rank, or as part of a servant's livery.

In pre-revolutionary France, the cockade of the Bourbon dynasty was all white. In the Kingdom of Great Britain a white cockade was worn by those supporting the restoration of a Jacobite monarchy, while in contrast the established Hanoverian monarchy they were trying to overthrow had one that was all black. But elsewhere and at other times there was more variety.

During the 1780 Gordon Riots in London the blue cockade became a symbol of anti-government feelings and was worn by most of the rioters.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Army initially wore cockades of various colors as an ad hoc form of rank insignia, as General George Washington wrote:
As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green.
Before long however, the Continental Army reverted to wearing the black cockade they inherited from the British. Later, when France became an ally of the United States, the Continental Army pinned the white cockade of the French Ancien Régime onto their old black cockade; the French reciprocally pinned the black cockade onto their white cockade, as a mark of the French-American alliance. The black-and-white cockade thus became known as the "Union Cockade".
Cockades were later widely worn by revolutionaries and proponents of various political factions in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. Just as they did in the United States a few years before, the French now pinned the blue-and-red cockade of Paris onto the white cockade of the Ancien Régime - thus producing the original Tricolore cockade. Later, distinctive colours and styles of cockade would indicate the wearer's faction—although the meanings of the various styles were not entirely consistent, and varied somewhat by region and period.
French Tri-Color Cockade
French Tri-Colour Cockade

Top Hats, Straw Hats & Bandanas:

Sailor with TophatBy the 1800's sailor's uniforms begain to change, with the development of provincial navies, revenue cutters and the coast guard. Often sailors wore top round hats, painted or left felt, plain or with painted device, either with the ship’s name, or ribbon (“tally”) bearing same in white, gilt or yellow paint/stitching. They also wore what as known as a  “tarpot”. A painted canvas low-crown hat, decorated as per top-round hats or left plain, or they would wear wool stocking caps of various colours; Also popular, wwas the fur cap & straw hats, either natural or painted, with “tally” or without; and finally the bandana, knotted at rear, of non-modern design; or bareheaded.

Headgear for the common sailor varied between a simple cloth bandana,which was  often tied at the rear to keep sweat out of the eyes, to the straw hat. This was particularly common to those sailors who had been to the West Indies.

By the middle of the 19th century the round top-hat reached universal acceptance, and the crown of the hat became considerably higher, with sailors decorating the crown with badges obtained from various landfalls.

Meanwhile officers, adopted a blue cap with a gold band for use as a less formal hat. Unofficial at first, the new cap in time became general undress headgear, although the black 'top' hat was also occasionally seen.

The cocked hat, which up until middle of 19th century had been worn by  warrant officers and midshipmen, was eventually replaced by this tall round black top-hat for both ranks.

Privateer & Pirate Clothing - Shirts

Sailor Shirts

In the Middle Ages, a shirt was a plain undyed garment worn next to the skin and under regular garments. The traditional sailor shirt seems to have developed from the Roman tunica that originally was just a shapeless, canvas, bag-like garment with a hole for the head and two more holes for the arms - but it was waterproof, which is what mattered. It did not have a collar, but instead was either open or gathered around the neck. 

Medieval shirt

Since shirts were considered undergarments, it was generally not fashionable, particularly at court, to wear it uncovered. Thus, the shirt was usually worn under a tunic, cloak, doublet, jerkin or any other form of outerwear.

However, it became fashionable to show the fringes of the shirt, such as the collar or the sleeves, in the form of a gathered collar, and/or fancy cuff.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the "collar" in its modern meaning to around c. 1300. Originally, the collar was designed in the form of a ruffle or plait created by the drawstring at the neck of the medieval chemise (shirt),  and it evolved into the Elizabethan ruff and its successors, known as the whisk collar and falling band. Appearing in the mid-16th century, separate collars sometimes existed alongside attached collars, to allow starching and other fine finishing.

A seaman's shirt was typical of the peasant worker, loose fitting and flowing so as to not constrict movement. The shirt may or may not have a collar depending on when and where it was fabricated. Collars became more typical in the mid-sixteenth century onwards as a fashion statement, known as a ruff.

The Elizabethan Ruff

The earliest ruffs were shirt frills which overlapped the collar of the doublet, and thus stood to attention. However by 1570, as the doublet collar grew higher up the neck, the ruff developed into something larger, more complicated and eventually detachable. Ruffs came in many shapes and sizes but the one which often comes to mind is the large "Shakespearian" cartwheel ruff.

Examples of Elizabethan Cartwheel Ruffs
Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, Princess of Eboli, Duchess of Pastrana Sir John Hawkins Gaspard De Coligny - Admiral of France

Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda -
 Princess of Eboli & Duchess of Pastrana

 Sir John Hawkins
English Seadog
Gaspard de Coligny
Admiral of France

The largest and fanciest ruffs could be nearly two feet wide, and use up to six yards of fabric. The more elaborate ruffs were often constructed from very fine soft materials such as lawn or cambric. The higher up the social ladder a person was, the more elaborate and flashy their ruff would be.

Despite their elaborate elegance, ruffs were not restricted to the aristocracy. They were worn by almost everyone. The working classes, restricted by cost, had to put up with inferior, and probably more uncomfortable ruffs, since, although smaller, they were made of a coarser and cheaper fabric.

Setting a ruff involved sending it off to be 'set' by a professional laundress. Following specific instructions, she could 'set' the ruff with big wide curves, or smaller curves, depending on the mood of the owner. In addition to all the frills, one's ruff could also be decorated with lace, jewels, or embroidery if one had the means.

To keep ruffs upright, starch was often used. The ruff was washed and allowed to dry then liberally plastered with starch before being set by the laundress: 'One arch or piller, wherewith the devil's kingdome of great ruffes is underpropped, is a certain kind of liquid matter which they call starch, wherein the devill hath learned them to wash and die their ruffes, which, being drie, will stand stiff and inflexible about their neckes. And this starch they make of divers substances — of all collours and hues, as white, redde, blewe, purple, and the like.

Sometimes, an "underwire" support called a suppertasse was used to give the ruff  an even firmer support. The Suppertasse was a wire support attached to the clothes to which the ruff could be pinned. The ruff's plaits were adjusted by 'poking-sticks made of iron, steel, or silver, that, when used, were heated in the fire'. These poking sticks were used to pleat the ruff and came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Originally made of wood or bone, by 1573, the ruff makers had realised that heated sticks worked much more efficiently.

By the reign of King James I, the ruff fell out of favour in court, and was replaced by the lacey flat collar.

For the Sailor at sea, the ruff required too much in the way of maintenance, and was best reserved for appearances at court. Indeed, many of the famous explorers preferred a simple lacey flat collar or instead of a ruff, a knotted kerchief was tied around the neck in its place.

 A portrait of Sir Francis Drake
pictured wearing a kneckerchief.

A common sailor generally favoured the gathered neck, and a loose flowing shirt. It became common to place a knotted kerchief around the neck as an enclosure. The black neckerchief or bandana first appeared in the 16th century and was utilized as a sweat band and a collar enclosure. Black was the predominant color as it was practical and did not readily show dirt. It is often rumoured that sailors began wearing a black coloured kerchief as a sign of mourning after the English Admiral, Lord Nelson, was killed at the battle of Trafalgar. However, this appears to simply be an old sailors' myth as there is no truth that the black neckerchief was designed as a sign of mourning.

The Sailors' Kneckerchief

Neckerchiefs worn by sailors are shaped like a square, and are folded in half diagonally before rolling, with rolling occurring from the tip of the resulting triangle to its hypotenuse. The neckerchief is then placed on the wearer's back, under or over the shirt collar with the ends at the front of the wearer. The rolled ends then pass around the neck until they meet in front of it, where they are secured together, either with a knot, such as a reef knot or a slip knot, or with a rubber band or other fastener (called a woggle or neckerchief slide) and allowed to hang. 

Admiral Nelson
Sailor's neckerchief belonging to Samuel Enderby, Volunteer 1st class in 'Defence' at Trafalgar. Red with a cream and black border. Handprinted "S.E." in ink in the centre. Circa 1805.  © National Maritime Museum Collections A posthumous picture of Admiral Horation Nelson
circa 1805 wearing a black kerchief/cravat.

How To Tie A Sailors' Kneckerchief

How to tie a Sailors Kneckerchief


The Cravat

The cravat is a neckband, similar to a kerchief, the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bow tie, originating from 17th-century Croatia.

From the end of the 16th century, the term band applied to any long-strip neckcloth that was not a ruff. The ruff, a starched, pleated white linen strip, originated earlier in the 16th century as a neckcloth (readily changeable, to minimize the soiling of a doublet), as a bib, or as a napkin. A band could be either a plain, attached shirt collar or a detachable "falling band" that draped over the doublet collar. It is possible that cravats were initially worn to hide shirts which were not immaculately clean.
The cravat originated in the 1630s; like most men's fashions between the 17th century and World War I, it was of military origin. In the reign of Louis XIII of France,Croatian mercenaries  were enlisted into a regiment supporting the King and Cardinal Richelieu against the Duc de Guise and the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici. The traditional Croat military kit aroused Parisian curiosity about the unusual, picturesque scarves distinctively knotted at the Croats' necks; the cloths that were used, ranged from the coarse cloths of enlisted soldiers, to the fine linens and silks of the officers. The sartorial word "cravat" derives from the French "cravate," a corrupt French pronunciation of "Croat" — in Croatian, "Hr̀vāt".
Considering the interdependence of many European regions (particularly the French) with the Venetian Republic, which occupied most of Croatia's coast, and the word's uncertain philologic origin, the new male neckdress was known as a cravate. The French readily switched from old-fashioned starched linen ruffs to the new loose linen and muslin cravates; the military styles often had broad, laced edges, while a gentleman's cravat could be of fine lace. As an extreme example of the style, the sculptor Grinling Gibbons carved a realistic cravat in white limewood which is now on display at Chatsworth House.
On returning to England from exile in 1660, Charles II imported with him the latest new word in fashion: "A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them". (Randle Holme,Academy of Armory and Blazon, 1688.)
During the wars of Louis XIV of 1689–1697, except for court, the flowing cravat was replaced with the more current and equally military "Steinkirk", named after the Battle of Steenkerque in 1692. The Steinkirk was a long, narrow, plain or lightly trimmed neckcloth worn with military dress, wrapped once about the neck in a loose knot, with the lace of fringed ends twisted together and tucked out of the way into a button-hole, either of the coat or the waistcoat. The steinkirk was popular with men and women until the 1720s.
The maccaronis reintroduced the flowing cravat in the 1770s, and the manner of a man's knotting became indicative of his taste and style, to the extent that after the Battle of Waterloo (1815) the cravat, itself, was referred to as a "tie".
Images Of The Cravat
U.S. Continental Navy 1776


Example Of Cravat

The continental navy 1776-1777, lieutenant,
midshipman, captain, and seaman.


1818 Necktie (Cravat) Advertisement
1818 Necktie Advertisement

How to Tie A Cravat - Youtube Video By Jas. Townsend and Son

Flat Collars

Besides the ruff - traditional lace, and flat collars have also been popular since the 16th century. By the early 17th century, during the reign of James I, the ruff was replaced instead by the more conventional lacy or silk collar.

Thomas Cavendish
A portrait of Thomas Cavendish wearing a collared shirt.


Jabot collars, frills and lace

Eventually, detachable frilled collars and frilled shirt fronts became popular in the 17th century.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, a frilled detachable collar known as a jabot consisted of cambric or lace edging sewn to both sides of the front opening of a man's shirt, and partially visible through a vest worn over it. This style arose around 1650. Originally the term jabot referred to the frilling or ruffles decorating the front of a shirt.

Jabots made of lace and hanging loose from the neck were an essential component of upper class, male fashion in the baroque period. Examples can be seen in the movies, "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Dangerous Liaisons". In the late 19th century a jabot would be a cambric or lace bib, for decorating women's clothing. It would be held in place at the neck with a brooch or a sewn-on neckband.
Today, Jabots continue to be worn as part of formal Scottish evening attire and was a former part of Scottish highland dance costumes from the 1930s to the 1970s. They are usually worn with high-necked jackets or doublets, often with matching cuffs for both genders and a tartan-patterned fly plaid draped over-the-shoulder for girls.
Jabot ExampleHenry Morgan
Examples of Jabots
Shirt Examples:
Shirt patterns are pretty much the same as they are today. Listed below are a few examples of a common sailor shirt, as well as an example of Enlish Military dress.
A simple sailors shirtSpanish style shirt

Admiral Nelson's Shirt from Trafalgar






Pirate & Privateer Clothing - Breeches / Slops

One of the more distinct garments of sailor's dress has become commonly known as "slops". "Slops" are a loose fitting lower garment that can reach anywhere from above the knee to just below the calf.   A common misconception is that "slops" always refer to a specific type of wide open trouser reaching to just below the knee which are often referred to in historical documents as "wide kneed breeches".

While often a matter of debate, it appears that these "short slops" or "sailor shorts" did not commonly appear until the mid 17th century, and were not commonplace until the early 18th century, a variant of which is the "petticoat breech" or "skilt", a voluminously wide pleated loose "skirt" that is generally made from canvas or old sail cloth and originally meant to keep tar off of a man’s good clothing, or in otherwise to protect it from damage. They were usually worn over breeches but were sometimes worn with nothing underneath. 

Eventually, slops by the end of the 18th century became longer, and were known by the 19th Century as trousers, reaching just a few inches above the ankle although typically loose fitting. In some instances they flared outwards towards the bottom of the cuff. This became popularized in the early 19th century, when a standardized uniform did not yet exist in the U.S Navy, and some sailors adopted a style of wide trousers ending in bell-shaped cuffs.

In 1813, one of the first recorded descriptions of sailors' uniforms, written by Commodore Stephen Decatur, noted that the men on the frigates United States and Macedonia were wearing "glazed canvas hats with stiff brims, decked with streamers of ribbon, blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats, and blue trousers with bell bottoms." 

The British Royal Navy had often been a leader in nautical fashion, but bell-bottoms did not become part of the standard uniform until the mid-19th century. These "bell-bottoms" were often just very wide-legged trousers, rather than shaped trousers that flared below the knee. 

In addition to slops and trousers, sailors and seafairing men also wore another lower garment known as "knee-breeches".

The origins of the "sailor" breeches first appears in the late 16th century and is widely known as "Venetian Breeches" which were also popular amongst the landsmen at the time. This is a loose fitting garment that is gartered at the knees and is generally very flowing and loose in the seat and hips, a variant of which is depicted in Elizabethan England and is known as the Gally-hosen or Gallagskin which is quite voluminous. 

A pamplet written by Philip Stubbes, entitled "The Anatomie of Abuses" and printed in Elizabethan England in 1583 describes the variety and style of breeches, also known as "hosen", worn during the late 16th and early 17th century:

"Then have they Hosen, which as they be of divers fashions, so are they of sundry names. Some be called french-hose, some gally-hose, and some Venitians. The french-hose are of two divers makings, for the common french-hose (as they listto call them) containeth length, breadth, and widnes sufficient, and is made very rounde. The other contayneth neither length, breadth nor widenes (beeing not past a a quarter of a yard wide) wherof some be paned, cut and drawne out with costly ornaments, with canions adjoined reaching down beneath their knees. The Gally-hosen are made very large and wide, reaching downe to their knees onely, with three or foure guardes a peece laid down along either hose. And the Venetian-hosen, they reach beneath the knee to the gartering place to the Leg, where they are tyed finely with silk points, or some such like, and laied on also with rewes of laces, or gardes as the other before. And yet notwithstanding all this is not sufficient, except they be made of silk, velvet, saten, damask, and other such precious things beside: yea, every one, Serving man and other inferiour to them, in every condition, wil not stick to flaunte it out in these kinde of hosen, withall other their apparel sutable therunto. In times past, Kings would not disdaine to weare a paire of hosen of a Noble, tenne Shillinges, or a Marke price, with all the rest of their apparel after the same rate; but now it is a small matter to bestowe twentie nobles, ten pound, twentiepound, fortie pound, yea, a hundred pound on one paire of Breeches."

English Sailor with Galligaskin

The Engish sailor during the late Elizabethan era is often depicted wearing breeches known as "Gallyhosen" or "Galligaskins". The design is reminiscient of a "pumpkin" and often is referred to as "Pumpkin Pants"

A sailor with Gallyhosen. 

Sixteenth Century
Another image of a "Master Seaman" from the sixteenth century.

Expensive and not easy to manufacture, the Gallyhosen were less commonly worn than "Venetian breeches" or simply "Venetians" which became very popular and widely adopted amongst the sailors and early navies.

Eventually, the "Venetians" became lest "pouffy" and were known as simply "knee breeches". By the latter 16th century, breeches began to replace hose as the general English term for men's lower outer garments, a usage that remained standard until knee-length breeches were replaced for everyday wear by long pantaloons or trousers. Knee-breeches came in several styles: very full throughout, very tight throughout, and very gathered and the top and narrow at the knee (like an inverted pear or turkey-leg). They might button or hook at the knee (either on the outside or inside of the knee), or might even be left open. They would be worn with over-the-knee length stockings, either tucked inside or pulled over the breeches, that were held up by garters. The garters might be quite ostentatious, or they might be simple bands with a buckle, with the stocking tops rolled down over to hide them.

Knee-breeches became widely distributed by the British Admiralty in what became known as "slop" contracts, a list of required garments that was first established in 1623.

While there was no official "Navy" uniform until 1748, by the 18th Century, breeches are specifically referred to in the 1706 Admiralty Slop Contracts, and are also the fashionable thing for the landsmen of the time.


"Venetian breeches" or simply "venetians" were common with sailors from the 16-18th centuries.
Originally they were "gartered" at the knees with ties or belting, and later  variations were buttoned and became common in Admiralty lists and eventually became referred to as "knee breeches".


1581 Venetian Breeches
An image depecting "Venetian Breeches" circa 1581.



A ship captain/bosun wearing "Venetian Breeches" or "knee-breeches"

Venetian garters
A closeup showing the "buckled" garter closing the breeches above th calf. in
Carrington Bowles drawing circa 1743.

Another example of "Venetian" or knee-breeches

dutch sailor

A dutch sailor by Johan Brotze circa 1790 with knee breeches.


Pirate Barttholomew Roberts with knee breeches circa 1721.


The two basic types of knee-breeches that became common by the 18th Century. 

By mid-18th century with the Dress Code of 1748 coming into effect, Royal Navy regulations stipulated that  "slops" were generally only worn by common ratings, for example: sailor, cabin boy, cook, or carpenter. The officers of the crew, from the rank of midshipman or "bachelor" wore "knee breeches".


In the 18th Century, the Royal Navy Dress Code required officers
to wear "knee-breeches" while the lower ratings such as the common sailor wore slops or petticoat breeches.


Another type of lower garment that was worn by sailors from at least the 16th century, was a long trouser-like garment with wide loose fitted legs and open at the bottom. In the 16th Century, this generally set the sailor apart from the landsman fashions at the time, and are generally referred to as "slops". In the Elizabethan era, these lower garments ran full length but by the late 17th and early 18th centuries sometimes ended above the knees in a version sometimes referred to as "wide kneed breaches" or "petticoat breeches". These "short slops" or petticoat breeches  have become iconic as the defacto standard for sailors dress. By the 18th Century, these wide legged slops were primarily worn by the "common" sailor rather than an officer or master seaman in England, but in other countries, such as Holland and Spain, long trousers were also worn by officers, and ship owners. Collectively these lower garments have become to known as "slops".



A spanish sailor circa 1529 with long loose fitted trousers.


An old Spanish sea captain circa 1529, note the full length trousers.


16th Century Dutch Sea Captain
"Nauicularius Hollandus" -  A 16th Century Dutch ship captain.


"Nauta Hollandus" - 16th Century Dutch sailor with thrum cap



Sailor on coin

A coin depicting a "true hearted sailor" circa 1794 with full length trousers.


A French engraving of Captain Gustavus Conyngham circa 1777 known as the "Dunkirk Pirate".
 Captain Conyngham was was an Irish-born American merchant sea captain, 
an officer in the Continental Navy and a privateer.  He has been referred to as  "the most successful of all Continental Navy captains"


A typical 18th century Seaman with a 
"Man of Wars Barge" wearing "petticoat breeches"


18th Century Sailor "I Wait For Orders"

A simple sailor by Thomas Rowlandson 1799.


A sketch of "wide kneed breeches", this style of  slop is also referred to as a "skilt" or petticoat breeches



A group of sailors with slops known sometimes as "wide kneed breeches"
or petticoat breeches circa 1755

A depiction of a cabin-boy wearing "slops", petticoat breeches or wide kneed breeches
by Thomas Rowland circa 1799.


An extant original of "short" slops or "wide kneed breeches"
in the London Museum circa 1600

Sailor with Slops
A sailor with "petticoat breeches"


The fly - from the 16th century to the end of the 17th century originally both slops and knee-breeches had a button up fly known as a "fly front" or "French fly". 

Fly Front Breeches

A pair of "fly front breeches" in the Victoria and Albert musuem
circa 1775

An example of the "fly front" popular until the end of the 18th century

French Fly
A late 18th Century "fly front"

In the mid 18th century, another type of fly developed called the fall front or drop front. It basically was a small flap that covered the front of the fly and by the turn of the 19th century, breeches worn by all men were sewn with a flap in front called a fall front. This flap was universally held in place by two or three buttons at the top. No belts were worn. Instead, breeches were held up by tight-fitting waists, which were adjusted by gusset ties in back of the waist. Seats were baggy to allow a man to rise comfortably from a sitting position. As waists rose to the belly button after 1810, suspenders were used to hold the garment up.

As far as the number of buttons holding the fall up or together, it varied over the coruse of history. In warm climates, drop falls had few buttons to allow more ventillation. The U.S. Navy has a long standing rumour that naval uniforms carry thirteen  buttons to represent the original thirteen colonies. However, there does not appear to be any historical correlation, before 1894, the trousers had only seven buttons and in the early 1800's they had 15 buttons. It wasn't until the broadfall front was enlarged that the 13 buttons were added to the uniform and only then to add symmetry of design. 

The narrow fall was basically a horizontally hinged flap which was held closed by three buttons on the waistband. Broad fall trousers had a fall which went from hip to hip, and did not come into use until the mid-nineteenth century.

A "fall front" knee-breech pattern circa 1763 from Boursiers, Wallet and Purse Maker.

"Narrow" fall front breeches

Extant Fall front breeches from the National Maritime Musuem in Greenwhich circa 1780-90

broadfall 1830
An extant pair of breeches from c. 1830 with the broad-fall

Broad-fall breeches circa 1830-40

Sailor with Fall Front Breeches circa 1798