Fashion Moments – Middy Blouse

Fashion Moments by Deborah SweeneyWelcome to my weekly fashion blog post. Each week I will discuss a female garment, fashion trend or influencer from the age of photography (1840s through the 20th century). My goal is to educate family researchers and genealogists about the clothing worn by our ancestors. Dating photographs is an issue we all struggle with as family archivists. Additionally, anyone who writes about their family’s history should be aware of the environment in which their ancestors lived. Period clothing is an important part of that environment from how it affects a person’s movement to their overall lifestyle. This week I introduce you to the middy blouse.

Middy Blouse (the sailor shirt)

Picture the scene from the movie The Sound of Music when Maria first enters the Von Trapp household. The Captain pulls out his bosun’s whistle and proceeds to call his children from every corner of the house. When they arrive, all are dressed in sailor uniforms.

For many decades, children have worn school and gym uniforms based upon the humble sailor’s shirt. Summer camps and early bathing costumes have also utilized a similar design. The style crossed over into mainstream fashion throughout the 20th century. While many tops can claim to be a sailor shirt, a middy blouse is a unique garment. While the fit and general style of the middy blouse has been influenced from time to time by minor fashion trends, the basic parameters of the shirt have not changed. A true middy blouse was made of lightweight cotton duck fabric (also called jean cloth) or wool and was not meant to be “tucked in.” During the 1920s, for example, middy blouses sometimes were constructed with a hip band (a popular shirt style of the time), instead of falling straight from the shoulders to the hip.

The authentic middy blouse came into existence around 1910. In its early decades, the shirt retained the full sailor collar. Later versions dropped the collar and even the sleeves. Although hard to tell in black and white photographs, middy shirts were made in multiple colors (not just white or navy).


A teen-aged Ruth Yegerlehner (far right) wears a sailor style shirt in the 1910s. This is NOT a middy blouse.

Students from Clay City High c1918-1922. Several girls are wearing middy blouses.

Further Reading

A wonderful photographic essay on the “History of the Middy” can be found of the Fuzzielizzie Vintage Clothing website. Additionally, Fuzzielizzie wrote a post on a vintage 1920s lavender middy blouse set on her blog the Vintage Traveler.

Peter Thomson (or Thompson) was a tailoring house in New York and Philadelphia around 1900. He designed sailor suits for women and children. Eventually, his clothing style was adopted universally for school uniforms. The Catholic Church was an early promoter of the “Peter Thomson” dress in their institutions. The book Common Threads: A Cultural History of Clothing in American Catholicism by Sally Dwyer-McNulty can be found on Google books.


  1. Four women from Clay County, Indiana, c1915. Photograph from the author’s personal collection.
  2. Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, Spring 1915, 261. Image courtesy of
  3. Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, Spring 1926, 60. Image courtesy of
  4. Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, Spring, 1935, 61. image courtesy of
  5. Clay City High School, Clay City, Indiana, c1918-1922. Photograph from the author’s personal collection.

©2015 Deborah Sweeney
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