Inspection Ready Kids, or Sailor Suit Care

After last week’s heady post on world peace, it seems responsible to return to a more practical, if pedestrian, topic: the proper care of a sailor suit.

Small children in a kid’s sailor suit don’t stand inspection in the same way that a recruit, plebe, swab, or other new accession to the sea-going service would—at the position of attention, lined up, and formally stared down from head to toe. Nonetheless, as a parent I’ve come to understand that children and their parents are perhaps more scrutinized than any other segment of society. Thus, it’s in the interest of both Chandler Small & Co. and parents that their offspring look good in a children’s sailor suit. Blue and white kid’s sailor suits have both over lapping and unique care issues. Your blogger will stay focused on blue kid’s sailor suits for the moment as that is the starting point for our line of nautical children’s clothing (The start, but not the end: stay tuned for our spring/summer addition to the line).

The first concern with caring for a children’s sailor suit is preserving the rich navy blue color: to accomplish this the proprietor of Chandler Small & Co., the selfsame individual that blogs to you, recommends washing your kid’s sailor suit on a cool setting and hanging them to dry. To take your garment care to the level prescribed by the finest Navy in the world, wash, dry, and iron them inside out. As the Navy Uniform Regulations state: “The body of the jumper has an outward crease in the front, inverted crease in the back, and the collar has three, evenly spaced outward vertical creases.” Inverted creases is the Navy’s way of telling sailors to iron jumpers inside out. The same applies to sailor’s pants. Washing and ironing inside out also minimizes wear and disruption to the braid on your kid’s sailor suit. Ironing inside out prevents the dark navy blue from getting a uneven, shiny finish where the iron presses most.

Follow these instructions and even the most scrutinizing eyes will not be able to take issues with your kid’s sailor suit. If this blogger could similarly defend you against such scrutiny of your kid’s behavior, he would. But alas, your blogger’s eight years of parenting have not yet taught him such alchemy.

Photo: British Royal Navy sailors iron their middies in a World War II era documentary film.  Note their undershirts, the forbearer of the ringer shirt offered by Chandler Small & Co.

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Happy New Year, or Boiler Suits and World Peace

Your dear blogger is not much for social experimentation; nor is he really one for utopian visions. Nonetheless, he has for some time now held the belief that the wear of boiler suits—known to almost everyone outside the merchant marine as coveralls—improves human cooperation, reduces stress and antipathy. Though not the product scientific study, this conclusion has more than mere anecdotal proof.

You blogger began forming this theory when he was first put in a boiler suit by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. The reprieve provided by wearing something that doesn’t get ironed, didn’t have a brass buckle to polish, and had no “gig line” to get crooked probably had something to do with it. But it goes far deeper. The effect of a boiler suit on one’s mood is inescapable: even peacock types who thrill in a squared away uniform and flawlessly shined leather shoes can’t escape the pull of the boiler suit. And when a section, or even class, of midshipmen came together in boiler suits, the effect grew exponentially. Boiler suits brought about cohesiveness and a spirit of camaraderie that surpasses that which results simply from wearing the same uniform.  This humble blogger proposes that it has something to do with the garment itself. For one, a boiler suit, being all one piece, hangs from one’s shoulders—the body part that most naturally bears a load. One is not girded in by it, as with pants, but surrounded by it. Among the men’s garments that share this attribute are the mostly extinct Roman toga and men’s night shirt and a monk’s habit.

There’s also a great deal of inner peace that comes from wearing a garment like a boiler suit or coveralls that is made with the very realistic expectation that it will get dirty. Thus little spills and rubs and bumps with schmutz tend not to shatter the mood as they do in something like a business suit.

Perhaps the final attribute of the boiler suit the deserves a place in this discussion is the abundance and capacity of its pockets. Add to this the pass-through pockets so beloved by midshipmen, a feature also not found on other garments known to this blogger, and the design’s livability is perfected.

As a parent, your humble blogger has tested the effect on children. Here the impact is further magnified because there are two parties concerned: the one wearing them and the one cleaning the kid’s coveralls. And with children’s coveralls, this effect is reciprocally reinforced. The parent, knowing that the children’s coveralls can simply be removed in one fell swoop, is happy to let the kid follow his or her innate urge toward getting messy. This reciprocally reinforced mood has wondrous consequences.

It is beyond this blogger’s influence to put all of humanity in coveralls, but he has done what he can by making children’s coveralls, heretofore impossible to buy in the United States, readily available to your family through Chandler Small & Co. These kid’s coveralls have all of the features that make their adult counterparts transformative right down to the pass-through hip pockets. They even have a velcro front, so there’s no chance of a snag getting them on. As you look forward to bringing greater peace to your family this new year consider doing so in coveralls.

Designing on the shoulders of giants

When we set out to design our sailor suits we did so in an unapologetically backward-looking way. As the medieval Bernard of Chartres said, “we are dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants.” The heyday of the sailor suit in children’s clothing occurred between the two world wars. During that period both boys and girls dressed—or perhaps, were dressed—in sailor suits. Thus, we began by collecting and examining examples of sailor suits from this golden era of the kids’ sailor suit. Looking at the details of the older sailor suits, there was quite a bit of variation on the theme: some had button sleeve cuffs, others did not; some had braid that crossed over in the corners of the collar back and others did not; the distinctive sailor collar was constructed in several different ways; some pants were had a fall front closure, others had side buttons and yet others—those made after it was invented—had elastic. Given this variation, we also looked to the source of it all: the enlisted Navy uniform.

In fact, we referenced the enlisted uniforms of several navies: the U.S. Navy, the British Royal Navy, and the German Navy. Along the way, the humble proprietor of Chandler Small took to wearing a surplus Bundesmarine sailor’s middy as a pullover on summer mornings.

There was a fair amount of variation on the theme as we studied these military examples too. Being an American company, intent on making our kids’ sailor suits in the U.S., the aesthetic we chose is American. Thus, we included middy braid—yes, the trim is named after the garment—on both the collar and the cuff, like U.S. Navy middies and we opted to have it turn to follow the collar edge in the back like Navy uniforms, rather than have it crossed over over like many children’s sailor tops from early 20th century. The story of braid on navy middies is is a topic of its own, which deserves a blog post of its own.

Our sailor suit tops are not, however, shrunken down U.S. Navy uniforms: the construction of the neck opening and collar of our sailor middy is most similar to the German Navy top. We also kept the braid on the body of the collar and not along the lower neck opening, a detail that was on a 1920’s example that also inspired our logo.

On bottom, our pant design is also a hybrid of U.S. Navy bell bottom and vintage sailor suit pant features. As parents, we knew that the Navy’s 13 button fall-front closure would not fly with either kids or parents; however, we did track down the right mil-spec anchor buttons and included them on our kid’s sailor pants. In stead of the working fall front of the Navy uniform, we incorporated a pleat that gives the effect of the fall front, and included non-working uniform buttons to give them the right look. The result is a pant that authentically nautical and thoroughly functional.

(Photo: a 1940’s children’s sailor top, part of the Chandler Small & Co. collection.  Note the chis-crossed middy braid on the collar. Also not that this sailor top included a button in bib.  Chandler Small stuck with the Navy on this aspect of our kid’s sailor suit and gone with a ringer undershirt, like those used in the British Royal Navy and at the U.S. Naval Academy.)

In the beginning…

As a Coast Guard Officer and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy alumnus the decision to dress my children in sailor suits was obvious enough.  What was far less obvious was where my wife and I could get these kid’s sailor suits.  For a while, we were able to find vintage sailor suits made by Good Lad of Philadelphia on Ebay.  However, when my middle child, and oldest son, turned five and grew past the top of Good Lad’s children’s sailor suit size range, we were stuck–our unified family wardrobe had run aground.  The picture above shows my two sons saluting in their sailor suits on Mother’s Day 2016.  It was one of the last times they wore those sailor suits, but it was the beginning of Chandler Small.