Reply To: Lines on sailors’ collars commemorate Nelson?

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1830 – Present Day Lines on sailors’ collars commemorate Nelson? Reply To: Lines on sailors’ collars commemorate Nelson?


The three lines are by tradition said to commemorate the Battles of Copenhagen, the Nile and Trafalgar. However, the use of the ‘sailor’s collar’ with three lines in so many other navies – Imperial German Navy, Imperial Austrian Navy, US Navy, French Navy [etc] – might cause one to question this. See for instance:

The following is a citation from [the official Royal Navy website]:
‘The Sailor’s collar deserves a special mention. Tarred pig tails disappeared rapidly after 1815 and the last is recorded as having been seen at sea in 1827. On the other hand, the first broad collars were worn after 1830. Contrary to popular belief, therefore, the two were never worn together. The first collars were not cut square but were round and closely resembled items that were fashionable ashore. The three rows of white tape were probably added for ornament at first; surviving records mention some discussion about whether there should be two rows or three. The more familiar square collar developed as it was easier for the men to cut and sew themselves than the round variety.’

This was discussed in Mariner’s Mirror 34 (1948) page 308, and it seems that the striped pattern was officially sanctioned initially with two stripes, although it clearly referred to a practice that had been going on prior to that.
The article suggests that the connection with Nelson’s battles was first made in Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys, London 1909. The popularity of the ‘sailor suit’ for small boys is said to date from an 1846 portrait of Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) kitted out in a scaled-down version of the rig worn by the crew of the Royal Yacht.