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Does the sailor uniform collar have any purpose? Answered

OK. I know the reason for bell bottoms. I know the reason for the button flies with the button holes at odd angles. But I've never figured out the big square collar down the back.  Anybody know?


The reason for the flap is to make it easier to spot a man overboard in the sea, which is a very difficult task, as it is just a head over the water amidst the waves.

wrong...the flap is simply there for tradition. In the early days of the navy, sailors were nicknamed tars. This is because they kept their hair long and to keep it out of their way when they were working they would put pine tar in their hair. The flap was there to keep the tar off the uniform. The flap was removeable. It was much like the easy chair that you have at your home. The flap your head rests on was to keep it clean

From Wikipedia

"The blue jean collar is perhaps the most recognisable item of the sailor suit, and tradition says that it dates from the times when seamen wore tarred pigtails.[3] This is in fact false, as the collar was not part of uniform until after pigtails disappeared.[2] The three stripes have nothing to do with Nelson's three victories but was simply standardised to three when uniform was regulated.[4] It is often considered lucky to touch a sailor's collar.[5]

The bell bottomed trousers were designed so that they could be rolled up easily when scrubbing the decks. Ratings used to have either five or seven horizontal creases and this did not represent the seven seas or five oceans but depended on the length of the sailor's leg.

The lanyard was originally used to fire the cannons on board ship. Later, a sailor would carry his knife with it.

In the United States, the first standard uniform was issued in 1817. Through government procurement, winter and summer uniforms were provided. White duck jacket, trousers and vest made up the summer uniform, while the winter uniform consisted of a blue jacket and trousers, red vest with yellow buttons and a black hat.[6]"

Not sure what wikipedia article that is from but it is not correct and doesn't really answer the question. The 'tar flap' as it is referred too is a throw back to times when sailors did have long hair and would use grease to hold it back and often didn't shower. The flaps use to be removable and served to protect the uniform from the dirt. As naval forces went away from allowing sailors to wear there hair long the flap just stuck around. These where the days well before America had a formal Navy. Sailors use to be a very superstitious group. The 4th point made is correct. It is considered luck to touch the collar and part of the superstition. The flap was likely adopted into the US naval uniform to carry the traditions of other naval fleets and to bring good luck. This is basically what recruits are told about the meaning of the uniform at boot camp.

Unfortunately the information in the article doesn't even match up with anything the reference material mentions. Also the article isn't really focused on any particular naval uniform just a 'sailor suit'. Which can refer to anything from kids cloths to cloths any sailor may have worn.

As i understand it the 'tar flap' wasn't really an official part of any uniform. It was a piece of cloth used to protect there uniform in the early days of uniformed navies. It became the standard. Much like bell bottoms on original uniforms may have had a symbolic purpose but the reason they where carried over into the working uniforms was for a practical reason. The flared out bottoms of the dungaree pants makes it easier to remove the pant if you fall overboard so you can use them as a flotation device. One of the first things they have you do at boot camp is jump off a 30 foot platform into a pool while fully clothed and you have to demonstrate using your shirt and pants as flotation devices. Or that was the case before the US navy switched to coveralls. Not even sure if they issues dungarees anymore.

My dad was in the navy (WW2) and said the same thing about bell bottoms. The point of the button square flap fly was the same - for one handed quick escape. (demonstrated by a friend .... just tug one corner.)

The collar for luck? Interesting. I guess it might be easiest part to grab if someone were sinking. It just seems like there had to be some very practical reason to justify the extra fabric and complexity of construction. I was expecting something like protecting shoulders from ????.

Keeping shirts clean could explain the colored scarves sailors in old paintings wear. Or was that for something else?

Now days the uniform is largely for dress occasions. But at some point in history there was a significance each aspect. Lacking in there own tradition the early US Navy had to carry over traditions and sinology from other Navies as well as start some of there own. The flap is one that was carried over. Since it's such a long standing symbol on Naval tradition it caries to this day and is unlikely to go away. It is strictly part of the enlisted dress uniform. The working uniforms and the daily uniforms like dungarees and coveralls will change over time but the dress uniform may never change as they are only worn during special occasions.

The neckerchief use to be used for cleaning out cannons.