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White Star Line Officer's Uniform Circa 1912


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Fouled AnchorBy and large the various British steamship company's officer's uniforms of the Edwardian era mimicked those of the British Royal Navy of the same time period. The only real differences were the buttons used, the cap badges, and, sometimes, the cuff braid that denoted rank. The White star Line was no exception. Only their buttons and cap badges were different, and both of those were even based off of the British Royal Navy's own buttons and badges. The difference in buttons was merely that the house flag had replaced the "fouled anchor" of the British Royal Navy, and the only variation in the cap badges was the same.

Part of the reason for this was because many of the officers were reserve naval officers. Interestingly, the British Royal Navy reserve cuff braid differed greatly from both the White Star Line's and British Royal Navy's active duty uniform cuff braid. The Reserve was called the "Wavy Navy" as their braid was "waved" instead of straight, and instead of having a circular loop on the top row of braid, there was a six-point, rounded edged "star" design. This pattern was repeated on the shoulder boards, or "epaulettes".

The "standard" uniform of the time was called "Service Dress", consisting of the appropriate visor cap, jacket, black pants, white shirt, black necktie, and black shoes. there was however, several other types of uniform, just as there was in the Navy.

Service dress: The jacket for service dress was a double breasted eight-buttoned affair sometimes referred to as a "monkey jacket". Pants, shirt, etc., were all standard. The jacket and pants were almost always of black wool.

Old pattern service dress: This differed only in that the jacket was the older patterned "frock coat". Once popular with ship's officers, it would fall completely out of usage by 1939. The frock coat was double-breasted, and had ten buttons on the front, and two decorative buttons on the back near the waist. It was longer than the "monkey jacket", and the front rows of buttons were often a trifle closer to the centerline of the uniform. Captain E. J. Smith of the "RMS Titanic" is often pictured wearing this type of jacket. The jacket was made of black wool, most often of the "Melton" variety, and if the wearer was wealthy, it was of "doe-skin" quality. (Smoother than standard Melton wool)

Tropical or "Summer" Dress: For tropical dress, both the jacket and pants were white, and often, the shoes as well. The jacket was high "Russian" collared, and was single breasted, with only 5 buttons. Shoulder boards were worn with this instead of cuff braid on the sleeves. No tie was worn with summer dress, and the only shirt would have been a sleeveless undershirt.

Mess Dress: "Mess Dress", as it is called, was for formal occaisions. In Cameron's movie, Captain Smith can be seen wearing this uniform while attending dinner in the First Class dinner area. It was, essentially, an Edwardian era tuxedo, with rank braid on the cuffs. Usually, any medals the wearer had earned would be worn in their "minature" (half-sized) format, for convenience. The jacket went over a vest, which went over a tuxedo shirt and bow-tie. the tie, depending on the occasion, could be either black or white. The jacket, pants, and vest were often of Melton wool, and usually of the "doe-skin" quality.

There was also a "tropical" or "summer" pattern used sometimes. Essentially the same uniform, it was white, and of much lighter fabric.

Court Dress: Based somewhat off the old British Royal Navy Napoleonic era uniforms, it was similar to "mess dress" except that it was longer in front, had two more buttons, tails in the back, and often more ornamental braid and buttons on the cuffs. The shoulder boards for court dress were of the heavy gold bullion variety, with braid tasels hanging down about the outside of the shoulders. Also, an old style "bicorn" hat was worn with this uniform. As the name implies, it was only for VERY formal occasions. A dress belt with gilded buckle and a sword were worn with this uniform.

On Rank Insignia: Both cuff braid and shoulder boards used standard British Royal Navy gold bullion braid stripes to denote rank. Three straight stripes, with a fourth "looped" top stripe denoted the rank of Captain in the White Star Line. Two rows with a third looped top row denoted a Chief Officer, or the Captain of a smaller vessel. One row with a second looped row denoted a First Officer. Second Officer and lower were denoted by a single row of looped braid.




Chief Officer

1st Officer

2nd through 6th Officer


Chief Officer

1st Officer

2nd through 6th Officer


The Captain of a vessel would also have a spray of gold bullion embroidered oak leaves set along the outer edge of the visor on his cap. He was also allowed to wear a wide row of gold braid down the length of each pant leg. (On the outside edge.)

Cap Braid

Of note, in the British Navy, and in the Merchant Navy as well, after the loss of the "Titanic", all Engineering officers were authorized to wear a row of purple cloth (A sort of broad "piping" ) between the rows of braid on their cuffs or shoulderboards to denote their service in the "Engineering Branch". I have heard that this was authorized to commemorate the loss of all of "Titanic's" engineering officer's, who gave their lives in order to give the ship and its passengers as much time as possible.

© John Hemmert 2005

This item first appeared in Voyage, Journal of the Titanic International Society.


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  1. Kritina Johnston

    Kritina Johnston said:

    Very interesting article...nice detail on the officers' uniforms, and some interesting color photos to go with them. There are a couple of questions that I have about one of the types of uniforms mentioned in the article. The "Court Dress"...was this only worn by the senior officers on those extremely formal occasions? Or was there the real possibility of putting the poor junior officers in this getup? And what kind of occasions are we talking about here, exactly? I'm just shocked they still dragged out the bicornes even for something formal!!!

  2. Inger Sheil

    Inger Sheil said:

    Very good article, John! Given the way merchant uniforms evolved, it's very difficult to pin down one particular moment in time (I've got photos of WSL officers throughout 20s that have been known to give folks headaches). I would quibble with the inclusion of the rumour about the engineer's purple, though - this is something of a merchant service urban myth! I have a photo of Lowe in bicorn, epaulettes, sword etc, and it is indeed a sight to behold...

  3. Parks Stephenson

    Parks Stephenson said:

    John, I'm glad that you undertook the effort to categorise the uniforms and have a couple of suggested items for you to look at. In 1912, only deck officers wore the "executive curl," as the looped sleeved braid was known, on WSL uniforms. This runs counter to the way in which other shipping lines and the RN wore them. Dr. Griffiths, who has written several books about Merchant Marine history, had the complete story about the engineers' purple on his website, which now appears to have been taken down. The purple was denoted in regulation long before Titanic sank, but was not universally observed until sometime after the disaster. The coincidence has led to the current myth. Your reproduction WSL cap badge looks like the ones that I designed for Robert Anderson of Canada. Is that where that badge is from? Parks

  4. Shelley Dziedzic

    Shelley Dziedzic said:

    Some great photos John! Here are a few others from the collection which did not quite fit in the article. I think the panelling and fireplace, and other "props" really set a vignette worthy of the real ship interiors. Just a little more gray and you will really have Capt. Smith down to a whisker!

  5. Shelley Dziedzic

    Shelley Dziedzic said:

    The frock coat is surely one of the most flattering styles for men and especially as a uniform dressed up with plenty of gold braid.

  6. Shelley Dziedzic

    Shelley Dziedzic said:

    Fellow re-enactor, Joel Gray in court dress

  7. Shelley Dziedzic

    Shelley Dziedzic said:

    Musician's uniform

  8. Kritina Johnston

    Kritina Johnston said:

    "I have a photo of Lowe in bicorn, epaulettes, sword etc, and it is indeed a sight to behold..." Oh dear...there goes any future viewings of Hornblower...won't be able to keep a straight face...

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2005) White Star Line Officer's Uniform Circa 1912 (Voyage, ref: #4468, published 15 February 2005, generated 11th November 2022 04:09:33 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/white-star-line-uniform-1912.html