By 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.
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.)
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.