The nautical inspiration in fashion has endured over many, many decades. People in general have always had a fascination with the sea and with those who make their living sailing the ocean waves. But did you know that the influence of sailors on landlubbers’ wardrobe choices was originally attributed to Queen Victoria?
That’s right. Back in 1846 Queen Victoria had a sailor suit made for her son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, to wear aboard the Royal Yacht. Below is his portrait by Winterhalter.
And even back then, people were into celebrity fashion! So if the Prince wore a sailor suit, then parents countrywide wanted their children in a sailor suit.
By the latter 1800s the nautical influence in fashion eventually found it’s way into the wardrobes of high society ladies. I like to call this “trickle up fashionomics”. Trends start with the kids, then trickle up to everyone else!
And one of the other places where the sailor influence first appeared was naturally at the beach. Below is a sailor swimdress from 1913.
Edwardian sailor dress circa 1914. On right a very cool nautical style sweater from 1917 Ladies Home Journal. I would definitely wear that today!
And you know that classic Breton sailor stripe shirt, aka la Mariniere, that you’ve seen a million times in a million stores done in a million different ways?
Well it was introduced in 1917 by none other than Coco Chanel after she opened her shop in the resort town of Deauville on the coast of France. She was the designer who was directly responsible for making the nautical look go viral. Inspired by the classicly simple and comfortable shirts worn by the local fishermen and sailors, Coco Chanel’s designs,with their nautical touches and jersey fabrics, revolutionized the way women dressed.
Chanel was the major influence behind the looser, more comfortable silhouettes of the 1920s and the maritime theme has shown up in fashion collections of every decade since.
In the earlier part of the century Middy blouses, named for midshipmen, were worn as school uniforms and for sports. But by the 1920s they became a fashion trend.
1930s nautical looks in cotton pique. And how about the coat that is described as “Swagger length?” I suppose when wearing these nautical style fashions you were supposed to swagger like a sailor or pirate!
Check out this outfit worn by actress Marian Marsh in 1932. Is this not one of the chicest nautical inspired summer outfits you’ve ever seen?
The nautical look was especially strong in the 1940s because of WWII. It was a sign of patriotism to don clothing with a military influence. That included the navy, of course!
Cute 1940s Playclothes.
Nautical fashion editorial in McCalls Magazine 1957
Jenny and Patty Boyd rocking the Mod nautical look in the 60s.
Model Colleen Colby wearing adorable sailor style Bobby Brooks swimsuit, Seventeen Magazine 1965.
Bellbottoms were the nautical inspired look that ruled in the 1970s.
These outfits by Katies label- 1975
Again, bellbottoms. Worn with a long belted striped shirt. Would wear this in a heartbeat!
The chic pleated dress definitely has the Chanel influence.
Christian Dior sailor dress, L’Officiel 1978
There have been so many reincarnations of the seafarer’s style since Chanel’s striped jerseys went mainstream in the early 20th century. Some designers, whose collections most notably captured the spirit of the mariner, are Vivienne Westwood, whose pirate inspired”World’s End” collection in 1981 began a lifelong career of designing avant garde fashions inspired by historical dress , John Paul Gaultier who claims the nautical influence in many of his collections stems from his fascination with Popeye when he was young, and Ralph Lauren whose distinctive brand of classic American chic relies heavily on the nautical aesthetic.
The style is timeless and cross generational. Pretty much anyone of any age can incorporate the nautical look into their wardrobe. Iconic pieces include pea coats, bellbottom pants, cable knit sweaters, navy blue blazers, canvas deck shoes, braided rope belts and bracelets, striped boat neck shirts and tops or dresses with sailor collars. Also outfits combining white with navy blue, often with touches of red. But no matter which way you choose to put your nautical look together, you can be sure you’ll look shipshape!