Decked Out-Nautical Fashion through the Ages

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.

Edward Albert, Prince of Wales- 1846

Portrait Edward Albert, Prince of Wales- 1846

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!

Nautical style dress 1880

Nautical style dress 1880

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And one of the other places where the sailor influence first appeared was naturally at the beach. Below is a sailor swimdress from 1913.

1880 Sailor inspired swimsuit

1880 Sailor inspired swimsuit-Photo Library of Congress

Edwardian sailor dress circa 1914. On right a very cool nautical style sweater from 1917 Ladies Home Journal. I would definitely wear that today!

Nautical fashion early 1900s

Nautical fashion early 1900s

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.

Coco Chanel in sailor stripes

Coco Chanel in sailor stripes

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.

1920s Sailor Style dress

1920s Sailor Style dress

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.

Middy blouses

Middy blouses

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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!

1930s Nautical fashions

1930s Nautical fashions

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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?

Actress Marian Marsh 1932

Actress Marian Marsh 1932

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!

Nautical style dresses 1940 Life Magazine

Sailor dresses 1940 Life Magazine

Cute 1940s Playclothes.

Nautical fashion 1940s

Nautical fashion 1940s

Nautical fashion editorial in McCalls Magazine 1957

nautical dresses mcalls 1957

Nautical inspired summer looks  McCalls 1957

Nautical dress 1957

Nautical dress 1957

Jenny and Patty Boyd rocking the Mod nautical look in the 60s.

nautical-fashion-1960s

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Model Colleen Colby wearing adorable sailor style Bobby Brooks swimsuit,  Seventeen Magazine 1965.

Bobbie Brooks swimsuit 1965

Bobbie Brooks swimsuit 1965

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Bellbottoms were the nautical inspired look that ruled in the 1970s.
These outfits  by Katies label- 1975

Nautical fashion 1975

Nautical fashion 1975

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Again, bellbottoms.  Worn with a long belted striped shirt. Would wear this in a heartbeat!
The chic pleated dress definitely has the Chanel influence.

Fashion by Maglia 1973

Fashion by Maglia 1973

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Christian Dior sailor dress, L’Officiel 1978

Christian Dior Boutique sailor dressr 1978

Christian Dior Boutique sailor dress 1978

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Karen Alexander sailor dress-Vogue 1984

Karen Alexander sailor dress-Vogue 1984

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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!

By | 2015-06-09T21:42:36+00:00 June 9th, 2015|Fashion|Comments Off on Decked Out-Nautical Fashion through the Ages

About the Author:

Theresa
Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.