There comes a moment every season when your wardrobe feels in need of some kind of change. Look to trends that strike a balance between feeling fresh and having a long shelf-life: enter nautical style. As with all of the best things in life, the beauty of nautical fashion is in its simplicity. Three elements are all you need to climb aboard: navy, white and stripes. These key codes are a preppy-chic formula that offer endless possibilities to a wardrobe that speaks to menswear as much as it does womenswear – nautical clothing reinvents itself season after season.
The origins of this style are far from humble. Edward VII (the son of Queen Victoria) has long been considered to have steered the sailor uniform into stylish territory when immortalized in Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s 1847 oil painting in a sailor suit at the age of four years old. It was not until the 1930s that sartorial maritime markers navigated their way into the everyday style vocabulary when Coco Chanel pioneered what she referred to as, the ‘graphic sensibility’ of the stripe. Since then the nautical fashion influence has grown to include pea coats, officer’s caps, boat shoes, sailor pants and collars that emulate a naval uniform.
On recent runways, designers enlisting the nautical clothing trend included Miuccia Prada’s combination of Popeye hats and treasure chest charms for Prada styled back with 50s bowling shirts. Dolce & Gabbana’s conscripts sported red and black frogging jackets encrusted with military-esque badges, crystals and pearls with part-athletic, part-Napoleonic cropped Dolce & Gabbana trousers. Then there was the HMAS Hilfiger, a literal, life-sized cruise ship set built for the Tommy Hilfiger show from which models walked out sporting prints inspired by sailors' tattoos and looks that bordered on fancy dress.
For those looking to try the trend (without going overboard, excuse the pun), opt for modern classics that nod to nautical fashion: a Breton-stripe top, a billowing pirate-esque blouse, boat shoes or espadrilles paired simply with denim cut-offs. Or try a dungaree dress or black chino with a breezy, pinstriped shirt. The cooler months are perfect for carrying off pea coats, hussar jackets, fisherman jumpers and wide-leg trousers. To finish with a flourish, add a whimsical anchor brooch. Preen by Thornton Bregazzi offers most of these nautical-themed pieces, as well as striped dresses with a white sailor bib – just enough detail to capture sailor style territory.
When it comes to real life inspiration, there are several modes of approach. For those on their maiden voyage looking to dip their toes into the trend, try leaning towards styles with a timeless, classic appeal. Look to Jeanne Damas or Olivia Palermo whose understated yet polished looks are a study in refinement-meets-Riviera chic. Try tucking a Breton top into a pair of Stella McCartney skinny jeans, adding ballet flats and a Jane Birkin–inspired wicker basket to key into the 60s Riviera mood of nautical style. For those wishing to try something slightly more rock-n-roll, try tousled bed hair and ripped denim, opting for vertiginous stiletto heels as supermodel Kate Moss might or sling a leather blazer over your outfit reminiscent of poet and singer Patti Smith in the 70s.
If you are feeling brave and would like to dive into nautical fashion headfirst, London-based Australian Yasmin Sewell channels the look confidently in her signature, fashion-forward style. Her red-and-blue striped top paired with a classic navy overcoat and full lace skirt is a particularly winning combination – and one that can be experimented with easily.
Also worth studying are Anna dello Russo and Natasha Goldenberg’s subtle (yet statement making) interpretations. With the simple addition of Prada’s sailor hat, these two street style superstars used otherwise classic shapes and dialled-back palettes to tone down any similarities to costume.
Whatever you decide, it is best to be brave and adventurous. Whether clean and discreet or bold and audacious, you can be assured that your voyage across the fair seas of this trend will offer nothing but smooth sailing.