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Nautical inspired Magazine Cover, Editorial on Modern Vintage

From Tommy Hilfiger to Ralph Lauren, maritime couture has survived the rough waters of mass-consumed fashionand avoided the deadly rocks of becoming a style cliché. We all love a good stripe and an anchor brooch, but when did the nautical theme catch on? Better yet, how did it become such a staple trend? Here’s the story of how a simple navy and white colour palette became the lifeboat of Spring/Summer collections for the past one hundred years.

 Although nods to nautical elements had been seen in both men’s and women’s fashion since the seventeenth century, it wasn’t until two controversial queens gave their seal of approval that the trend became mainstream. The first was Queen Victoria, who had a bespoke sailor suit designed for her son Albert in 1846. From that point, the nautical look became a mark of status that rippled through America and Europe for the remainder of her reign.

 The second queen that made the nautical look a bonafide frenzy was Coco Chanel, when in 1917 she introduced her ‘Breton’ shirt. Inspired by the classic and comfortable attire of local French fishermen, her collection went viral. Since then nautical elements have shown up on runways every decade since, cementing the deep infatuation that had been brewing between sailor utility style and high fashion.

 Ralph Lauren, John Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint-Laurent also made the trend integral to some of their most revered collections, the latter responsible for a nautical renaissance on the catwalk in 1962. Inspired by his friend Jean Cocteau, who was already dressing in utility wear, the naval collar and reefer jacket were key elements in YSL’s SS62 collection.

 But it wasn’t just the catwalk that encouraged the love affair between maritime fashion and the city ‘It’ girls. Vogue has featured numerous nautical covers and content, namely in the 1930s and 1950s.     


Vogue and Harpers Bazaar editorials on Nautical Fashion Trend


 In the early stages of the twentieth century and before the First World War, the most popular backdrop for nautical fashion was at the beach, naturally. Swimdresses were designed with a mock sailor scarf based on those found in the British Navy. By the 1920s middy blouses, used for school uniforms and sports, had become a full-blown fashion trend with flappers and the upper-classes. By the 1930s, cotton pique (regular ‘Polo shirt fabric’ to us civilians) was being used to construct whole outfits, stepping up the sporty and nautical fashions of the previous decade.

One may think that the trend would have relaxed throughout the 1940s, but it only became stronger. Due to the Second World War, military wear became a sign of loyalty and patriotism, which meant the two-tone palettes and structured uniform-like looks were on trend more than ever. 

Elements of the nautical theme continued in one way or another throughout the second half of the twentieth century - such as the bellbottoms that took over in the 1970s - and is now regarded as a fully solified trend in the twenty-first century.Espadrilles, rope belts, navy striped tops and peacoats are all something we may find in our personal closets without questioning their military heritage.

Whether it’s a pair of loose-fitting navy culottes, your favourite cork wedges or a boat neck striped jumper, the nautical trend is part of our day-to-day lives.

Who would’ve thought of Queen Victoria as the trendsetter for the next two centuries?

By Emma Atkinson