On a recent sojourn to the south coast, walking along the shore in the shadow of the chalky and savage cliffs, I rediscovered my connection with the sea. It was not a particularly fine day and nor was it a remarkable stretch of coastline, but it was the utterly romantic situation; gazing out to a wild, unforgiving open water standing at the meeting place of land and sea, salt water spraying onto my face and a quite incredible wind that made me feel glad for my warm hat and high-collared coat. I was surrounded by the elements, isolated from the comforts promised by the distant lights of cliff-top homes and it was a remarkable feeling.
I have often envied those living the nautical life; back and forth on ocean going vessels, pacing down teak decking, the bobbing up and down, and the quiet summer evenings anchored in quaint harbours with a front row seat of the twinkling onshore lights. Nautical people seem never to forget the sea; it never leaves them. You stay on water long enough and you’ll probably have salt water running through your veins.
The British have long been a seafaring people. It’s a hefty weave of the rich tapestry of our island that we have always built ships and have always spent a significant amount of our time, for work or pleasure, moving about on them. And it is perhaps because of this heritage that I feel a warm connection to all things nautical, especially the nautical style of clothing.
The nautical look is a fashion that can be traced back to the mid-Victorian period, when a portrait was produced of the young Prince Edward, heir to the Empire, in a sailor’s outfit. Although it was merely a miniature version of the outfits worn by ratings on the Royal Yacht and not at all a serious expression of fashion, it became a wildly popular choice of children’s clothing by the end of the 19th century as parents were obliged to emulate the whims of the royals.
The ‘sailor’s fashions’; once connected with the coarse and unrefined ship hands, had become a vogue for young people the world over and it would not be long before Coco Chanel turned the classic merchant navy simplicity of colouring into a complex range of fashions displayed in her Deauville and Biarritz boutiques in navy, white, splashes of red and stripes; it was simple and yet elegant.
Nowadays, gents are as likely to dress like a sea captain as they are a lumber jack from the forest or a lounge-lizard from Knightsbridge. It is an accepted style, and what a style it can be. With blue striped jumpers under pea-coats, crisp navy double breasted blazers, white trousers and smart canvas shoes, ‘nauticising’ your look could never be simpler. The colours are wearable and classic and the lines are forgiving to men of all shapes and sizes; I think one would be very hard pushed to find a chap who views navy blue as a dangerously experimental colour.
Keeping the ‘detail’ to a minimum is important; no stitched-on anchors or captain’s hats. The homage to the sea should be done, and easily can be done, tastefully.