Stripes, anchors, knots, chains. Maybe a beret or a pair of pedal pushers. Throw in some sun and sand and what do you have? An iconic style that’s chic but casual, timeless but cutting-edge.
You may think we owe the nautical look to J. Crew and Land’s End catalogs, but really, we owe it to the French. The French Navy, to be specific.
The look became known as the Breton stripe, because the northern coastal region of Brittany was home to a major navy base. Today’s French Navy still uses stripes in some of their uniforms. In 1917, designer Coco Chanel adapted the Breton stripe for her collection. The rest, as they say, is history.In 1858, the French Navy introduced white-and-navy stripes for sailors’ uniforms. The idea was that the stripes made men overboard more visible in the waves. Each of the uniforms’ 21 stripes stood for one of Napoleon’s victories over the British.
Thanks to the Beat movement of the 1950s and the French Nouvelle Vague film movement of the 1960s, Breton stripes have had a long association with the bohemian lifestyle. But there’s also its social opposite, the preppy look, which embraces nautical stripes whole-heartedly. See—stripes are for everyone! If your name isn’t Biff or Buffy, and if your last name isn’t hyphenated, don’t worry. You can still pull off the nautical look. Consider these famous wearers of the Breton stripe: Andy Warhol, Kim Gordon, Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, and Duchess Kate. And, of course, Waldo.
The key to pulling off stripes is balance, as well as a strong sense of who you are. If you are into bold statements, go ahead and rock the black-and-white. White with navy or red retains more of that East Coast, preppy air.
Let’s say horizontal stripes are your body shape’s worst nightmare. No worries! You can incorporate bold, stripey accents with scarves or shoes. Or restrict stripes to your canvas tote bag. Because of its emphasis on red, white, and blue, the nautical look is also a terrific way to don festive attire for the Fourth of July without looking like a total cheeseball.
And stripes aren’t the only way to evoke white sand and marine waters. Jewelry accented with anchors is classic and stylish, evoking the anchor motif stamped on many vintage Navy uniform buttons. Love knots bring to mind the rigging on a boat, and chains are a natural pairing with anchors.
So relax. There’s no other look that encompasses drunken sailors, Brigitte Bardot, and Maggie Shipstead’s novel Seating Arrangements. The nautical look has been with us for nearly a century, and it’s posed to last at least another 100 years.
By Sara Bir