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Maritime Fashion: A Success Story

When working on a new pattern collection, exploring the style that inspired us and understanding its historical background can be a captivating journey. In this article, we are taking you on a quest through the past centuries, diving into the emergence of the Maritime style and the impact it has on the fashion world up to this day.

Maritime Fashion: a success story

A novel idea enthuses the masses when it is attractive, practical, affordable, and sensible, and ideally when a visionary, competent, and charismatic personality adopts it and promotes the product. That is the case in business, in politics, but, of course, in fashion as well.

Gabrielle Chanel and Deauville

Deauville: the meeting place of elegance and money in 1913. Here, Gabrielle Chanel opened a fashion boutique in this chic French seaside resort‘s city center. Chanel celebrated her crazy ideas, contradicting the prevailing fashion trends, confusing high society with her male-inspired attire and comfortable shoes – and with rounded toes as well. Yet her business flourished; situated on the most elegant street in town, flaunting a large, white awning with CHANEL inscribed in large black letters in the sun. However, dark clouds gathered on the horizon as Deauville felt the pressure of an imminent war, and in 1914, an oppressive heatwave hit the town. 

The birth of a new fashion style

„It was definitely possible, aided by a hot summer fraught with danger, that women were willing to wear loose, casual clothing. That is when Chanel implemented a plan, she had had in mind for a long time. . . This is how the first design was created, reminiscent of a middy blouse due to its cut and a stable-boy’s sweater due to its material. It had a loose cut and did not require a corset.“
Excerpt from Edmonde Charles-Roux “Chanel”, publisher Volk und Welt, Berlin, 2nd edition, 1986, page 177

and it did not remotely conform to any of the fashion trends of the time, which intentionally accentuated the female figure. However, the adoption of loose-fitting maritime clothing amongst women confirmed that Chanel’s vision was correct. 


Gabrielle Chanel was constantly on the lookout for new ideas. She was even inspired by trendy details in men’s fashion. When she observed fishermen wearing striped shirts on the beach in Normandy, she was excited about the shirts’ comfort and the stylish sailor image. A new idea; a classic, was born! The »maritime« fashion style spread rapidly.


The other side: Sailor-clothing throughout the ages

As long as there has been shipping, people have attempted to protect themselves against severe weather conditions by wearing appropriate clothing. In the early and late Middle Ages, so-called cagoules were commonplace. They were hoods with attached shoulder capes of varying lengths. In the broadest sense, cagoules were the predecessors of sou’westers, which were later worn by sailors.Very little is known about maritime clothing worn during the 16th century Renaissance time period. Maritime clothing was designed to protect! Calf-length dungarees with a matching coat are well-known. A variety of clothing and impractical woolen watch caps can be seen in old drawings. Often there was no difference between the clothing worn by workers on board and those working on land.


Die neue side: uniform workwear

The English were the first to outfit their ship crews with uniforms in 1623. However, uniforms only became official in other countries in the 18th century. With different designs and colors, these outfits consisting of jackets, shirts, undershirts, pants, shoes, and caps established a uniform. By the way, this caps, also called the matelot, was worn by workers and revolutionaries, as well as children, during the time of the French Revolution.


Maritime clothing in the 19th century

What we recognize as the famous sailor suit – a dark blue two-piece outfit consisting of long, wide-leg pants, a pea coat with a high angular collar, and a sailor cap – has only been known as the original since 1830. The large tar flap, often made of leather, is reminiscent of times when sailors had to pull heavy ropes over their shoulders. Increasingly, the details gained significance, such as the iconic stripes, which can already be traced back to paintings of the 17th century. There must be 21. In 1858, the French Navy established the naval uniform details by decree. In between the 21 white, 20-millimeter (0.79-inch) wide stripes, came the 21 blue stripes, which were half as wide, plus, in addition, three-quarter length sleeves with 14 stripes.


Legends and myths inspire maritime style 

Do the stripes refer to Napoleon’s 21 victories against the British, or did the first fishermen use them as a talisman to protect themselves from drowning on the high seas if they were to go overboard, or do they only symbolize ocean waves? We do not know exactly. Even the three white cords that England added to the blue uniform have a hidden meaning. They are intended to commemorate the three naval battles in which England’s Admiral Nelson defeated Napoleon’s fleet. All these archetypal narratives aided nautical fashion. One always associates a middy blouse with tradition and history – no matter how new it is.

A new fashion emerges from nautical workwear

As early as the second half of the 19th century, fashion designers used nautical outfits for their designs in England, France, and Germany, initially for little boys, but women also adorned themselves with women’s blouses and dark blue pleated skirts. A painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter is famous for showing the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England, in a typical sailor suit in 1846. The Breton shirt, the striped shirt, also called the marinière (striped sweater) nowadays, was born the moment Gabriel Chanel saw it, and helping it become a success did not take long. Before long, this sailor image became a style icon for the French way of life, for women and men alike. 

Thus, the basic outfit is very simplistic: essentials include a navy blue and white striped shirt; beige, white, or blue chinos; a blue jacket with gold buttons and flat shoes, ballet flats, sneakers, or boat shoes. A scarf or a tie can complete the look, as well as red, rarely yellow, and turquoise accessories. The focal point, above all, are the stripes. Whether it is a polo shirt accompanying casual shorts or worn under a stylish jacket: the ensemble, with its white and blue striped nautical shirt, dresses the modern individual for every occasion.


Maritime style: A triumph for comfortable, chic fashion

The striped sweater’s triumph was also unstoppable in other countries and increasingly became a symbol of the modern avant-garde lifestyle. Artists, intellectuals, and actors discovered the Breton shirt. Whether it was Audrey Hepburn, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Seberg, Jean Belmondo, Elisabeth Taylor, Catherine Deneuve, Henry Fonda, or many others: they all felt happy wearing the comfy, casually elegant striped sweater – in their private lives, as well as in a variety of their movies. This look immediately evokes an image of the ocean, sand, and gentle waves, so it has a pure vacation feel. Whether it be in daily life or during time off: maritime fashion is extremely comfortable and is suitable for every occasion.


And today? Available from all premium brands and in every online shop

Even in high street fashion today, the blue and white sailor-look products are en vogue. Major fashion houses are adopting nautical themes, changing, and combining them, but stripes must always endure. Whether it be in exclusive flagship stores or online: the sought-after, casual outfits are offered with the best finishes and in different price brackets. The stripe sizes, shades, and different arrangements, result in variety, no matter the brand. All premium brands offer their products in a wide range of price brackets. By the way, the striped Breton shirt was the first unisex garment. The sailor suit was already of great importance in children’s clothing, as early as the 19th century, but also up to present times as a school uniform, especially in Japan and Hungary.


Vogue magazine writes: Also, in more recent times, the striped shirt continues to be as popular as ever with style icons such as Alexa Chung and Sienna Miller, and among the French fashion and film star community, from Caroline de Maigret to Clémence Poésy. Casually combined with jeans or elegantly worn with XXL blazers – the former sailor shirt is a fashion classic that can be used for all occasions.


One final tip in closing that has proven itself, time and again, over the past decades: combine your striped shirt with red lipstick. 


You want to learn more? Read also our article about Deauville – the pearl of the Côte Fleurie.