The beach casts a strong influence over our summer style choices but as the weather takes on a decided chill, should we still cast our eyes seaward for fashion inspiration? Absolutely.
Men’s fashion has long drawn inspiration from the sea, especially at its most uninviting. This is especially the case for German-born designer Umit Benan, who in his most recent collection sent his models (some of whom looked like they’d just stepped off a deep sea trawler) down the catwalk sporting fishing rods, buckets of water and even a pair of waterproof dungarees to create a bit of fisherman chic and catwalk theatre.
While the rugged nature of the seafaring life might seem to have little in common with the cool sophistication of high fashion, a bit of nautical inspiration can result in a masculine look, without an over-reliance on plaid shirts.
Ignoring the maritime clichés of the hankie around the neck, or the skippers’ hat tipped jauntily to one side, here are five items that are not only inherently linked to life at sea, but are genuine style classics.
The duffle, with its large patch pockets and wooden toggle fastenings, is one of the great gifts from life at sea to the world of fashion.
While initially made for sailors in the Royal Navy around the time of World War I, they became so popular that they were traded amongst members of the UK army and Royal Flying Corp. In WWII they were issued to the UK’s first raiders behind enemy lines, the Long Range Desert Group (later to become the SAS).
Montgomery Outdoor, an original supplier of duffle coats to the British Navy in the 19th century, continues to produce its jackets in the East End of London from Italian fabric.
“The outside plain colour is actually knitted on the same machine at the same time as the tartan inside layer,” says Montgomery Outdoor manager, David Mills. “So it’s actually one layer, one fabric, which means that it is so much more waterproof and strong.”
And now that many duffle coats feature sharper silhouettes and are available in a variety of lengths, a modern edge has been added to this seafaring classic.
Unless you’re actually on a boat in the middle of winter, you might find it hard to justify the addition of a duffle coat to your wardrobe. However, its close relation, the pea coat – which is double-breasted and sits just at the top of the thighs – may better fit the bill.
Mills explains it also originates from the British Navy, just prior to WWII. “Officers would prefer them to the duffle coat, especially when wanting to look smarter at night,” says Mills.
As many men know, few garments ooze the suaveness of a pea coat, while also keeping you as warm as toast on a cold winter’s night.
Taking its name from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, the jumper was originally knitted for the fishermen who sailed out into the merciless Atlantic. There are a large number of different Aran patterns, each representing a different clan. However, they weren’t created to reflect different tastes in style; they often had a much more sombre use.
Due to the fierce nature of the seas the men would fish in, many fell overboard and were washed up on beaches. In such cases, the pattern on the sweater would be pivotal in identifying the body.
English manufacturer Sunspel makes its Aran jumpers from uniquely spun merino wool to make them them distinctly lighter and softer than wools typically associated with Aran knits.
“The Aran is a classic style and can be worn with chinos or jeans for a timeless look,” says Sunspel CEO, Nicholas Brooke.
Like the duffle coat, the submariner’s sweater was standard issue kit from the UK War Office to Royal Navy personnel in both World Wars. And, as with the Aran, it was also used by sailors to keep out the bitter chill of the North Atlantic.
Today, lighter wools have enabled manufacturers to take the bulk out of the sweater to give it a more modern style. With its rounded collar keeping your neck warm, even on an Arctic sort of day you’ll feel as though you’re still nestling under a doona.
The Breton stripe is one nautically-inspired style that doesn’t require a plummeting of the mercury to throw on. Originally, the striped shirt formed part of the uniform for sailors in the French Navy in the 19th century and was later adopted by the fishermen of Brittany. Throughout the 20th century the classic stripe was seen on actors, writers and artists alike, cementing its status as an iconic style.
So as the mercury drops over the coming months, think about channeling your inner sea dog for a cool and rugged look. You might not know one end of a boat from the other, but in this gear you’ll be dressed well enough to float a few.