From dockyard workers to Captain Cooks, the style of the mariner will always be a firm sartorial favourite among us vintage guys. Big ol’ beards, pea coats and smart navy uniforms; there’s a lot to choose from if you want to delve into the depths of nautical clothing. Steering clear of the murky waters of fancy dress, George Walker shows you Kings of Vintage how to get an authentic and yet wearable nautical look.

My favourite take on seafaring style is shown perfectly in the picture below of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in the dramatic gangster film The Roaring Twenties (1939). These understated all-black sailors’ outfits reveal why men’s fashion designers picked up on naval uniforms as a source of inspiration in later decades. Like many of the vintage looks for men we have looked at so far, the attire of the naval officer or fisherman was developed solely for functional and ceremonial reasons, and yet now it has permeated into mainstream fashion.

Currently Breton tops, pea coats and deck shoes are all over the high street, but it’s in vintage shops where you’ll find the truly durable and authentic nautical garments. After all, if you turned up with some rather too shiny deck shoes and a pea coat that hadn’t seen the seven seas, you’d be laughed off the poop deck- surely! (Note: This is a ship of authentic, yet fashion-conscious mariners I am referring to here, a ship that exists solely in my mind.)

James Cagney in The Roaring Twenties

One major thing to remember is that the nautical look works best if you pair a garment that has fisherman flair or sailor suaveness with more neutral items from your wardrobe. In Anchors Aweigh (1945), Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra look brilliant (pictured left), but unless you actually are a sailor, this look may be going a tad too far.

Having said that (and yes I do often contradict myself), I did see a pretty amazing outfit the other day:  A guy wearing a navy vintage sailor’s tunic with navy cords, a grey beanie hat and a pretty fantastic beard. Not everyone can pull such a look off, but it’s certainly worth the try. A good rule of thumb is to look in the mirror before you leave the house and ask: “Do I look like an extra from YMCA’s hit video In the Navy?” If the answer is yes, perhaps tone it down a little.


Vintage King of the Week

I bumped into this week’s Vintage King during London Fashion Week. Although it was great to see all the new designs for the coming seasons, I was quietly happy to see that all the true stylish folk could be heard saying the words ‘vintage’ and ‘heirloom’ to the streetstyle photographers who asked what they were wearing. Vintage will always be best, you see?

Here student Yuta shows us how to wear traditional sailor garb in an individual and striking way. There are piles of pea coats and striped Breton tops like these in good vintage shops. What I loved about Yuta’s look in particular was the unusual cream colour of that pea coat and the bravery to take on the nautical look with two items up top.



Pea coat vintage trends

Style Tip No. 1- The Pea Coat

Designed to warm naval officers in the coldest of conditions, the pea coat is a double-breasted heavy wool jacket, usually coming in either black or navy. This Second World War pea coat is full of history, with only a slight mark on the front. It’s a real historical vintage piece, but very wearable and affordable.

Sailor Jumper

Style Tip No.2- Make an ode to anchors

The anchor is the iconic symbol for all nautical professions, be it the navy or the explorer. This jumper is a wonderfully kitsch ode to this tradition. Subtle it is not, but fun and a bit of a statement? Oh yes.

This is the kind of jumper I put on when it’s raining outside and all looks a bit grey. Who couldn’t be happy in that happy sailor motif?

Breton Top

Style Tip No.3- The Breton Top

The Breton stripe came from fishing communities in Brittany to catwalks around the world. Jean Paul Gaultier has made the Breton stripe a central focus of his collection, playing on the unisex look of the garment to deconstruct the masculinity associated with fishing communities for an altogether more androgynous image.

This Breton top is the standard style. You may also find Breton jumpers in your local vintage shop that have buttons on the shoulder. If you choose to wear it macho-style seafarer or alternative bohemian boy, well, that’s up to you.