My tulips are coming out of hibernation, and the early morning chirping of the birds is telling me spring is here. I am looking forward to warmer weather, sunglasses, and lighter colors. I remember meeting a friend one warm spring day at the mall. I was wearing a blue and white striped dress and she was in shorts and a blue striped shirt. As we people watched, we noticed everyone else was also in nautical colors – blue, white, yellow, and red. This mass migration to the sea side (even if only in our wardrobes) has been going on for all of the 20th century. Vintage clothing, especially, has embraced nautical or sailor themed clothing as icons for summer play time. Swimming, biking, or shopping was all done in nautical sailor themed style.
Here are some vintage pictures of how nautical colors and sailor inspired designs have played a part in fashion from the 1920s to 1950s, followed by a few outfit ideas to get you ready for spring, summer, or a themed cruise vacation.
1920s Sailor Clothing
One of the most popular women’s sport clothes of the 1920s was the Middy top. It was a style directly copied from men’s official sailor uniforms, but fitted for women. A loose white or blue pullover shirt with a blue red or neck tie scarf and distinctive sailor flap made up this new style for women (although little children had been wearing it for many years prior).
As the roaring twenties danced on, white, blue, and red separates were mixed together for nautical inspired spring fashions. Sweaters and jackets layered over a white dress or skirt was the easiest mix. A blue or red scarf, hat and belt added even more variety. The color combination made the nautical look and it hasn’t left fashion since.
1930s Sailor Play Clothes
The 1930s embraced nautical colors and patterns for sportwear even more than the 1920s. Navy blue and white were still the primary patterns, but red took on a bigger role. Instead of just an accent color, it was the primary color of pants/ beach pajamas/overalls, skirts and tops too. Instead of solid colors, clothes also came in stripes or nautical flag prints.
Stripes, buttons, and anchors appeared on most 1930s nautical clothes. Stripes were seen running down the length of pant legs, while contrasting white or navy buttons appeared on the front pant flap. They appearance was again copied from men’s sailor uniforms. The middy blouse remained popular, but now women also had man-tailored blouses with pointed collars and small bows that combined the masculine and feminine together.
Even shoes were coordinated with nautical play clothes. Sporty tennis shoes, sandals, loafers, saddle Oxfords, and ghillies were all offered in blue and white, red and white, brown and white, and sometimes red and blue combinations. I love these. Sign me up for a pair of each!
The nautical color palette made its way to day dresses too. The middy top dress with “X” ties on the right is the most sailor inspired while the other dresses blend red, white and blue for a more subtle nautical style.
1940s Nautical Clothes
In the 1940s, high waisted navy pants with buttons continued to be very popular. The anchor motif appeared on every bit of clothing possible from pants to tops to playsuits. With World War II in full force, the nautical red white and blue color scheme doubled as patriotic support. Instead of only appearing during spring and summer, patriotic colors were worn year round.
Of course, the nautical look was still worn as a mark of spring/summer, too. Stripes became even more common in the 1940s, both on dresses and play clothes.
1950s Nautical Style
Dresses in the 1950s continued to have nautical elements, but by the mid ’50s the fascination with cute anchor motifs, stripes, and buttons was almost gone. Instead, fashion took on a more sophisticated inspiration of nautical colors and design details. Red, white, and blue were incorporated together into not-so-obvious patterns. Pink often replaced red as the new hot color of the 1950s. The overall look was still there, but it wasn’t a literal interpretation. By the 1960s, there was almost no sign of anything nautical left in fashion. It wouldn’t come back again until the 1980s.
Vintage Sailor / Nautical Style Today
It is no surprise that vintage style lovin’ gals gravitate towards sailor or nautical themed clothing each spring. They are just too darn cute not to wear! Here are some outfit ideas to inspire your spring wardrobe:
More Sailor Themed Dresses: