Byline: Jessica Kerwin

NEW YORK — Sailors first put on bell-bottoms for practical reasons. After all, when you’re swabbing the deck, they’re the easiest to roll above the knee. As for navy blue, back in Roman times they used the hue to camouflage sail and uniform alike. Fashion’s love for the seafaring look, on the other hand, is all about style, practicality is a bonus. Its formal elements — brass buttons and dour epaulettes — add a bit of militaristic mystery to wardrobe staples, while nautical stripes and crisp whites evoke a luxe-life yachting fantasy. This season, designers drew not only from sailors of the professional and the Sunday set, but also from the tough dock workers and holiday revelers in their midst.

The U.S. Navy and its uniform are established with the same congressional act: Blue coats with red lapels and blue britches for the ranks, lace trimmings for the higher-ups.

Queen Victoria chooses a sweet sailor suit for the young Prince of Wales, kicking off a trend that has even the girls dressed as deck hands by 1870. Her Majesty’s Ship Blazer has an even bigger impact when, as legend has it, he calls in his tailor to create a fleet of matching brass-buttoned blue jackets for his disheveled crew. Get it? The navy blazer.

Coco Chanel opens her first shop in Deauville, France, and fills it with wide-legged doughboy pants, knit sailor’s shirts and straw sailor’s hats, a radically masculine look. In the 1920s, Chanel herself popularizes the new sportif chic. She steps out “as brown as a sailor,” turning the sun tan cool, and models her own clothes strolling along on the Riviera.

Mainbocher redesigns the WAVES uniform for the feminine arm of the U.S. Navy, nipping in jackets and letting out skirts in the wake of Christian Dior’s New Look of the previous year. In 1950 Mainbocher is commissioned by the U.S. Marine Corps Uniform Board to dress Col. Katherine A. Towle, first director of the women’s Marines, and to design the unit’s uniforms.

Chanel’s comeback collection draws on her love of the shore with navy suits, crisp white blouses and plenty of sailor hats.

Yves Saint Laurent takes the whole look Mod with A-line minis and Space-Age cool.

Early 1970s
The peacoat is something of a thinking person’s motorcycle jacket. The smart set get theirs from thrift shops and army/navy supply stores.

Ralph Lauren shows his navy officer’s coat over a T-shirt paired with linen shorts. The nautical look is an instant preppie classic.

Jean Paul Gaultier champions the striped fisherman’s sweater, while the grunge look borrows its knit cap and buffalo plaid jacket from Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront.”