Fisherman have long had a romantic appeal to land lubbers and their clothing has been prized for it’s warmth and practicality, in the past items like the ‘Greek’ fisherman’s cap have been staples of mens fashion but these days the most common items are woollen sweaters associated with north atlantic islanders. Recent years have also seen the fisherman’s hooded raincoat gain popularity, often in bonded rubber with several traditional manufacturers offering slimmer, fashion friendly versions.
Fishermen in the north Atlantic have long worn woollen garments, likely introduced by the vikings when they settled the coasts of Ireland, Scotland and northern France. Wool was used for both its warmth and the naturally occurring lanolin in its fibres, this oil gave the wool a natural water resistance that would protect the wearer at sea. Modern sweaters rarely have lanolin as it is usually removed during the processing & softening of the wool. Despite press stories to the contrary, the modern fishermans sweaters have their roots in the late 1800s when particular styles were standardised and sold commercially outside of the small island communities where they were made. There are countless varieties but the defining characteristics were a close fit and a heavy texture in order to keep the cold out. These are three of the most versatile Fisherman’s sweater styles:
Named for the tiny Aran Islands found off the west coast of Ireland, Aran sweaters are a staple of winter collections and renowned for their intricate textures and warmth. While originally available in a plain ecru wool and knitted by hand, they are now found in countless textures & colours and largely mass produced.
This example from Inis Meáin is among the best available, while sticking closely to the original sweater designs it uses a luxurious blend of wool & cashmere. As a nice bonus, it’s actually produced on one of the Aran Islands. That said they’re available for every budget, with mass produced models from companies like Aran Crafts coming in at around €60/$80, making them an affordable winter basic.
The Shetlands are an island chain found to the north of Scotland and south of Norway famed for their native breed of hardy sheep and its soft, highly insulating wool. While there is a variety of Shetland sweaters (the intricately patterned Fair Isle being among the most famous) the name has come to refer to the plain-knit type that found favour in the Ivy League students of the 1950s & ‘60s. Despite its adaptation by east coast moneyed types, its origins are very much as a hard wearing fisherman sweater. Its slightly more versatile as the plain weave means it can be worn easily with more formal clothing. A popular version is the brushed shetland where the wool has been carded with steel brushes in order to soften it—the Shaggy Dog for example. Available from countless vendors both in America & the uk but, we like Andersons of Shetland for the sheer variety of options. They will knit you one in almost any colour & style and at a very reasonable price.
Guernsey sweaters were once so common in the British Isles that the word itself became synonymous with a sweater. Originally knitted for the fisherman on the small Island of Guernsey off the north coast of France (seeing a pattern here?) and later finding popularity throughout coastal communities. Made from a tight weave in order to repel water, they are also generally symmetrical, allowing them to be put on both ways. The Guernsey is quite similar to the traditional Aran with the difference in that it’s almost always in navy, and often with a plainer, tighter pattern around the neck and base of the sweater. While its peak of popularity might have been during the Victorian era, its a classic and restrained style with plenty of strong visual interest. There are several traditional makers that sell Guernseys for reasonable prices, but we like this model from Old Town with its ‘skylark’ emblem.
Fisherman sweaters are full of texture, tend to be on the boxier side and are best seen as a casual option paired with jeans, textured cotton trousers (like corduroy or moleskin) or plain chinos in heavier weights. At the most formal you might style a shetland sweater with a sport coat (in the Ivy style) but generally keep in mind that these are workwear and fit most comfortably in that world. For something with the spirit of fishing sweaters, but a slimmer more modern styling you can check out Danish knitwear company sns Herning.
Fisherman have always needed protection from the elements and an early innovation was oil-treated cloth jackets (using resin or fat) to repel the water and keep their woollen clothing dry underneath. The early oil cloths into the 1900s were usually in dull tones, but when dyeing became easier they were created in brighter oranges, yellows & reds—the better to be spotted in if one fell overboard. The smelly, and degradable oil cloths were replaced with rubberised cotton parkas. It is this style that has gained in popularity in recent years, while the originals are a bit too shapeless and obviously utilitarian for casual use, Scandinavian rainwear companies like Elka & Grundens have created fashion friendly models, and we love the Arpenteur jacket in garbadine for something a bit more refined.
Like most things nautical the raincoat is more casually orientated, the virtue of these jackets are their great weather protection, but you probably want to rock them with jeans, heavy sweaters, wool caps—fisherman style.
While most nautical clothing has a long history going back as far as the 18th century, the recent popularity of Americana and especially the Japanese enthusiasm for American reproductions has seen all manner of once obscure us naval garments become popular items.
Earlier deck jackets were issued in a sturdy denim but as wwii was underway they decided to commission a heavier cold weather jacket, the design chosen was of olive tropical cloth tightly woven to keep out the wind and lined in alpaca pile, with two hip pockets, high lined collar and buttoned flap over the zip. Essentially a hybrid chore coat/blouson jacket which makes it a very nice cold weather casual option. Designers like Dana Lee have made modified N-1s in the past, and repo companies like Buzz Ricksons & Spiewak have more authentic takes, but this season we like the Saturdays nyc model, which has a slightly trimmer fit.
The 30s-era cpo shirt (Chief Petty Officer) has seen an explosion of popularity in the last decade, thats a tribute to its versatility and simplicity. Essentially a utility over-shirt, originally in navy wool flannel with 1 or 2 patch pockets on the breast with variations including hip pockets, press studs and models done in cotton. It’s extremely wearable and great for autumn/winter layering. It pops up every season from Japanese brands like Engineered Garments to high street shops like J.Crew & Club Monaco. A favourite this season is by Beams in cotton, with hip pockets.
In the history of naval warfare, submarines are a fairly recent entry, although the idea was developed as early as the 1700s the practical and widespread use of the vessels was only really seen at the advent of wwi where they were used effectively by Germany to disrupt British shipping. Submarines were always somewhat of a roguish element of the navy proper, going on long, solitary and extremely dangerous patrols, in close confinement where strict navy discipline might be relaxed and beards allowed to grow. One British Lord Admiral was unable to disguise his distaste for the service calling them “underhand, unfair and damned un-English” further declaring that the crews were pirates and to be hanged upon capture. This status was embraced by crews in the British navy who took to creating personalised Jolly roger’s for their vessels, the Germans too had a reputation for non-conformity, painting their ships with personalised emblems like black cats, swordfish & aces.
In both world wars the British Royal Navy issued the somewhat short, thick, wool rollneck sweaters, in ecru, grey & navy for use in cold weather. These were especially useful for the atlantic convoys bringing vital supplies through rough seas and highly favoured by submariners who were often patrolling the frigid waters of the north sea, so much so that many of the reproduction models simply refer to them as “The Submariner.” As with the duffle coat & other navy issue clothing, the rollneck sweater became a standard piece of civilian clothing, like much from the navy it was warm, affordable & rugged and it was especially favoured by motorcyclists.
While there are countless fashion orientated variations its hard to beat the simplicity and style of the original. North Sea Clothing offers one of the best reproductions—designed as a slightly modernised take on the originals. North Sea also carries a great selection of naval inspired garments that are well worth a look. If you don’t think you can pull off the full rollneck, Danish company Anderson-Anderson does a great funnel neck (half rollneck) with similar styling and built in thumb-holes.
Looks great with jeans, chinos & peacoat. Once again navy works with navy, you want to stick on the rugged side of things. This photo from The Satorialist is some nice styling of a north sea rollneck.
Despite its commonplace descendent “The Barbour International” this is one of the lesser known pieces of naval clothing. Early in the second world war Captain Philips (not Tom Hanks) of the submarine hms Ursula noticed one of his crew members, a motorcycling enthusiast, wearing a pair of Barbour waxed cotton overalls. Seeing how effective the overalls were against the harsh weather, Philips designed a two-piece, four-pocket suit with hood & high lined collar. He asked Barbour to manufacture it for his crew and the suit was a huge success. It became known as the ‘Ursula Suit’ and was standard issue to men on watch (albeit modified with the breast pockets removed, not looking hugely different from the Barbour Bedale SL). Coming full circle in the post-war period surplus ursula jackets became hugely popular with motorcyclists who often removed the hood. This spurred Barbour to create ‘The International,’ an ursula-style moto jacket that became one of their icons, differentiated by its diagonal map pocket on the breast. The closest approximation of the naval Ursula today is the ‘Duke’ International model pictured, which has retained the straight four pocket style, although Barbour’s Dept B sub-brand has also created ursula-style hooded jackets in the past. If you have a spare grand hanging around the Brooks criterion cycling jacket is a refined, upmarket take on this style.
While the sea has long been a place of exploration, we’re not going to try and suggest that the breeches of Vasco Da Gama or feathered hats of Columbus are worth emulating. This section may as well be called ‘Jacques Cousteau.’ No man has done more to publicise and push forward the exploration of the seas and later to strongly promote their preservation. He was also an early adaptor and innovator of the diver's watch and had a fantastic personal uniform that has become a ubiquitous urban style. When you see the red watch cap paired with a chambray shirt who else can you think of?
While wool caps have been a staple of fishermen and seafarers back many hundreds of years, the modern styles tend to be based on the us navy watch cap, with its flattened top and ridged fisherman’s knit. Still favoured for naval use (though modern caps tend to be synthetics rather than wool) especially as the seaman can still see clearly with it on—unlike a hood. Vintage examples are fairly easy to come by and affordable, often with the navy surplus patch which is a nice detail, but we like this knitted civilian model by Howlin’ not quite Cousteau red more of a wine burgundy, a little bit easier to match.
Chambray is a fabric dating from the industrial revolution that was originally a sort of glossy linen pressed mechanically under high temperatures for shine. When it comes to the modern varieties we’re talking about the treated cotton or cotton linen blend work shirts, a sort of plain weave denim that was especially popular in the early to mid 20th century. Chambray has a great versatility and a lighter touch and feel than denim, all while retaining a deep texture. Countless models are available but we’re fond of the varied tones of the Aspesi one pictured. Sid Mashburn has a great slightly more elegant model in a linen blend with button down collar.
They say success has many fathers and failure is an orphan and this is very much the case with diver watches. Countless heritage watch brands make the claim that they were the first, the original. In a way this is true. There was no single innovation that could really be called the breakthrough: Rolex & Omega created the first waterproofs in the 1920s, Panerai the first diver specific model in the 1930s (and first with glowing dials created with cancer-inducing radium) but the first diver watch as we know it today with an oversized dial, glow-in-the-dark face & the rotating bezal allowing divers to see how long they have been underwater, is the 1953 Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. The FF was commissioned and designed under the supervision of Bob Maloubier the head of France’s elite naval divers. That said, the Rolex Submariner which arrived shortly after in 1954 is probably the definitive divers watch, made even more so by its appearance on Sean Connery’s James bond in the 1962 film ‘Dr No.’ thus marking the end of the era of fine dress watches and the beginning of the enormous status watch. The original divers are well out of most people’s price range, luckily this guide from Cultural Dispatch has you covered with loads of under $250-or-less dive watches.
It was in the late 1800s that the ‘seaside as destination’ first took hold. Industrial workers had fought and won their first vacation time and often used it to make a brief trip to the seaside for some sun and relaxation. This was also a time of extreme sexual repression so people’s bathing wear usually consisted of modesty preserving full body coverings constructed in wool and not exactly fit for purpose. The real innovation in seaside clothing wouldn’t come until the post-war leisurewear boom in America—a time that saw the first synthetic swim trunks, boating & deck shoes, which remain summer basics to this day.
The early days of swimwear are pretty ignoble, horrible bodysuits made of scratchy and hard to dry wool, later high-waisted underwear of clingy cotton, often paired with less than flattering matching singlets. In the case of the surf enthusiasts—who had been slowly making their way from the cultural home of surf in Hawaii to California—swimwear consisted of a pair of cut-off chinos. This began to change as the ‘50s wore on. New synthetic fabrics were developed and used to create the first real made for purpose swim trunks, the kind seen on James Bond in his early films: slim fitting with adjustable tabs and a more flattering cut with robust fabrics. In the case of the burgeoning surf culture, small companies like Birdwell Beach Britches and the Hawaiian tailor’s shop M.Nii produced sturdy shorts specially modelled for the sport. Faithful reproductions of the early leisure trunks are available from Sunspel and Olebar Brown.
It’s hard to go wrong with a broad stripe or pocket tee paired with some sneakers with surf trunks (we like the ones from Jungmaven), or espadrilles & a navy polo for the more sophisticated Bond style.
While they are both for the same purpose and generally serve the same role, the two types of shoe referred to as ‘deck shoes’ are quite different in appearance. In 1935 Alfred A. Sperry, upon noticing his dogs ability to stay steady on the wet surface of his boat, carved the soles of his shoes with fine lines in emulation of the dogs paws. Seeing how well this worked he began to create moccasin styled shoes with a non-slip rubber sole known as the Sperry ‘topsider’.
While the design was popular in his native New England, it remained a niche product until the us navy brought the right to create canvas shoes with the same Sperry Topsider sole. The cvo deck shoe as the new shoes were known, was a thick soled, vulcanized rubber sneaker that came in both low & high top styles in ecru or brown canvas. With the success of the navy contract Sperry was brought out by us Rubber co. who marketed them heavily across the country where they were widely emulated (the Vans Original is anything but) and embraced by the general public. These days Sperry is a shadow of its former self with the shoes now made abroad, falling well short of the original models. Luckily almost every New England shoe maker (Quoddy, Rancourt, New England Outerwear) seems to have a high quality version on the market. As for Deck cvos, there is off course Vans but for something with the thick soles and styling of the original you can’t go wrong with Wakouwa from Japan, available at the great Several shop and near identical to the original navy shoe except for the improved sole support.
This one’s pretty foolproof, both of these shoes are right at home on the beach in a pair of shorts and tee, but they are smart enough to be paired with an oxford, some chinos or chords and a blazer for the classic Ivy League style.