Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sailor Style Evolution Part 5: Nautical Novelties - 1950s and Beyond

This is the final instalment in my series tracing the evolution of sailor fashions. I know it's been pretty long - I hope I haven't bored you! If you missed the beginning you can catch up on Part 1: Nautical Fashion is Born, Part 2: The Rise of the Middy, Part 3: Nautical Sails Again and Part 4: Wartime Patriotism.

Nautical styles having more or less vanished in the mid 1940s, they returned with a bang in the early 50s. The 1950s delighted in whimsy, and the sailor dress fit well with this love of novelty and themes - its popularity remained consistent throughout the decade.

Simplicity 4875, 1954

Simplicity 4876, 1954

Simplicity 4974, 1954

In a departure from the traditional naval colours rare since the 1930s, the sailor dress also made occasional forays into other palettes. The Dress E below was available in blue, brown and grey, and dress F in blue and grey.

Sears, 1954

Simplicity 1037, 1955

Sears, 1956

McCall's 4142, 1957

Simplicity 2260, 1957

Simplicity 2331, 1957

Sailor style was big news in 1958, attributable to the hugely successful film "South Pacific". The Sears & Roebuck catalogue for Spring/Summer that year featured heavily on nautical fashions, even selecting it for special attention as a 'fashion story' at the front of the catalogue.

Nor were the pattern companies idle, making a host of sailor styles available to the home seamstress.

Butterick 8466, 1958

Butterick 8595, 1958

McCall's 4499, 1958

As the fashion silhouette starts to move towards the boxier 60s styles you can see the original Middy blouse re-emerge in its traditional, loose-fitting form, not seen since the 1920s.

Simplicity 2391, 1958

Butterick 8477, 1959

Printed fabric for an "easy to make" instant middy blouse, Sears, 1959

And so we move into the 1960s. The styles of the late 50s carry over into the early 60s "Mad Men" era. Later on in the decade Mod fashion adopts Middy style dropwaist dresses, often with pleated skirts, again echoing the 1920s versions.

Butterick 3011, 1964 / Simplicity 6919, 1966

A quick chicken and egg question for you: Did sailor style bring bell-bottoms to 70s fashion, or did 70s bell-bottoms invite a nautical theme? Either way, 1972 seems to have been a big year for nautical style, with several new patterns appearing on the market that year.

Simplicity 9922, 1972 / McCall's 3142, 1972

Although I planned to include the 1970s purely in the interests of completeness, I have to admit to finding myself drawn to the playful, fit-and-flare A-line minidresses.

Simplicity 9982, 1972 / Simplicity 7541, 1976

Which brings our history of nautical fashions to a close (yes, there were nautical dresses in the 80s, but let's face it, which of you are really interested?). But wait, there's more! Yes, our unofficial nautical week continues tomorrow, so do tune in!


  1. I have these posts, thanks so much for sharing! You've really inspired me, I'm full of ideas for nautical-esque summer outfits :)

  2. Love McCall's 4142! Fabulous! I also really really love South Pacific.

  3. I have truely enjoyed your posts about sailor style! My husband is a sailor and I collect nautical/navy things. I've only been able to find a few sailor style patterns in my thift store/estate sale adventures though. I really love the ones you displayed!

  4. this is absolutely amazing! the amount of research here is crazy! thank you so much for doing this! I love the sailor motif! and now whenever I need a quick dose of it I know where to go!

    again, Thank you Thank you Thank you for puting this together.

  5. What a fabulous post. I found you via Sew Weekly. Very well researched and it's so interesting to see how each era adapts this trend.

  6. I found you via Sew Weekly as well, and so loved all of these posts. I just can't get enough of the sailor/nautical inspired looks. Thanks for all the great sources as well!

  7. I really enjoyed reading your take on sailor fashion! Very interesting and what great images! Thanks.

  8. Oh my! I found your site via Pinterest. I thought I was the only one who had a fondness for sailor couture! I really enjoyed your articles.

  9. So awesome!!!!!!! :) I saved some of these pictures for inspiration....maybe I'll be sewing a sailor dress next spring! Thanks for the awesome posts!


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