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Three Models Wearing Nautical Style on an Ocean background
 /  Style /  Old Money

8 Reasons Why Nautical Style Looks Great on a Guy

Matt Gulielmi
Expertise:

Style, Jewelry, Watches, Skincare, Brand Activations

Matt is a NYC-based merchandise planner in the luxury space and moonlights as a retail documentarian through his TikTok blog @retailecology. His fashion career has waltzed through styling for Michigan State's VIM Magazine, translating brand copy into Spanish for cosmetic startups, to managing inventory for some of the biggest retailers in the US. Read full bio.


Published: Mar 27, 2024
9 min read

If you’re unfamiliar with nautical style’s influence on menswear, some of its questionable trends come to mind like war flashbacks.

Nantucket red pants had their (thankfully brief) moment.

Designer silk shirts were peak Yacht-core, but have since been thrown overboard into an ocean of eBay listings.

Even boat shoes took over my land-locked hometown in the early 2010s.

It’s easy to feel the sting of our naïve fashion choices, but the nautical style is responsible for only a few of them.

In fact, it’s been a consistent source of masculine style for centuries.

Apparel icons such as striped tops and peacoats got their start on the backs of seafarers and the aesthetic is a favorite among men everywhere.

If you’re just dipping your toes in the water, it might sound like the aim is to steal Donald Duck’s look.

Just keep charting the course for eight reasons why the nautical style looks great on all guys, from Cap’n Crunch to JFK.

Bold, Yet Simple Color Palettes

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There aren’t many men’s style choices with such an iconic, recognizable color palette.

The classic colors are navy, red, and white as the base tones and black, green, yellow, and cream as the secondary colors.

The theme might invite thoughts of ritzy yacht outings or beach strolls on the cape, but the colorway isn’t just for summer excursions.

A dark-blue blazer with khaki pants is a summer staple, but the formal jacket can bring that maritime charm to a winter gathering when paired with dark grey wool trousers and a natural wool turtleneck sweater.

Red isn’t my go-to color, but it makes for an eye-catching statement when I’m using it as a secondary color for an ocean-inspired outfit.

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My Breton Stripe Short Sleeve Shirt from Saint James brings that coastal charm to any outfit.

The red and white stripes look best anchored between a blue chambray shirt and a light wash jean if I’m aiming for a casual look, but it’s just as dapper under an off-white blazer.

Promotes a Clean Image

Model wearing Twillory Performance Blazer

Presenting yourself with elegance is a must, and there’s no better source material to use as inspiration than the crisp presentation of a sailor.

These seagoing soldiers abide by the Navy’s strict dress code.

Shirts must be precision-pressed, hats rested squarely on the head, and badges aligned so meticulously that they fit together like Tetris blocks.

Dressing in a dixie cup hat and neckerchief might toe the line with cosplay, or even worse, stolen valor. However, the sea style embraces the military maritimer’s clean-cut sensibilities that’ll have you looking just as respectable.

One of my performance blazers is a shining example. The iron-free tech fabric keeps wrinkles at bay, even during active gatherings where I’m wooing and schmoozing.

A plaid blazer is certainly preppy, but the busy print doesn’t exude those traditional roots.

Dressing down won’t get you dishonorably discharged, though.

This French sailor jacket from Saint James is a top I’ve been eyeing as they’ve become more popular.

Between the solid-color design, rigid collar, and looped-button closure, it’s smart, casual, and swims in elegance.

Balances Casual And Formal

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My previous reason might seem like nautical fashion is all business and no play, but the style casts a wide net.

Whether I’m attending a formal gathering or chilling by the water, there’s a broad range of apparel that’s appropriate for either.

Sure, a classy dive watch says “I take my meetings on the bow of my yacht” like Jordan Belfort did in The Wolf of Wall Street, but a chore jacket like the SIROCCO II is also swimmingly handsome—albeit not as flashy.

I’ve used it as an example before, but the navy blazer is truly the defining piece of nautical style for dressed-up flair.

A standard blue sport jacket does the trick, but my preferred iteration is one adorned with gold buttons.

This version is inspired by the British naval officer uniform, but its sophistication remains stylish today.

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For a look that balances an upper-crust demeanor with easygoing comfort, set your sights for anything linen.

Rest assured, linen pieces aren’t a white whale. Once spring rolls around, every retailer will be selling light jackets, shirts, and pants made of the breezy fabric.

The casual end of things isn’t complicated. Even the coastal blue-bloods with million-dollar boat slips are rocking t-shirts and flip flops in the summer.

You can’t go wrong with stripes of red, white, or blue, but a garment-dyed t-shirt is another sea-inspired style I recommend.

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Encourages Texture Mixing

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If you enjoy some visual appeal to an outfit, nautical style has little competition. But why is it the best if you appreciate the art of texture play?

Well, it’s developed since humans figured out how to float across water.

Fishmongers didn’t always have synthetic fabrics like GORE-TEX to keep dry or polyester fleece to keep warm, so the genre incorporated a laundry list of materials of varying textures to battle the elements.

My favorite shortcut to a salt-kissed outfit, a wool beanie, first came to me after watching the nautical fashion masterclass that is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Bill Murray, in all of his bearded glory, rocked that orange beanie as if he truly was a professional oceanographer. A heavy-gauge beanie brings texture to a simple shirt just like his did to the Team Zissou uniform.

Another ultra-relevant material boasting lovely texture is waxed canvas.

Sails are famous for their use of canvas fabric, but treating them with a layer of wax makes them more capable against water and abrasion.

We eventually began using the fabric for apparel, and now you can easily find waxed canvas jackets, hats, and bags.

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My everyday tote bag is made of the stuff. As the wax has slowly responded to daily use, it’s developed a rugged look that stands out against pristine messenger bags.

Easy To Accessorize

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The style is rich with symbols—whales, fish hooks, and seashells, to name a few.

Accessorizing with these underwater icons takes a mildly coastal outfit to a maritime masterpiece.

I always see preppy gents up and down the Eastern seaboard in gold anchor bracelets—unmistakably New England-esque with a touch of metallic contrast.

Do you have a basket full of bandanas with no idea how to style them? Tying one up with a tee, oxford shirt, or Mandarin-collar button-up adds a splash of color and marine influence.

If accessorizing with crustacean jewelry or seagull-printed scarves is too on-the-nose, a woven belt is a subtle alternative.

I’ve been wearing them since before I got my land legs, mainly because they’re so easy to put on.

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As I began navigating nautical style, it became my first mate. The intertwined cords mimic the complex ropework of sailors, which is why you’ll spot them around the waist of every coastal townie.

Flattering For All Body Types

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Not every subgenre of fashion will give you movie star looks.

I tried my hand at several Japanese-inspired streetwear looks, but oversized shirts and cropped pants just don’t mesh well with my frame.

Nautical style is universally flattering for men of all body types, thanks to its classic lines, structured designs, and versatile pieces.

The materials commonly used in this category of clothing, such as cotton, linen, and wool, aren’t elastic like some synthetic fibers.

Form-fitting materials aren’t an issue if you’re jacked like Popeye after downing a can of spinach. For average guys like me, I prefer a moderate fit and feel in my clothing.

Striped garments, another hallmark of the nautical style I mentioned, can highlight certain features depending on their orientation.

Vertical stripes elongate the body, creating a taller, slimmer appearance. On the other hand, horizontal stripes can broaden the chest and shoulders, enhancing a guy’s frame.

Of the garments I mentioned, pieces with a tailored look such as blazers, button-ups, and chinos look great on any guy, as long as they fit properly.

Ideal For Layering

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Mastering the art of layering is a benchmark of a man who knows how to dress.

Luckily, layering is smooth sailing, even for a novice.

Throwing a cable knit sweater over your favorite button-up is a move that would make Jacques Costeau proud.

When I need another layer of warmth without diving into sporty, technical outerwear, a peacoat made of 100% wool is always what I reach for because of its durable warmth.

If you’re a nerd for fashion history, it deserves its own chapter in a textbook.

A broad lapel and double-breasted closure might seem like antiquated decoration, but the Dutch Navy didn’t issue them all the way back in the 1800s just for style points. 

The widened collar and lapel protected the sailor’s necks from frigid ocean spray, and the extra fastening kept the garment sturdy in the face of harsh winds.

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I love the classical demeanor of the peacoat, but sometimes you need performance technology to battle an angry ocean.

Luckily, there’s still plenty of modern options to layer on deep-sea vibes, and you don’t need to be raising sales in a cyclone to benefit from them.

Synthetic shell jackets are a staple for keeping dry among modern sailors, but they’re an equally suitable form of water repellent in the city or suburbs.

While a sailing jacket is most versatile in a color like black or blue, I opt for bright colors to add some excitement to the neutral color palette that the style normally takes on.

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Timeless Elegance

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This love letter to ocean-guided fashion has included quite a bit of history.

I hope I didn’t bore.

But if recounting 1800s naval uniforms to 2000s cult classic films means anything, it’s that nautical style is timeless.

Fashion moves quicker than it did decades ago.

Just when the style gurus proclaim that something’s “in”, it seems like everyone has already moved onto the next trend.

Once I rejected the fashion collective’s revolving door of trends, nautical style entered my horizon.

Rarely does it feature big logos or intricate graphics. Maybe a sewn-on patch or embroidered monogram, but the style’s reliance on cut, quality, and fit is why I’m such a fan.

Have you noticed that every year a bunch of brands start using the same color? It’s like they’re conniving in the background—rubbing their hands in hopes that we ditch our old clothes in favor of their newest offerings.

Navy, red, white, and gold going out of style? Good luck. The OG nautical colors are evergreen.


Maybe you already had a piece or two in your closet. Prior to my research, I didn’t have a clue that my favorite pullover was in fact an Irish fisherman’s sweater.

Whether it’s thanks to their layering prowess, gorgeous texture possibilities, or overall classy demeanor, these garments are a permanent addition to my wardrobe.

Bringing together some historical dot connecting, personal recommendations, and real-life examples, I hope this list makes you want to dive head-first into the world of nautical fashion. Follow us on Instagram at @theadultman for more style tips like these.