- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

Unlike trends that can change with the wind, the nautical look is rooted in purposeful clothes and therefore not as affected by the whims of fashion insiders.

This means the same striped boat-neck T-shirt you had last year is OK to wear this year, as are the sailor pants from even longer ago.

Of course, you’ll want to wear the look in the way that suits the moment.

“My favorite picture of my little brother is him at 4 months old in a sailor suit,” recalls Jenna Lyons Mazeau, vice president of women’s design at J.Crew. “It’s a classic idea. Just wear the elements that are appropriate for you.”

Her picks for this season are anything white. Or, for a more European look, a skinny black pant and a striped T — with white being one of the two alternating colors — and delicate black ballet slippers. “This is referencing a derivative, but it’s not so ‘nautical,’ ” Miss Mazeau says.

If you do go with full-on sailor pants with the button front and wide legs, she recommends choosing a narrower top to balance the silhouette.

Nautica creative director Mirian Lamberth says she likes that you can be hip wearing such traditional styles. “[Nautical] is always in the ‘classic’ market, but all of a sudden, it’s at Urban Outfitters and Victoria’s Secret — places you wouldn’t expect it,” she says.

For a woman, Miss Lamberth thinks the best look is white skinny jeans, a longer white flowy shirt and a light blue oxford blazer with white trim.

A real-deal nautical look for a man is a navy blazer, white plain-front chinos — rolled up — and Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes. If you’re a cool younger guy, wear it with a striped T-shirt to finish the look. A more traditional look would be a woven shirt in a primary color.

“You can change the silhouette or the length, but you don’t really change the colors. If you’re wearing black, cut it with crisp white,” she says. “White is the color to combine with, and classic red and navy, too. What doesn’t fit into nautical are jewel tones.”

Shorts or pants in Nantucket red, a faded red that almost straddles burnt orange or dark pink, are part of the uniform for men when it comes to resort wear, says designer Tommy Hilfiger. They can be paired with denim chambray or white button-down shirts and a navy blazer. In Nantucket, Mass., though, he says you shouldn’t be surprised to see a man in a bright green or even madras-print blazer.

In the evening, the line may blur a bit between nautical and seaside, but an eyelet sundress with the right tote bag, the right shoes — espadrilles, perhaps — is a winning woman’s outfit, Mr. Hilfiger says. It doesn’t hurt for the wearer to have spent some time in the sun — or with a self-tan spray.

“The suntan is what makes the dress different from seeing an eyelet somewhere else,” he adds.

Hmmm. How do you pull off the nautical look away from the seashore?

“It’s about looking crisp and clean,” says Nautica’s Miss Lamberth. A wrinkly woven shirt will do as long as it is clean. “There’s no grit in nautical. Dirty doesn’t work.”

She adds, “If you’re struggling with what to wear, a white shirt and navy pant will always put you in the right place.”

If you are, indeed, landlocked, you should fight the urge to look as if you just walked off a boat, says Todd Snyder, J.Crew’s vice president of men’s design. “Use the rule of one item that feels like a nautical piece. You want to wear a striped shirt? Pair that with light denim and sneakers. You don’t want to be wearing it head to toe.”

If you are seaside, he has the opposite advice: “If you are just off the boat — go to town. Dress the part.”

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