The fishermen and the sea… the relationship of those has always carried a certain notion of romance. No wonder that the nautical style, the origins of which lie in that particular trade, was so popular among the artsy types: actors, poets, artists, singers. Just think Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, whose iconic style is unimaginable without the pea coat.
The transition of nautical elements into men’s fashion was an organic process, since it didn’t require gender adaptation from the source. Fisherman’s sweaters, jackets and caps were the first to enter the nautical style.
There are theories on pea coat evolution, but what’s certain is it’s fishermen’s roots. The occupation existed long before the establishment of an official Navy uniform in England in the middle of XVIII century. The original pea coat was a tar-coated jacket that provided wind and water protection at sea. It was the late 1800s when the pea coat we know today appeared in melton cloth (a heavy wool fabric) and it’s by now traditional double-breasted design. However only in 1962 when the pea coat entered a high fashion scene, thanks to one of the greatest fashion designers of all time – Yves Saint Laurent, who interpreted the pea coat shape for the chic Left Bank society.
Another garment that came to us from the fishermen was the jumper and its transformation into a contemporary fashionable piece is fascinating. The misconception that fisherman’s jumper only refers to Aran sweater is widespread. The term encompasses three types of knits: Aran, Shetland and Guernsey.
Aran sweater borrows its name from its birthplace – the Aran Islands off west coast of Ireland. Originally hand knit out of unscoured sheep’s wool, hence the off-white colour, with ornate cable pattern design. Due to the lanolin – a viscous fatty substance naturally secreted by sheep into the wool – the jumper retained its essential water-resistant qualities.
While the wives of Aran Islands’ fishermen were knitting the intricately patterned designs, the wives on The Shetland (Archipelago in Scotland) opted for plain knit. The islands’ famous native breed of hardy sheep and its soft, highly insulating wool provided for a perfect yarn for this fisherman’s sweater design. The well-known fair isle knitting, however, also comes from here.
Another British island that served as a birthplace for a recognisable fisherman’s sweater style is Guernsey. Water repelling tight navy colour plain weave, symmetrical on both sides, with tighter pattern around the neck and base of the sweater made up a Guernsey sweater.
The initial qualities of the fisherman’s jumper are no longer a prerequisite on the fashion seas: designers’ take on the boxy shaped knit includes a variety of colours and patterns and luxurious materials like merino wool and cashmere, even a light summer adaptation in cotton.
When you just think that fisherman’s raincoat is probably not worth mentioning today, Alessandro Michele of Gucci puts it into his Spring 2017 Menswear Collection.
The utilitarian purpose to protect from the elements didn’t require any fitted cuts and stylish detailing on the original raincoats. The innovation of first water repellent techniques by waxing and oil treatment created fabrics suitable for first shapeless fishermen’s cover-ups. When it came to colour the earliest versions were drab and dull. The traditional bright yellow of the jacket is due to the properties of pure linseed oil, that was used in the process of waxing the cloth. The peculiar smell of the fabrics and its degradable properties required an innovation, and eventually it came – with rubberised cotton parkas. The development of dyeing techniques created the vivid yellow, orange and red raincoats, that were highly visible should the fishermen fall overboard. Still bright yellow, yet a lot more sophisticated than the original, the fisherman’s raincoat-inspired designs are in vogue and trending among the fashion forward men of the world for seasons to come.
The wool felt Greek fisherman’s cap is one of few items that remained unchanged. Thanks to John Lennon the cap became a popular fashionable style in the 60s and to this day comes back in waves as a favoured head gear on fashion scene.
by Olga Permyakova
Cover photo: Anna Konevskaya @annacossack