As this blogger has begun thinking about a forthcoming post on Chandler Small’s chambray sailor top design, which is currently in production, his thoughts kept returning to ideas of nationalism and internationalism. When these chambray kids’ sailor suits are available at our webstore, there will be a post discussing the details of the design in more detail; however, as thoughts came together about the design, which draws on elements from both American and foreign sailor’s clothes, this blogger realized that sailor’s clothing is an interesting hybrid of international and national. On it’s face this statement might not strike you as noteworthy, but on further reflection it’s quite remarkable. And it bears some attention in these times when people all over the world are struggling with drawing lines between healthy nationalism and internationalism.
To appreciate this, consider what is typically meant by national clothing. As you may know, this blogger is quite fond of the national clothing of the German speaking world: tracht, a term that includes lederhosen, high crowned brimmed hats, the dirndl, etc. Or consider the country tweeds of the English, highland kilt of the Scott, the sarong of Asia. All of these styles of dress have no obvious analog in other counties.
This is not so for nautical clothing: every country has it’s own variations. American sailors wear pea coats, while the duffel coat was worm by British sailors. Russian seaman, even to this day, wear the telnyashka. Beyond just the national variations in nautical clothing, the very phenomenon of civilian landlubbers wearing nautical clothing is nationalistic. Something demonstrated by the increased popularity of nautical clothing, especial children’s sailor suits, in times of war.
Yet somehow, this exercise of nationalism has actually created one of the most internationally popular modes of dress. Because of the international nature of shipping and naval force projection, these nationalistic style tropes have mixed and mingled such that no one assumes the wearer of a pea coat, a chambray shirt, or dungarees is necessarily American despite the way those articles of dress were inspired by the U.S. Navy. Similarly, no one would assume that the they wearer of a striped sailor’s sweater was necessarily Breton or French, though that item emerged from that county’s maritime clothing.
This observation provides an interesting insight into the phenomenon of nationalism among a single species that inhabits a single planet. In our efforts to define ourselves as nations, we cannot help but do it in reference, or perhaps with reference, to others. And so as Chandler Small & Co. prepares to launch our our next American kid’s sailor suit, we can’t help but acknowledge that it draws details from the clothing of sailors the world over.