Natty nauticals; Sailor styles make waves

Traditions may change, but there is a certain continuity. The harbinger of spring was once the navy blue suit sparked with accents of white. Its fashion equivalent in recent years has been in the form of nautical styles -- which are also navy and white, with touches of red.

The shipshape look comes up as regularly now as the jonquils and the tulips. Classic brass-buttoned navy flannel blazers with white skirts or sailor pants, pea coats, striped basque shirts, and middy blouses are some of the clean-cut looks that many designers -- Yves Saint Laurent, in particular -- never forget in their schemes for warm-weather dressing.

This year middy styles, often combined with yachting stripes, are making the biggest waves. Their antecedents are of course the sailor suits and dresses first popularized when Queen Victoria showed her fondness for the British Navy by dressing her children in middies. The timeless look, which carried on through Gibson Girl days and the '20s and '30s, shows no signs of ebbing. Square-cut collars and dropped waists, braid trimmings, middy ties, and anchor insignia are among the most prevalent nautical notes at the moment. Besides the regulation red, white, and blue, nonnaval colors like pink and mauve are turning up in sailor looks, including knitwear.

Saint Laurent's pure silk middy-collared spring blouses (in black and white, rather than the conventional navy) have already been copied by Seventh Avenue. Manufacturers have produced "knock offs" in silk to sell at a fraction of the $ 420 price of the original import and the imitations seem destined to become best sellers.

Among the US designers who have gone to sea with their own sailoring ideas are Oscar de la Renta, with a series of superb two-piece middy dresses; Carol Horn, with a braid-trimmed ivory puff-sleeved blouse and matching knickers; and Bill Blass, who has a group of basque-striped middy outfits in his Blass port collection.

Anchor motifs are features of some Adolfo intarsia knits, even being knitted into a glittery evening cardigan -- which takes the nautical theme on to after six-bells.

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