Nautical Blouse

AKA: middy top

How to say it:  naw-ti-kuhl

Traditional Features: 

Nautical Blouse


  • pullover style
  • loose through the body
  • usually worn untucked
  • collar fold back to create a V in the front and is square at the back, falling over the shoulders and part was down the back, resembling a sailor’s collar
  • short or long sleeves
  • can be worn with a necktie


…of the style: The nautical blouse was originally based on the design of shirts worn by midshipman in the US and Royal Navies. The trend of wearing naval inspired clothing is said to have been started by a young Albert Edward, Prince of Wales in 1846 when he was dressed in a sailor suit by his mother. He in turn dressed his own children in sailor suits and by the 1870s it had become a trend for dressing little boys (a trend which continued well into the 20th century).

In the 1880s the sailor style collar began to appear on women’s sportswear, including lawn tennis outfits, boating uniforms and swimwear – this was the first incarnation of the nautical blouse. In this version the blouse was made to be secured onto bloomers or a skirt by buttons or tucking, and was often worn with a sailor-esque necktie under the collar.

By the early 20th century the nautical blouse had been lengthened and was no longer worn tucked in – it was designed to hang to the hips, over black sateen or serge pleated bloomers. Through the 1910s the blouse was often worn with a belt, but in the 20s the belt was removed and replaced by a wide band at the hem of the garment. The blouse was very popular with ladies sports uniforms during this time, but crossed over into fashion daywear in the 1920s and was available in colours other than the traditional white or navy. The foray into daywear only lasted the decade, and by the early 30s the nautical blouse had returned to the realm of sportswear.

With the advent of WWII in the 1940s the nautical blouse returned to women’s daywear as a means of publicly displaying wearer’s patriotism throughout the war. They continued to be worn into the 1950s but not in the same numbers and the style dropped out of favour in the 60s.

A love of vintage clothing caused a revival of the nautical blouse in the 1970s and the style was kept alive by Laura Ashley in the 80s. In the 21st century the nautical blouse with its sailor collar is definitely considered a vintage style and is mostly reserved for uniforms, children’s clothing and costumes. East Asia is particularly fond of the style and it is a common uniform style for Japanese girls schools, as well as featuring in many aspects of teen pop culture (e.g.. Sailor Moon).

In the western world nautical blouses are available, but they tend to be inspired by the original style from the past rather than direct copies.

…of the name: The style is inspired by the nautical uniforms of 19th century sailors. Hence the name.

The term middy  comes from the fact that the style is a feminine version of the shirts worn by midshipmen in the Navy.

For more info on Nautical Blouses try fuzzylizzie, VintageDancer or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • the traditional 3 stripes on the sailors collars of the Royal Navy are said to represent the three victories of the famous British Vice Admiral, Horatio Lord Nelson. This is not true. The three stripes were a design choice, nothing more.

21st Century Nautical Blouses

In 21st century fashion the term nautical blouse or sailor top has come to mean anything from the traditional style, to a simple striped t-shirt, to pretty much any top that includes an anchor or other nautical inspired designs. The true middy-style nautical blouse is still available on the marketplace in various diluted versions, that ironically seem to shy away from anything too nautical, often just featuring a collar or neck treatment that gives a nod (or maybe a salute) to the sailor suits of old.

la garconne lagence

MHL by Margaret Howell, Lagence


Modclothlove lucy

ModCloth, Love Lucy


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