Can you be fashionable as a liveaboard or cruiser?

Post updated May 16, 2018

Okay, so I’ve never considered myself a ‘fashionista’ or even particularly concerned about being stylish. But a big question I had when we made the choice to move aboard was what to wear on a boat. Like a lot of people, I like to feel good in what I wear. But would stylish clothing work on a boat?

Interestingly, while watching a few sailing channels who dropped some advice on “what to wear on a boat”, I’ve noticed that they (usually women) claim you can’t be both fashionable AND functional when you’re a liveaboard or cruiser.

I heard things like:

  • “Forget makeup, you’ll just sweat it off/the sun and salt will wipe it off.”
  • “Choose loose-fitting clothes because you’re never comfortable on a boat anyway.”
  • “High heels and fancy materials are out. You’ll never use them and/or they’ll get destroyed.”
  • “Simple cotton shirts and shorts are all you’ll want. Trust me.”

Well, that’s depressing! Thankfully, these are just personal opinions, and I respect that. For me, though, when it feels like I’m being told I can’t do something, my deranged brain wants to rebel and say “hell YEAH it’s POSSIBLE!”

Which leads me to this article and the culmination of my desire to show that, yes, you can be workably functional in your wardrobe and makeup AND ALSO SLAY LIKE A QUEEN!!

A few quick caveats

To start off with here, I should affirm the obvious; that “fashion”, as a concept, is totally subjective.

If you read through this article and think my clothing choices are lame, then you and I might not have the same taste in clothing. Which is totally cool! My aim here is merely to show that the liveaboard or cruiser wardrobe need not exclusively be the old standby of ‘shapeless cotton shirt and shorts’ (and don’t think I’m dissing these, either, because I still wear them a LOT!!)

One note on me, too: I LOVE functional clothing! As a woman, particularly, I freak out when I find a pair of awesome-looking pants that also have WORKING POCKETS and belt loops actually big enough for a BELT! (It’s the little things, y’know?)

This article isn’t just in response to the wardrobe challenges facing liveaboards and cruisers. It’s been a personal quirk of mine since forever. Namely, how to hunt down good-looking clothing that also does more than just cover your bits, lol!

What do I mean by “functional” clothing?

Allow me to quickly zip through my definition of what functional means (for the purposes of this article), and how it relates to liveaboards/cruisers.

Protection from the Weather – Because of our higher-than-average exposure to extreme atmospheric conditions (heat, cold, rain, wind, salt spray), outerwear – to be functional – must be durable and provide adequate protection from these elements. Moreover, regular clothes should provide similar protection and comfort through quick-drying, durable, possibly UVA/B resistant, and breathable fabrics.

Quality Materials that Last – When sailing, we move around on deck a lot. There are a lot of moving parts when we’re under sail (boom, lines, winches, people) that we WILL end up rubbing against on our way to trim the genoa or free a tangled line. Things like metal stays and winches, especially, are unforgiving in the “rubbing against” department. To this end, our clothing (outerwear and outfits) better be form-fitting and of a material that won’t easily catch or rip.

Low Maintenance – Another consideration for yachties, in particular, is that we try to conserve our use of water. So, clothing that requires excessive washing due to odour absorption or easy staining is not really what I’d consider functional. Items that wrinkle easily are probably not functional either, but I wouldn’t consider them a write off if they also UN-wrinkle easily, too.

As for dry clean only?

Even before I lived on a boat, I avoided clothing that were dry clean only… to quote Miss Sweet Brown, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” 😆

I still love this song, ahaha! Click to play!

Maximal Usefulness – Lastly, and this perhaps is more out of convenience than necessity, our clothing should provide us with storage options. I’m talking POCKETS, both inner and outer! Loops and hooks are great, too, for clipping items onto. Josh says: “A concern with loops is the potential for getting them caught on protruding parts of the boat. So make sure they’re under flaps or otherwise don’t protrude.” Good point, babe!

Let’s Talk Fashion

Personally, I’ve always been partial to classic fashion: items that never seem to go out of style, and make you look “put together”.

Lucky for me, functional clothing seems to already follow this fashion milieu. By this I mean they tend to be form-fitting, use solid colours and/or neutral palettes, and are of simplistic design so as to be easily interchangeable with other items. This is important for considerations like storage, too; the fewer pieces I can get away with having on the boat, the more room we have for other useful things.

SHIRTS

Shirts are probably the easiest item to work with, regardless of your fashion preferences. You can have spaghetti string tops to tank tops to short sleeve to ¾ sleeve to full sleeve. And all that remains to decide is the style and fabric you want.

There are literally millions of top options out there that work for the cruising lifestyle AND are deliciously fashionable. For me, I enjoy solid or minimal patterned, form-fitting tops and blouses…

… as well as a few tasteful graphic tees/tops thrown in there for personality (see shameless self-promotion of SaltWest gear!) 😛

We’ve made to sure to source a supplier who offers only high-quality fabrics and print-jobs. I like my clothes to last, and so far am very pleased with the feel and look of the yoga tee and Josh’s t-shirts.

Check out our Salty Merch Shop!

SWEATERS

Sweaters are one of my absolute favourite items of clothing (maybe because I suffer from always-cold-wimpy-osis, haha)! Again, simple patterns or solid colours are my preference. And items like this long-sleeve sweater/sweatshirt has managed to combine fashion with nature’s most functional fabric – Merino Wool.

Merino wool is kickass for being naturally moisture-wicking, odour controlling, and breathable. This means it works in both colder and warmer climates. It’s also keeps its shape when you move around (which is why it’s great in athletic gear), and it’s also easy to care for!

PANTS

And there appears to be a niche segment of the clothing industry geared specifically for ‘travellers’. Take for instance this company who offers a travel pant “designed to be comfortable and breathable with an allover slimming effect.” I like the look of them. And this travel blogger swears they’ve lived up to every expectation she had of them: durable, comfortable, and stylish.

The best pants for fashion AND function are pants that fit you. Pants should move with you, gently hug your body (no gaps & no death grip), and meet any functional requirements.

Here’s an example of this. I found this Kickstarter company called The Willary who make clothes “that unite fit, function, durability and style.” I especially have my eyes on their Core Pants, featuring durable easy-care fabric (that’s abrasion-resistant) and has… *drumroll* … lots of POCKETS!

SHOES

Boots have always held a special place in my wardrobe, because to my mind they’re the perfect shoe to be both fashionable and badass! I guess it’s not hard to see why I think this, when every action movie involving badass heroines has them wearing head-turning boots that say “I will f**k you up”, haha.

These days, I enjoy wearing ankle-length boots, most especially my leather Blundstone rider-style boots. They have a deep tread for good traction, a reinforced sole for walking stability, and I find them super comfortable to wear for long periods.

⛵ Blundstone Classic Boot on Amazon.ca

⛵ Blundstone Classic Boot on Amazon.com

Mine are the rugged-style boot (in the top picture) but they also come in more city-style options with smooth bright leather and different colours.

The rest of the time I like to wear street runners or sandals. Josh and I both now own a pair of Sperry boat shoes. They’re like sneakers but slip-on (no laces) and are anti-skid so Josh and I can run around topside without losing our footing.

⛵ Sperry Top-sider Sneaker on Amazon.ca

⛵ Sperry Top-sider Sneaker on Amazon.com

I also have a favourite pair of running shoes that I actually bought the DAY we decided to switch our life from house-living to boat-living. So, they’re kind of sentimental to me now.

To summarize shoes… if anything, shoes need to be functional first and foremost. I’m sure any woman can relate to this when they remember wearing those awesome-looking new shoes for several painful hours, and having to nurse bruised and broken feet the rest of the night. Not fun.

MAKEUP (a very brief mention)

Since I spend no more than 5 minutes on my makeup each day, I don’t really feel qualified to speak to this topic. However, I DO know many women (and some men) who slay at makeup. And they’ll tell you that:

  • Waterproof mascara and eyeliner exist
  • So do lip stains/glosses and primers (good for sweating skin)
  • Setting sprays also help keep makeup in place – no smudging, melting, nada!
  • Lots of makeup options come with SPF, to make them more functional
  • Enjoy your glam face. BOOM!

I write this article in light-heartedness, as fashion is a totally subjective topic and is, therefore, “to each their own”. And though I may have no personal experience with all of the items in this article, I hope I’ve shown that there are options out there. If you want it bad enough, you CAN have your cake and eat it, too. 😉

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Stay awesome,

  — Morgan

Please note that this article contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you purchase an item after clicking on our link, we earn a small commission. We only link to products that we use and believe in. Feel free to read our Disclosure Policy for more information, or email us if you have questions!

Leave a Comment or Question!
Liked it? Consider supporting us on Patreon!