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Don’t Underestimate Jimmy Buffett’s Influence on Style

Chances are the fashion world with a capital F never thought of Jimmy Buffett, the bard of Margaritaville, who died Friday at age 76. Still, the truth is, the undisputed king of easy-listening yacht rock has probably wielded as much style influence as any designer who’s ever sent a model down a catwalk in a three-sleeve jacket.

It’s not just about the wildly scalloped fancy hats his fans – known as Parrot Heads – sported during his shows. Mr. Buffett, a singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and best-selling author, took a laid-back dress form instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever hung out in a shipyard and made it mainstream both at home and abroad. Not for Mr. Buffett the hippie suedes and leathers of his musical contemporaries, or even the standard double-denim outfits favored by folk-pop idols of his day, the likes of James Taylor or Jackson Browne.

A lifelong waterman, Mr. Buffett spent his early days supporting bars in Key West. Like many before him, he quickly adopted the casual outfits of the locals. No one wears a uniform in Key West, unless you think of a uniform like Easter egg-colored Bermuda shorts; low, faded khakis; flip flops; and short-sleeved shirts with raucous patterns and square tails.

Ragged straw hats or duck-billed oyster caps of the kind Papa Hemingway once wore on Florida bonefish fishing flats were all Buffett staples, part of an image skillfully cultivated by an artist who, while evangelizing for his leisure, built his personal fortune in themed restaurants. casinos, hotels and cruises. Although the company is privately held, by most accounts, his sense of branding made him a billionaire.

Elements of this brand are so easily identifiable that the Internet is full of suggestions on how to find the right “festival attitude” for a Jimmy Buffett concert or Jimmy Buffett party and instructions for groomsmen and groomsmen. bridesmaids on what to wear for a Jimmy Buffett. – themed wedding. Apparel companies like Marine Layer, founded a little over a decade ago in California by Michael Natenshon, started out with the clear intention of creating clothes so casual they looked like they had come straight out of the closet. If you browse through the inventory of any of the 40 Marine Layer stores, you inevitably feel like you’ve wandered into the life of Jimmy Buffett.

There are stonewashed corduroy shorts with six-inch inseams, much like those produced by Jim Jenks when he founded his hugely influential surfwear brand Ocean Pacific (Buffet wore them on stage) in 1972. was, of course, back when Mr. Buffett was recording his second album, “A White Sports Coat and a Pink Crustacean.” Posed on a fishing boat for cover, Mr Buffett wore bell-bottom jeans and a wide-brimmed Stetson. By the time raunchy tunes like “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” became barfly anthems, Mr. Buffett had already ditched his hat (and, eventually, the hair underneath), swapping her sleek jeans for outfits so aggressively understated it seemed like the big wardrobe choice of her day was to go commando.

“He didn’t identify with fashion statements per se,” said Kevin McLaughlin, co-founder of the J. McLaughlin prepwear mini-empire and driving force behind revamped heritage brand Quaker Marine Supply. “But he set a standard and was influential in that if you’re cool and comfortable in your skin, it’s almost impossible to be underdressed.”

Case in point: Mr. Buffett’s decision to earn an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Miami in 2015 by wearing flip-flops and sunglasses with his cap and robe. “Our industry rewards elegance and style,” said McLaughlin. “Jimmy took the opposite approach, based on a certain level of self-confidence.”

Call it nonchalance, sprezzatura or swagger: this flippant assurance is a quality too little appreciated by contemporary fashion, where the benchmark for critical success is often looking overdressed, overthought, overworked. Mr. Buffett, who divided his time between residences in Sag Harbor, Palm Beach and on the Caribbean island of St. Barths, moved in sophisticated and worldly circles and was far from a travesty of a yacht tramp.

Still, he retained the composure he had developed among a coterie of writers from Key West’s loud and drugged literary scene of the 1970s.

In a short documentary about that era, ‘All That Is Sacred’, which premiered at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, writer Thomas McGuane, who is married to Mr Buffett’s sister Laurie, said that he had suggested to his brother Law that he wrote a song about this time called “Last Man Standing-town”. “It’s too close to be comfortable,” Mr. Buffett replied, prophetically as it turned out.


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