07/18/2018 17:09 EDT | Updated 08/05/2018 12:05 EDT

How To Wear The Boatneck, Meghan Markle’s New Signature Style

Where did the bateau neckline come from, and what should you pair it with? Glad you asked.

Matt Crossick/EMPICS / Getty Editorial / Doug Peters/EMPICS
Meghan Markle wearing boatneck dresses (left to right) on a trip to Ireland, at her wedding, and an Air Force event in London.

Whether you're one of those people who helped the coat Meghan Markle wore for her engagement photos sell out within minutes (Line the Label, btw), or you just kind of like how she dresses, you may have noticed her new favourite style: the bateau neckline. Also called the boatneck, it's a neckline that runs from shoulder to shoulder, straight across the collarbone. The new Duchess of Sussex seems to be a big fan of the trend: her Givenchy wedding dress had a bateau neckline, and she's worn a similar style at many of her public appearances since then.

Jane Barlow / PA Images via Getty Images
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their wedding. Her wedding dress, designed by Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy, has a bateau neckline.
PA Wire/PA Images
Meghan Markle wearing a Roland Mouret boatneck dress with Prince Harry on the second day of their royal visit to Ireland.
PA Wire/PA Images
Meghan Markle wears a Dior dress at a reception to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force on July 10, 2018.

Many people credit Chanel with the invention of the neckline, but according to Jonathan Walford, director and curator at the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ont., the credit actually goes to another early 20th-century French female designer. Jeanne Lanvin, founder of the Lanvin fashion house, started incorporating boatnecks into her designs around 1919 and 1920.

"This is stylistically the period when clothing is getting that art-deco, geometric, tubular kind of look," Walford says. "It's losing the curvaceous puffiness of the Edwardian period. We're no longer looking at contouring dresses around a woman's figure, we're now negating her figure."

Cooper Union Library via Wikicommons
French print, circa 1920, of a Jeanne Lanvin boatneck dress design. The caption reads "At the opera: Coat and dress for the evening, by Jeanne Lanvin"

The boatneck took off among the Paris elite who could afford haute couture, and began its recognizable trickle down towards the rest of us over the next few years. "By 1922, you can go to Ladies Home Journal and there are patterns for how to do the bateau neckline," Walford says.

Fashion History Museum
Left: a Jeanne Lanvin boatneck dress design from Winter 1921. Right: a Chinese print silk blouse with a boatneck, c. 1922-23, Franklin Simon Company.
Lanvin Afternoon Dress, France, Costume Institute by gift of Mrs. John Chambers Hughes, / Callot Soeurs Evening Dress, France, circa 1925-26, Costume Institute by Gift of Miss Isabel Shults / Callot Soeurs Evening Dress, circa 1924-25, Costume Institute b
Boatneck dress designs by Lanvin and Callot Soeurs.

While its name is nautical and its design seems to evoke the classic "Breton" shirt — think ultra-stereotypical image of Frenchman carrying baguette, and you probably think of someone wearing a broad-shouldered navy and white striped top like the ones French sailors used to wear under their tunics — Walford thinks it's unlikely that Lanvin was trying to recreate that look, and it's more tenable that the name came afterward. (He couldn't pinpoint an exact date, but thinks it started to be called the boatneck after WWII.)

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Christie's via Wikicommons
"Ippy and Gertie Posing at Fashion House Hirsch, Amsterdam," ca. 1916, by Dutch painter Isaac Israels. The woman on the left is wearing a boatneck dress.

The neckline came back in style in the mid-1950s, largely due to a fashion icon many people have connected to Meghan Markle: Audrey Hepburn. She wore several boatnecks for her title role in the 1954 movie "Sabrina," which caused enough of a sensation that some people started calling the style "the Sabrina neckline." She also famously wore a black boatneck dress in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," designed by Givenchy — the same label that created Markle's wedding dress.

The Canadian Press
Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy in Breakfast at Tiffany's

The boatneck was a good fit for the slim, graceful Helpburn, Walford says. Givenchy "wanted to bring attention to her good parts: beautiful neck, beautiful collarbone."

Rocking the boat(neck): How to wear a bateau neckline

The boatneck is an almost universally flattering style, says Kirsten Reader, a Toronto-based wardrobe stylist. But very busty women might prefer a v-neck, she says, so as not to appear too top-heavy. Otherwise, anyone can go for it — just be aware of tailoring. "If it's a structured dress, it really needs to be fitted in the bust. Otherwise it looks quite boxy," she says. "If it's a jersey, you have a lot more room."

In terms of accessories, it's a great opportunity show off some earrings, Reader says. "I am not a fan of a necklace with it, because it competes." But the boatneck "frames the face so beautifully that earrings help draw the eye to the face, which I love."

Another bit of practical advice: because the neck goes all the way to the shoulders, you'll have to remember not to wear a regular bra. "Straps cut through the line, and you lose the beautiful shape of the bateau," Reader says. "You need to do strapless." Or, "if you're able to go braless, by all means, go braless!"

Overall, because the boatneck conveys simple elegance, she suggests being minimalistic with accessories. "Because it's so sophisticated, keep everything else simple," she advises.

PA Wire/PA Images
Meghan Markle in a yellow Brandon Maxwell sheath dress with a modified boatneck, with husband Prince Harry, at the Your Commonwealth Youth Challenge reception in London.

There are many dresses and shirts available at price points more accessible than those of the royals.

Here's a Nai Lu-na fitted sheath dress in a similar lemon yellow to the one Meghan wore at a royal event earlier this month:


A sheath with a sash by Alice + Olivia:

Alice + Olivia

A chiffon and lace option by Le Château:

Le Château

A sweet Anne Klein dress with a front bow:

Anne Klein, Nordstrom

A summery pattern boatneck by Fit and Flare, available on ModCloth:


An orange bandeau at AllSaints:


And a great option under $30 by H&M:


Walford and Reader agree that the boatneck is a great style for the new Duchess of Sussex. "She's in the public eye, so the clothing that she picks now has to be very carefully chosen," Walford says. "She's got a lovely neck, and a good collarbone. It's very sexy, but not too salacious for a royal family member."

In addition to Audrey Hepburn, Reader sees another fashion icon in Meghan's choices: Grace Kelly, who, like Markle, was an American actress who become a royal. Both Audrey and Grace had styles that "are still timeless now, which is what's so wonderful about that neckline," Reader says. A boatneck dress "is a great piece to have in your closet forever," she says. "You'll never look outdated."

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