The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Menswear at the Movies

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Menswear at the Movies
Film inspired looks that you can actually wear.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Menswear at the Movies

Wes Anderson’s films are some of the most intricately designed films of the past two decades and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is no exception. The film is a meticulously crafted homage to/piss-take on the classic scuba diving documentaries of Jacques Cousteau. The Life Aquatic is jam-packed with references to the French sea explorer, from the distinctive colored wetsuits (silver for Cousteau; light blue for Zissou) to their decommissioned minesweeper turned exploration vessel/production studio, there are references to Cousteau every few frames. One of Anderson’s more subtle homages (and my personal favorite) is found in the names of their ships. Cousteau famously sailed the world in the Calypso. Zissou’s ship is named the Belafonte. Harry Belafonte famously sang Calypso music. It’s just too damn clever.

A far less subtle homage can be found in the wardrobe choices made by Anderson and costume designer Milena Canonero for Zissou. Cousteau and his crew famously wore a red watch cap, usually paired with a light blue shirt, or in some cases just a pair of Speedos. And when you watch those old “Undersea World” episodes, they’re mostly in the Speedos. Either way, The Life Aquatic nails every aspect of this look and it’s a pretty easy one to draw inspiration from in day-to-day life. Even the Speedos, if that is your thing.

Life Aquatic clothing

The watch cap has a much longer history than you might think, going all the way back to the 1400s. Its simple, warm design was a staple of Royal Navy sailors who relied on its wool construction to keep warm on those long nights in the North Atlantic. That tradition passed down through the ages to the US Navy’s WWII-issued watch cap, which Cousteau and Zissou wore a variation of. Essentially, the watch cap has been a staple of men’s fashion for 600 years.

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Uniqlo oxfordshawl collar sweaterNautica pea coatadidas sambalevis chinossteinhart watchWes Anderson CollectionRandolph Engineeringwatch capwatch strap

You can’t have a movie about scuba divers without touching on dive watches, and Zissou’s in particular is a quirky piece that is perfect for the world Wes Anderson is crafting. Zissou wears a Vostok Amphibia which originated as a watch made for the scuba divers of the Soviet Navy. Vostoks have gained a bit of a following due to their affordability and robust design. A Vostok Zissou is still on my list of future purchases. In its place, I went with a Steinhart Ocean Vintage Military which is instead an homage to the Rolex issued to the British Royal Navy in the late 60s and 70s.

Another distinct article of clothing that Zissou sports are his custom-made Adidas sneakers. Unfortunately, these were never actually manufactured for sale, but you can find custom-modified Sambas on eBay to get that Zissou look.

Since it’s winter time, we went with an old-fashioned peacoat with the classic anchor buttons to help keep us warm. The peacoat has been worn by sailors since the 1800s and is one thing that most guys have hanging in their closet.

If you’re looking for more information about the costume and production design in Wes Anderson’s films, I strongly recommend “The Wes Anderson Collection” by Matthew Zoeller Seitz. This is a deep dive (no pun intended) into Anderson’s film collection and includes a lot of photos that I’ve never seen before as well as some fantastic conversations with Anderson himself.

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Check back tomorrow for another affordable look in our weeklong Menswear at the Movies series. And shop our Skyfall Scotland and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them outfits!

Chris Scott is a scuba instructor, photographer, and writer living in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in Anthropology and a focus in underwater archaeology. He spends most of his time trying to figure out ways to see the world without having to spend any money.

  • Zac Silk

    I’m seeing a lot of shawl collar sweaters at the moment. It seems as if more men are wearing them, which to me is a good thing.

    I’m particularly to a shawl collar cardigan but a nice shawl collar sweater is equally good. I’ll have to try this look with a black peacoat.

    Has anyone tried the American optical pilots? I’ve heard they’re a good alternative to the Randolph’s.

    • Chris Scott

      The American Optical’s are a fantastic alternative. They actually had the government contract for aviator’s before Randolph did. American Opticals are actually what Neil Armstrong took with him to the moon. IIRC both sunglasses are actually produced a few miles down the road from each other in Massachusetts.

      • Zac Silk

        Which size did you end up going for Chris? I’m on the verge of going for the 55. But without the ability to try them on I’m not too sure.

        • Chris Scott

          I went with the 55mm which are the same ones that I used in the photoshoot. I found the 52mm to be too small.

          • Zac Silk

            I’ll give the 55 a shot then, I’ve been looking at both the RE and the American optical pilots for a while now, so I thought now is the best time to go for it.

    • Matt M

      No experience with Randolphs, but I used AO a few years ago when they were brought to my attention via Mad Men. Don’t have a pair anymore, but for $40-50, they were great sunglasses.

    • Andrew

      Yes! I love them and have featured them a few times over the years. I’ve had both the 55 and 57 and found the 57 to be a little large on my face, and the 52s are quite small, so if you have a narrow face that might work, here’s a sizing guide that might help:

      And the Primer posts we’ve done:

      • Zac Silk

        Thanks Andrew. I’ll go for the 55’s abd take the plunge. With the shipping to the U.K may be quite a bit but I’m sure it will be worth it.

      • Zac Silk

        Did you go for the polarised version as well Andrew?

        • Andrew

          I did on my second pair. It’s a personal preference.

  • Matt M

    FYI – stumbled upon this for the shoes:

  • clayton collins

    LOVE seeing a Steinhart on here! Great first investment piece. For all the Omega/Rolex fanboys out there, here’s your way to get that quality for a lot less!

  • Ross

    Back on track! This Getup is awesome. I still prefer the Gap Oxford shirts but still a great look. One thing I might want to do is swap the white adidas sneakers for a navy pair of sperry topside striper sneakers. I think it ties into the nautical theme a little more but mostly because I can not keep white shoes clean. Great job Chris!

    • Zac Silk

      Do you normally go for the standard fit or the slim fit for the Gap Oxfords. I’m trying to decide which is better.

      • Ross

        I’m about 5’10” around 170lbs. And I usually go with the medium size in the Standard style. The standard fit is more forgiving in this case because GAP indicated that the fit is modern and tailored fit. So for me that gives me just enough tailoring to keep my shape but enough comfort to move freely while wearing it. I also would like to point out that I always wear my GAP standard oxford shirts untucked. So if you plan on tucking them in, depending on your build, you might benefit more from the trimmer slim fit. Hope this helps.

  • mundrimp

    The actual watch used in the movie was Vostok Amphibian Military 2416 / 420374 which like the rest of the clothing was an homage to Cousteau and his love of divers. FWIW its a fun beater watch.

  • TJ

    Great look from a great movie. You can get the same look of the sunglasses for half the price with a pair of America Optical Pilots. I have heard tale that they had the original contract with the Air Force and they are what a lot of the original astronauts wore when they were in the Air Force. I’ve had two pairs myself and loved them. Unfortunately I’ve lost both pairs.

  • Bernardo

    These film inspired outfit you are doing are great!

  • Prototype

    The Steinhart is an OK watch, but it’s really perplexing why you chose this instead of pointing people towards the actual Vostok Amphibia. Why? The Steinhart is sort of the antithesis of the quirky Zissou aesthetic. The Steinhart is a nice, but conservative diver that could be swapped by lots of similar Seiko’s or other copies of classic Rolex divers.

    The Vostok is an extremely visually unique watch…a different beast altogether. And it is NOT difficult to find. You may not be able to get it with quick shipping, but this and other Vostoks are readily available on Ebay or certain Russian watch sites like Christopolcity or Meranom.

    Most Vostok Amphibias (and there are dozens of great case and face designs to choose from) are available new for less than $75 including shipping (and you can even get vintage Soviet-era models for not much more). It may be off-putting for some people to purchase something from Russia and hope it arrives, but that’s what the Ebay Guarantee is for. It will take 2-4 weeks to arrive in the US, but it’s not complicated. And the watch you receive will have immeasurably more character than a standard Seiko-Rolex clone, and will be as strong as a tank.

    For $75 plus the cost of a nice NATO-style strap (Vostok watches are great, but the factory straps leave something to be desired), you can have one of the most unique and functional watches available.