For Every Size: Rethinking Crew Uniform with Deirdre Colgan

For Every Size: Rethinking Crew Uniform with Deirdre Colgan 

By Georgia Tindale

One accusation which is sometimes levelled at the yachting industry in 2022 is that it is somewhat old-fashioned and slow to adapt to change. 

Although there are many aspects of the business which can be pointed towards that demonstrate the total opposite – just take a look at recent technological advances in yacht building for example – when it comes to crew uniform, there is plenty of work left to be done. To find out more, we speak to Deirdre Colgan. Originally from Ireland, Deirdre is a former charter chief stew and founder of the clothing brand Nautilus Yachtwear, based in Palm Beach County in the US. 

Using her own experiences as crew as a springboard, Deirdre’s company sells size-inclusive, comfortable and practical clothing for those on board – pouring cold water on the idea that the crew must ensure that they fit the uniform currently available, rather than the uniform being made to fit them.

What was the problem you were looking to solve in crew clothing? 

The yachting industry has traditionally been very much focused on size and appearance, with crew expected to fit into a certain mould. When I applied for jobs, there were so many occasions where I had to send in my measurements and was told “Oh, we don’t have anything bigger than a size two”, which is a size six in the UK. It was just expected that I would ensure that I could fit into the uniform and not gain weight. 

For me, the uniform just didn’t fit on a practical level. I am 4 foot 11, I have a bigger chest and a small waist but am bigger on the bum and thighs. So I would get a skort that would fit me on the thighs but then it would be huge on the waist, and then my radio wouldn’t stay on, and it would all ride up. 

Being on a yacht is very physical work – especially being out on deck, and girls deserve to be able to carry out their work comfortably as much as the boys do. It was a practical decision for me to make sure my clothes fit people properly. 

My husband is a captain, and his stewardess contacted me last year because she has a bigger chest and was uncomfortable in the uniform. I helped her find clothes which came in at the right places, such as the waist, rather than having a boyish fit. This enabled her to feel more comfortable and feminine whilst doing her job. I feel like there are so many people out there who aren’t being served in the market, and I want to help. 

How is yachting doing for inclusivity and diversity in crew recruitment? 

I started in yachting 10 years ago and left four years ago, and I think it has come a long way in some aspects of inclusivity.  For example, there is increasingly more room for women on deck, although they do still remain underrepresented. There are also more openly gay crew members nowadays, with people not feeling like they have to hide their sexuality like they did in the past. However, in terms of the black and Asian community, there is still a long way to go in terms of crew representation, particularly in the higher ranking positions. 

How will you do the sizing and modelling of your clothing differently? 

Crew come in all shapes and sizes and body types, so I want to make sure that I show that. I’m planning to get in touch with crew agencies and ask for anyone who is interested to come and do the photoshoot because I don’t want to show my uniform on just one type of person. So if they’re comfortable with it, I would include their measurements on the post and say ‘This person is this height, and they’re wearing this size skort and this size polo’, so that someone could look at them and be able to say, ‘This is probably a similar fit to me.’ 

In terms of sizing, I want to take the power out of those numbers or letters on the tag. I’ve been that girl crying in the fitting rooms and those numbers can have so much unnecessary power over you. Of course, it is a balancing act because I want to come away from traditional sizing, but I also have to make sure that I fit the industry standard. At the moment, I am looking to go up to a UK size 18 or 20, but I want to do a poll and ask people: ‘How big should I go?’– ‘who is in the market that is currently not being served?’ 

How has the industry’s response been so far to your brand?

The response and support I have received have been absolutely amazing. To be honest, it has made me really emotional, just thinking about all of these negative experiences I have had with my own body image and how they resulted in me feeling like there wasn’t a place for me on board at times. Maybe I can help ensure someone else doesn’t have those same experiences. 

To find out more about the exciting range of roles offered within the yachting industry, visit our Yotspot jobs listings here.