What is a Boatneck?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A boatneck is a type of neckline in both men and women’s wear. Initially, the neckline, also called the bateau neck, was designed for sailors. The wide slit made it easy to change a shirt quickly, since it slips easily over the head. This can be advantageous when clothing gets wet and needs to be changed in a hurry.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The modern boatneck is a popular design especially in women’s clothing. It is a neckline that is cut out from shoulder to shoulder. This presents a straight horizontal opening that usually covers the chest to just below the neck. The front and back are of the same design. Frequently, it simply means a wide slit across the top of a garment that forms the neckline. It does cover from the middle to most of the shoulders, though some are cut lower on the shoulders.

The boatneck can be featured on a variety of women’s tops. Knit tops, sweaters, and blouses can all feature this design. Some dresses, even formal ones have the neckline style too. Many men’s sweaters and knit shirts also come in boatneck styles. They’re easy to slip on, comfortable to wear, and considered a flattering neckline for many.

The one main problem women may cite with a boatneck style top is the degree of width from shoulder to shoulder. The neckline may be too wide, causing bra straps to show. To avoid this issue, women can look for a those that don’t have a very wide cut. As long as the slit doesn’t extend onto the shoulders, the wearer can still capture the look without having to show off her undergarments.

A pretty and popular style in dancewear is the boatneck leotard. Unlike the traditional style, the back of the leotard dips down to showcase the upper portion of the back. It is still a nice look, and actually an interesting modern interpretation of the boatneck. People may also see neckline fronts in this style with dropped backs in evening dresses.

One way in which people might be familiar with boatneck tops is because they are traditional wear for French mimes. The black and white striped top tends to be the popular choice when someone is dressed in full mime regalia. People can also find striped tops like this, particularly in women’s styles, but they may evoking mime clothing styles when worn. At the least, they allude to the nautical origins of the neckline.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@geekish - I have two tips. You could buy a sticky bra. This bra has two sticky bra shaped pieces and literally adheres to your entire boob and has a clasp in the middle so you bring the two separate sticky sections together.

I purchased a sticky bra and love it. You never have to worry about straps again and if worn correctly gravity is not a problem. I absolutely love it; however, I have had friends that are a bit uncomfortable with the idea of a sticky bra (which is understandable).

The second idea is to wear a thick-strapped tank top underneath of the boatneck shirt that will cover up your bra straps and add a little depth and color to your outfit. I have worn a pink and white striped tank top underneath a black boatneck, and it is a long tank top so you can see the stripes peeping out from the bottom of the boatneck as well for added effect.


I love to add to the nautical feel of boatneck shirts by getting navy and red or navy and white striped boatneck. Worn with boat shoes and khakis - instant classic look.

I have another boatneck that is one that is too wide and my brassiere straps are constantly appearing on one side or the other. I hate with a passion strapless bras (I do not think a comfortable one has been created yet). Does anybody have any other ideas?


I have several nice boatneck blouses. Most of them have three-quarter length sleeves, since that length seems to go great with the neckline.

These blouses have a ribbed edge to the neckline and to the cuffs. They are cotton, solid colors, and very smooth. I love wearing them to the office with trousers. I can wear them under blazers for a professional look when I have a business meeting.

The purple boatneck looks best with gray pants, and the peach one goes well with khaki trousers. The style goes well with wide leg trousers, because it adds to the sailor look.


When my best friend was planning her wedding, she picked out boatneck bridesmaid dresses. They had the straight neckline in front with a dipping drape in the back.

The dresses were a shimmery lavender. The material hung loosely, so even the front neckline had some movement to it. The back draped down to show the girls’ shoulder blades. Everyone who wore one said they were very comfortable.

A big lavender sash tied in the back, but not in a bow. It was meant to be tied in a knot and cascade down the length of the dress. It went well with the back neckline drape.


I love those boatneck dresses that resemble the ones worn in the sixties. They are sleeveless and only go in slightly at the waist, having more of a straight look. They come down almost to the top of the knees.

The straight-across neckline is awesome for people like me who feel exposed if they show even a little bit of chest skin. The bras that I wear have pretty thin straps, so showing is not an issue.

My friends tease me and tell me I should have been born in the sixties, because I have a large collection of boatneck dresses. Several of them belonged to my mother, and they are still in good condition.


I have a boatneck top with a nautical look to complement the neckline. It has broad navy and white alternating stripes. The sleeves are three-quarter length, and they have large white cuffs at the end that fold back stiffly.

Along the wide neckline is delicate gold braiding. In the middle of the front, a faded gold anchor whispers out of the background.

I found this shirt at a thrift store, and it looked like it had never been worn. It’s a bit eccentric for some tastes, but I love it. I’m always looking for tops with boatnecks, because they are modest and so comfortable.

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