Synonymous with Parisian style, the Breton striped shirt is an absolute classic and a wardrobe staple that every fashion savvy closet needs. In fact almost every wardrobe probably has at least one version, or indeed a Breton inspired item and I for one, can not pass a striped t-shirt in a store or online without seriously considering adding it to my cart because the humble striped sailor striped shirt, which began it’s life as a hard working uniform item is more than just practical, it’s highly wearable, versatile and chic too! And speaking of chic, was there ever a more French item of apparel? Presumably in Paris, every teenager is bequeathed a one-size-fits-all breton as a right of sartorial passage. ‘OK Claudette, the beret is optional (but de rigueur right now!) but the Breton is an essential, oui? …or something like that.
And in the words of the French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier;
“I’ve always loved the graphic and architectural aspect of stripes,” “They go with everything, never go out of style, and probably never will.”
And we totally agree! And because i always think it’s nice to be informed and have a little backstory on such icons, here’s a little history…
The style was originally introduced for the French Navy in 1858 and featured 21 stripes – each stripe meant to represent a victory of Napoleon Bonaparte and was (and still is) produced in Bretagne (pronounced ‘Breton’) by the company Tricot St James as hard wearing, wool and cotton shirts in distinctive blue and white stripes which made overboard mariners easier to spot in the waves (the ultimate in practicality). The shirts were known as ‘matelot’ or ‘marinière’ (Sailor) shirts, and became popular with local Breton workers on shore too.
Endeared by the easy style and practicality of the sailors breton top and pants during a trip to the coast of France, Coco Chanel went on to create the first casual womenswear collection of designs; the ‘Nautical Collection’ in 1917. In an era when tight corsets, heavy skirts and buttoned up jackets were still the fashion, trousers were considered unladylike and still frowned upon, so Coco’s nautical inspired, unstructured separates with ‘beach pyjamas’ – flared, long legged pants, with ‘pullover’ breton sweaters (with no fastenings!) and masculine style belts were a far cry from the Belle Epoch silhouette, but were accepted on the more relaxed french Riviera where resorts such as St Tropez were becoming popular at the time and where she and her friends showcased her designs and the collection caught on and the designs were featured in British and American Vogue. Et Voila, Coco Chanel literally changed the shape of women’s casual fashion forever and from it’s working class beginnings, the Breton top became a symbol of Haute-Bourgeois style on the riviera and has endured as an iconic fashion item ever since.
AS SEEN ON SCREEN
Many times reproduced, the basic ‘breton-style shirt’ has since been associated with writers, artists (both struggling and successful) beatniks, rock stars, punks & movie stars, bikers, it girls and the all-round stylish.
In the 1930’s the style was popular as leisure wear with decadents and intellectuals like F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and then in late 1950s and ’60s, the style boomed once more with the Beatnik Movement and French New Wave cinema, with artsy boys in berets and wayfarer sunglasses and tomboyish girls with gamine looks, black tights and ballet pumps like Jean Seberg in ‘Breathless’ and Jeanne Moreau in ‘Jules et Jim’ and in the United States, Audrey Hepburn in ‘Funny Face’ and Edie Sedgwick in Andy Warhol’s 1965 film ‘Kitchen’.
Clockwise from top left: Jean Seberg and Madonna, stealing Jean’s style for her Papa Don’t Preach video; Anthony Quinn and Anna Karina; Audrey Hepburn.
Brigitte Bardot super stripe advocate; and Leslie Caron in the original and still the best St James Marinière
Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol
The Breton was a favourite of Pablo Picasso and check out his plaid and stripes print mix – so on trend!
A favourite with musicians and rock stars such as (from top left) Bob Dylan; Keith Richards; Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and The Velvet Underground, a swell as Adam and the Ants, Alex Turner, Mark Ronson, Kurt Cobain, Debbie Harry, The Police… I could go on
Usher; Idris Alba; David Beckham and Alex Turner
The Wild One, Marlon Brando 1953; Rebel Without A Cause, James Dean 1955; in and Robert Redford smouldering in stripes.
And if the photos above weren’t inspiration enough, stripes can – and should be liberally applied with prints and block colours of all types!