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The Breton Striped Shirt: An Iconic French Fashion Staple

The Breton Striped Shirt: An Iconic French Fashion Staple

french breton striped shirt

If there is one piece that most of us probably have in our closets, it’s the classic Breton striped shirt. This cotton long-sleeved shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes, originally worn by seamen in the French Navy, has become a staple in French fashion. Nothing says French effortless chic quite like a Breton top. It has an everlasting appeal that we doubt it will ever shake. And some of the most stylish moments in history featured these famous stripes; cast your mind back to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face or the many photos of Brigitte Bardot at St Tropez.

As far as basics go, the Breton striped shirt is as necessary as a trench coat, or a pair of espadrilles, and like those French wardrobe staples, the allure of the Breton stripe shirt lies in its versatility. Keep reading below to learn more about this iconic French fashion staple, and shop the best Breton striped shirts (marinières in French) that’ll go with any outfit.

A Brief History Of The Iconic Breton Striped Shirt

1858: French Navy’s Uniform

french breton striped shirt history
Training of officers and cadets of a French ship on the Thames, Photograph, England, London, 1935.

In 1858, the French Navy introduced a heavyweight indigo-striped shirt for its uniform, otherwise known as the Breton, the marinière, or tricot rayé in French. The blue-and-white tee, with 21 total stripes (a tribute to each one of Napoleon’s victories) was an easy way to detect the whereabouts of unlucky French sailors who’d fallen overboard on the high seas. The shirt was also designed with three-quarter length sleeves and a boat neckline — a low cut hem around the neck — so that it could be easily removed and waved around, thus making the lost sailor easy to spot.

1917: Coco Chanel’s Nautical Collection

french breton striped shirt history coco chane
Gabrielle Chanel and her dog Gigot at La Pausa, 1930.

La marinière became a fashion statement at the beginning of the 20th century. First, the Breton stripe was really “discovered” by Coco Chanel, who brought the style into the fashion mainstream after incorporating blue and white stripes into her 1917 nautical collection. Her main inspiration was sailors’ uniforms she saw during a trip to the French Coast. Years later, Karl Lagerfield paid tribute to the Maison Chanel by regularly recreating the marinière for his fashion shows, especially in his ready-to-wear summer collection “Croisière”.

In the 1940s well-known personalities from John Wayne, then Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol, Brigitte Bardot to Marilyn Monroe adopted the look. In 1960, the Breton striped shirt was associated with French New Wave Cinema and was a favorite of many on-screen stars like Jean Seberg, who worn the sailor style in the 1960 film “Breathless”.

1983: Jean-Paul Gaultier’s “Toy Boy” Collection

Then, in 1966, Yves Saint Laurent introduced the Breton striped shirt in his “Sailor” (“Matelot” in French) collection. But it was Jean-Paul Gaultier who, in his first fashion show in 1978, took up the idea. In 1983, the Breton striped shirt became the major element of his “Toy Boy” collection. At the end of the show, the designer came to greet the audience dressed in a Breton striped shirt. Jean-Paul Gaultier used the marinière in many creations, even transforming it into evening gowns and using the image of the striped shirt on his male perfume bottle: “Le Mâle”.

Since then, the Breton striped shirt has become something of a French cliché and stereotype. The marinière —regardless of thickness and number of stripes plus the color of them— is now considered a staple of the effortlessly chic French style. Many French people (both men and women) still wear this iconic sailor’s shirt, a must-have of the French wardrobe.

11 Breton Striped Shirts You’ll Wear With Everything

The Breton stripe has since been a staple of many women’s wardrobes, and it suits pretty much every occasion and style. It’s now easier than ever to buy a Breton, and you can get your hands on all sorts of color combinations, widths, and sleeve lengths to suit your taste. Here are listed below a few of my favorite marinières to shop for.

  1. Saint James Minquiers Moderne Authentic Breton Stripe Shirt
  2. Armor Lux White Jersey Breton Top With Boat Neck
  3. Sézane Noan Marinière
  4. Mango Stripes Organic Cotton T-shirt
  5. Arlette Striped Cotton-Jersey Top
  6. Everlane The Modern Breton Tee
  7. Frame Mariner Stripe Boatneck Top
  8. Armor Lux White Breton-style cotton T-shirt
  9. Sézane Colette Marinière
  10. Whistles Breton Striped Top
  11. Saint James Mediterranée 3/4 Sleeve Nautical Stripe Shirt

The Authentic Marinière Made In France

Nowadays, Breton striped shirts are still traditionally manufactured in Brittany by French companies such as Saint James, Armor Lux, and Orcival.

Saint James

Saint James was first worn by sailors as a uniform back in 1858. Founded in 1889, Saint James was one of the first companies to start producing Breton striped shirts after the production moved upwards from a cottage industry. The brand’s designs are still made in the same atelier near Mont Saint Michel in France.

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Armor Lux

Created in 1938 in Quimper, Armor Lux has become an iconic French fashion brand, famous for the originality of its clothes inspired by the sea, and its commitment to produce the highest quality knits from its factories in the Celtic region of Britany, France. Taking inspiration from the French maritime tradition, Armor-Lux produces authentic nautical pieces for men, women, and children.

Orcival

Since 1939, Orcival has been founded to manufacturing marinières for the sailors. A genuine brand with a strong commitment to promoting know-how and high-quality products, Orcival perpetuates manufacturing in France of timeless, iconic Breton striped shirts. Orcival’s marinières are made to last. Indeed, the company upcycles vintage Orcival Marine Nationale marinières that feature an ink ID number.

Et voilà! I hope this guide will help you to shop for the best French Breton striped shirt! If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below.

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