The Classic Breton Stripe, A Must For Summer

I absolutely love the summer season.  Perhaps it is my So. Cal. up bringing, but I def. have a penchant for the hot summer sun, soft sandy beaches and almost anything that has to do with the ocean.  As such, I am a huge fan of summer wardrobe staples:  sundresses of any kind; long flowing maxi skirts; shorts, either tailored or cut off; silky tanks and asymmetrical T’s a la Alexander Wang; and, the list goes on and on and on . . .

As we have had some very unusually warm and summery weather in SF the past few weeks, I have finally been able to pull out some of my fav. summer staples, one of them being the oh so fabulous and always classic Breton stripe t or top.  Every woman, fashionista or not, should have a couple of these lovelies in her bag of tricks.  Elegant, timeless, and tres, tres chic, this staple will always be on trend no matter the time or place.  The absolute best part about the Breton stripe t – well, there are actually three pretty amazing things about this fab. garment:

  1. It has an incredible fashion history
  2. In it’s bevy of iterations it is very affordable
  3. It can be worn in oh so many fabulous ways!

First things first, here is a bit of history on said staple:

So what is the the Breton stripe top exactly? Traditionally it is a knitted shirt with long or at least three-quarter length sleeves, navy blue and white horizontal stripes and a boat neck silhouette.  Originally, in it’s purest form, it was made for the French Sailor.  Of course it’s French!, as, let’s be honest, so many things fabulous in fashion came from France.  So when did this number come about?  In 1958 it was decreed by French Law that the Breton stripe shirt would be an official part of the regulatory uniform for French sailors.  The theory was that the distinct pattern of the stripes would help find wayward seamen who fell overboard.  How forward thinking of them!  The original iteration of this striking top featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories.  Gotta love the symbolism. This lovely stripped tee then became the standard wear for all of the French Navy and fishing fleet.

Some Sailors in Their Breton Stripe Tops:

French Sailors Sporting the Breton Stripe

Now, how, may you ask did this seaman’s shirt become such a fashion staple??  Why, Coco Chanel, of course!

As the legend goes, in the early 1900’s Mademoiselle Chanel took a trip to the glam. shores of the French Riviera, where she was taken by the distinct and graphic look of the Breton stripe shirts donned by the hard at work fishermen in the Riviera’s Marinas.  Very soon after said trip, Chanel brought these fab. stripes to the runway as well as to her own wardrobe.  She would often pair this nautical staple with high-waisted, wide leg pants (which, is of course, so on trend almost a century later for both this summer and into fall :) .)

Coco Chanel in Her Breton Stripe T and Fab. Wide Leg Trousers:

Coco Chanel Donning the Breton Stripe

From then on the Breton stripe has had quite a history in fashion, art and culture.  After Chanel took a shine to it, of course, it became the look of the moment and could be seen on the likes of many an American and European socialite.  In the 60’s this stripped number became associated with French new wave cinema and was a favorite of screen sirens such as Jean Seberg.

Jean Seberg in Stripes:

Jean Seberg Sporting a Breton Stripe Top

Artistic geniuses like Warhol and Picasso often wouldn’t leave home with their versions of the Breton stripe t.

Warhol and Picasso Sporting Their Versions of This Nautical T:

Andy Warhol in the Breton Stripe

Picasso (by Robert Doisneau) in the B Stripe

Since it’s inception, it has been donned by so many a fashion icon and celebrity it truly is hard to keep track, from Jackie O. to Audrey Hepburn to Kate Moss to Alexa Chung.

The Fab. Four all in Their Breton Stripe Tops:

1.  Audrey Hepburn
2.  Jackie O.
3.  Kate Moss
4. Alexa Chung

And, throughout it all, the Breton stripe has always been embraced by high fashion.  This motif has been a favorite of many a designer over the years:  Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs; and, especially, Jean Paul Gaultier.  Year after year, season after season, this elegant nautical stripe continues to re-emerge on the runway, sometimes in its traditional form and sometimes re-interrupted in a unique and unexpected way.  For this Spring/Summer 2011 season, for example, we saw the seafaring top turned on it’s head in bright hued, wide stripes on Prada’s runway; and, as always Jean Paul Gaultier, gave us a more traditional take.

A Unique Take on the Breton Stripe From Prada Spring/Summer 2011:

Prada Spring/Summer 2011

Prada Spring Summer 2011

Jean Paul Gaultier Takes a More Traditional Route with the Breton Stripe for Spring/Summer 2011:

Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring/Summer 2011

Jean Paul Gaultier, Spring/Summer 2011

Now, where, oh where can you find some of this Breton stripe action of your own?? Here are a few pieces to start you out.  A couple are on the über traditional side, while a few are some stylin variations of the original.

1. Soft Joie, Tashi Deck Stripe Dress, ShopBop, $96.60
2. Women’s light-weight Mariniere , Petit Bateau, $52.00
3. Knitted Taupe Stripe Cropped Sweater, TopShop, $61.05
4. Aubin & Wills,Thornville striped cotton top, Net-a-porter, $80
5. J.Crew, Stripe blouson silk crepe de chine dress, Net-a-porter, $150

As always, happy shopping!

Stay tuned for 10 fab. ways to wear this timeless classic.

In The Seams

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2 Responses to The Classic Breton Stripe, A Must For Summer

  1. Pingback: The Classic Breton Stripe, A Must For Summer « oldnewyear

  2. Pingback: The Classic Breton Stripe, A Must For Summer « old:NY

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