Striped Tops – The Breton Shirt

striped tops

How many striped tops can one woman own?  I am having a wardrobe sort out  and seem to be the owner of at least 10. Long sleeved, short sleeved, zip up fleeces, all striped.

Must be my love of all things nautical but where did the striped top originate?


The striped Breton top that  we know  today came into being shortly after the 27th March, 1858 Act of France. This act introduced the navy and white striped knitted shirt as the uniform for all French navy seaman in Brittany.

brittany seamen
Brittany Seamen

The shirt is originally known as marinière or matelot. The design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napolean’s victories.

Since 1889, the top was manufactured by Bretagne, Tricots Saint James in wool and cotton for sailors. It then become popular with Breton workers, for its ease of wear and practicality.

The official striped navy and white shirt became more generally a working mariner garment as it was picked up by men of the sea; seafarers and sailors across the region of Northern France. The distinctive block pattern of stripes on the French striped shirt made them easier to spot in the waves. The top usually has a boat neckline and long sleeves.

Saint James Binic II sweater
Saint James Binic II sweater

The transition of this iconic clothing from traditional working class to female fashion was the introduction of more casual wear to women’s wardrobes. This was required at the time due to the increase in popularity of seaside destinations like Saint Tropez.

After a visit to the French coast, Coco Chanel introduced the design to the fashion world through her nautical collection in 1917.  Chanel designed  the shirt to be paired with long flared trousers. As the style adapted during the 1930s, the upper class would pair the top with a cravat, blazer and shorts

Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Andy Warhol, Audrey Hepburn and James Dean all made the shirt popular.

audrey hepburn
Audrey Hepburn

Trend Leaders

The design is now synonymous with chic Parisian style. Each year the shirt is recreated in collections by fashion houses like, Balmain, Gucci, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier.

jean paul gaultier
Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier has become a modern day ambassador of the style. He makes his press team to wear a version during his runway shows and the designer heavily features the style in his work.

 The Breton is a way of wearing nautical and furthermore is still as French as garlic. No doubt there will be a few more them joining my collection. Any excuse to go shopping.