Classic Breton Stripes: The striped breton shirt as we know it today came into being shortly following the 27th March, 1858 Act of France which introduced the navy and white striped knitted shirt as the uniform for all French navy seaman in Brittany. The shirt was originally known as marinière or matelot.
The original design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories. Inspired by sailors, after a visit to the French coast, Coco Chanel introduced the design to the fashion world through her nautical collection in 1917. The Breton top became a symbol of haute-bourgeois loveliness during the pre-war Riviera years. The introduction of this garment from the traditional working class to female fashion, was a breakaway from the heavily corseted belle epoque fashion of the time.
The introduction of more casual wear to women’s fashion was required at the time due to the increase in popularity of seaside destinations, like Saint Tropez. Coco Chanel designed the piece to be paired the shirt with long flared trousers. As the style adapted during the 1930s, the upper class would pair the top with a cravat, blazer and shorts.
The shirt was then made popular by Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Jean Seberg. The design is now synonymous with chic Parisian style.
The shirt has been recreated in collections by fashion houses like, Balmain, Gucci, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier, who has become an ambassador of sorts. He requires his press team to wear a version during his runway shows. The designer featured the style heavily in his work, most notably his male perfume bottle, Le Male which launched in 1993, is clad in a breton T-shirt.
The top is now worn by the likes of Kate Moss, Olivia Palermo and Alexa Chung.