Iconic Styles: The Breton Stripe Top

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Although it’s actually snowed this week, I am still sticking to my insistence that it’s Spring.

Sunnier days can only be around the corner, so I thought I’d look a bit closer at an iconic piece of clothing for this time of year. The Breton striped top.

Actually I think this style of top is perfect for the changeable weather at the start of spring. It’s often 3/4 sleeved and can be worn under a cardigan or jacket for warmth. It’s not as exuberantly spring like as florals, so when it rains you won’t look like an idiot, but it’s still fresh so when the sun comes out you don’t feel like you’re still in your winter garb.

The Breton stripe was first seen in 1858 when it was introduced as the uniform for all Seamen of the Navy of Brittany. The original design apparently featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories . It was known as marinière or matelot, the second name is still used as a general term for the lowest enlisted rank in the Navy.

In Fashion terms the Breton stripe was first popularised by Coco Chanel in her Nautical collection in 1917 and found success as fashion moved away from a heavily corseted style and sportswear and leisure pursuits became more popular.

The Breton stripe top has remained a casual wardrobe staple ever since, going through periods of increased popularity and often associated with a more bohemian or artistic style. In the 50s and 60s it was particularly popular among beatniks and intellectuals. I’m sure it’s association with France has imbued it with a sense of European elegance and intellectualism, particularly in the US. It’s classic style has graced such luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick, Audrey Hepburn, and Jean Seberg. To name a few.

Of course, one of the advantages of a breton stripe top is that it’s a unisex look, so you can just steal your bohemian boyfriends clothes, tousle your hair and you’re good to go. Men who’ve famously favoured the breton stripe top include Andy Warhol, Jean-Paul Gaultier, James Dean and Kurt Cobain.

Wear your Breton stripes with high waisted wide leg trousers (Heyday do good ones!) for a 1930s style, or capri pants and ballet pumps for 50s / 60s look à la Audrey Hepburn or Brigitte Bardot.

I love my Breton striped top, it’s perfect to wear dressed up or down, but I am on the look out for a new one as it’s getting a bit shabby.

The advantage of the classic popularity of the breton stripe top is that it’s not hard to find on the High Street. Here are some of my favourites!

3/4 Sleeve Striped Boatneck £7 Matalan

Long Sleeve Striped Organic Cotton Top £9 La Redoute

3/4 Sleeve Striped T £11.95 GAP

Cotton Scoop Neck Stripe Jersey Top £15 M&S

7 Responses
  • Helen
    March 7, 2012

    I have SO MANY striped tops! I’m wearing one right now, actually! There’s loads of them in the shops too – Marks & Spencers are always good for a stripey top and Sainsbury’s have some nice ones in at the mo’ for just £6 each (I had no idea Sainsers did clothes, but there you are…). I wear them with cardigans (again, from M&S). It’s my signature look when I’m not in a dress!

  • Paperdoll
    March 7, 2012

    I am also looking for another stripe top as my poor little T-shirt has seen better days! You look great (as usual) in these pics!! X

  • Jenna
    March 7, 2012

    I never realized a black and white striped top is so classic. I feel like I need to go buy one right now.

  • Perdita
    March 7, 2012

    Wot wot wot… Retrochick in jeans!?! But still looking oh so classy, naturally.

    I love some classic palazzos and a Breton top. Such a classic look, and of course it goes with my thoughtful, intellectualleft-bank self, sitting reading poetry by candlelight. Or not. But I do drink red wine and eat brie in it and feel tres bon.

  • Sue
    March 7, 2012

    I have at least 20 stripey tops – I really have to stop myself buying them now. It’s the ultimate classic, timeless, androgynous item of clothing, and I think I would actually kill a newborn to look like Coco Chanel in that first pic… Great blog.

  • Poppy Valentine
    March 10, 2012

    The Breton striped top is one of my favourite classic pieces. I have one I’ve had for years and it comes out every year and never seems to age. I love the whole beat generation/beatnik look with the Breton top, tight cropped trousers and flat pumps

  • Cynthia
    March 28, 2012

    I wore one when I was pregnant and it looked really nice. I don’t wear stripes that often, because I feel like they make me look fatter than I am. But when I was pregnant I couldn’t care less. But surprisingly it didn’t make me look any fatter than I was at that time…. Maybe I can still wear them now??? *wanders off to her closet*