I love Breton stripes. A mainstay of fashion, unisex, and gender free!
I have a drawer full of these stripy tops (I even do a ‘Breton’ wash), as well as having a Breton clutch bag, and a Breton laundry hamper. There’s some wallpaper out there too that I’ve got my beady eye on. I definitely have a bit of an addiction to this simple stripe – one part colour, to three parts white, or vice versa.
So, where did the Breton top come from? Created in 1858, for the French Navy, the ‘Marinère’ or ‘Matelot’ top had 21 stripes – one for each of Napoleon’s victories. The stripes were to help spot sailors who had gone overboard. Useful to know next time you go sailing. Saint James have been making them in Normandy since 1889, and still do.
Coco Chanel is credited with being the first to make a top worn by working sailors, fashionable, using it in her collection in 1917. It has relentlessly popped up on the catwalk, decade after decade ever since. It has never been out of fashion, and copied for the masses by the millions.
The Beatniks, the first rebellious ‘hipsters’ adopted it in the 1950’s and 60’s. Madonna, Bananarama and Jean-Paul Gaultier popularised it again in the 80’s. As one of Gaultier’s signature looks, he even adopted it as part of his brand identity, and it decorates some of his fragrance bottles. Balmain sent it down the catwalk in 2009, and it has littered High Street shops ever since. J.Crew couldn’t make its signature pattern-clash style work without one.
It is synonymous with the seaside, but part of its popularity and longevity of this stripe is the Breton’s association with creatives – artists, designers, actors and writers all wear them – Picasso, Hemingway, Warhol, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgewick, Jean Seberg… Who wouldn’t want to be associated with that crowd?
It has been invented, and reinvented, but the classic, slash neck, white ground with navy stripes continues to be a winner – well at least it is in my wardrobe!
Please feel free to leave any comments in the below form. I’d love to hear from any fellow addicts!