Wardrobe Essentials: The Breton Stripes

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I’m not quite sure when my love for Breton striped shirts actually started. Maybe it was when I first saw my mother wearing her’s with her jeans during our weekends together, or maybe it was from flicking through my mother’s fashion magazines as a kid. All I know is that my love for this timeless fashion piece started when I was very young. I don’t know what it is about this shirt, but whenever I go shopping, striped shirts will always attract my attention. I have so many striped shirts in my wardrobe that whenever I feel like wanting to buy another striped top on impulse, I have to quickly remind myself that I already have the same version of that top at home.

They are simple yet so classic and effortlessly chic. Whether it’s short sleeve or long sleeve, I wear them so often that it’s like my uniform, knowing that regardless of whatever’s the season it is never wrong to wear stripes.

If I have to quickly come up with a list of my wardrobe staples, Breton striped shirts are definitely at the top of the list. They are simple yet so classic and effortlessly chic. Whether it’s short sleeve or long sleeve, I wear them so often that it’s like my uniform, knowing that regardless of whatever’s the season it is never wrong to wear stripes. When worn well, they can instantly make you look like a chic Parisian (a girl can dream right?), plus they are always above trend and will never, ever go out of style!

Whenever I’m really into a piece of clothing or an accessory, I’d always like to know more about its story. Of course, the same goes to Breton stripes, so I did a little bit of research and found that the history of these ‘French’ stripes is very intriguing indeed:

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Origins of the Breton Stripe:

The striped Breton shirt as we know and love today was first introduced as a uniform to the French navy in Brittany, a historical nautical province in the north-west of France. The shirt was later called the ‘Breton’ shirt and it originally featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories against the British. The design of these block patterned stripes also helped distinguish the sailors more easily from the waves when they fell overboard.

The shirt was manufactured in wool and cotton for sailors, and originally came with a boat neckline. It eventually became the official uniform for the French navy in 1858, however, its ease of wear and practicality soon became a popular garment not just for sailors (both in and out of military), but for other Breton workers as well.

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The Stripe Steps into Fashion:

So how did this sailor’s workwear transitioned into the fashion world? Leave it to Coco Chanel for her keen eye and amazing sense of style. After her trip to the coast, she became inspired by the sailor’s uniform and introduced it to the fashion world through her nautical collection in 1917. She designed her Breton top to be worn with flared trousers and pearls, which was a huge contrast to the then-popular corseted fashion for women at the time. Soon after, the Breton striped shirt was catapulted into the world of high fashion, and became a popular clothing item among the upper class in the 1930s, who would often pair the top with a blazer, cravat, and shorts.

Apart from its French elegance appeal, by the 1950s and 60s the Breton stripe also garnered a countercultural vibe, as movie stars and artists like James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol, Picasso, Patti Smith, and Jean Seberg all sported the French sailor look. The popularity of the Breton stripes spread like wildfire, becoming a style staple for both men and women.

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How the ladies wore their stripes back in the 1940s

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Breton stripes: a defining look of the 1960s

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Brigitte Bardot

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Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe

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Edie Sedgwick, Francoise Hardy, and Jean Seberg

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Andy Warhol sporting his striped top with black trousers — a look that introduced me to another cool combination in wearing the Breton stripes other than jeans

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Picasso, James Dean, and Marlon Brando

The Breton Stripes today — our beloved wardrobe essential:

Today the Breton striped shirt is worn by everyone from rock stars, models, It girls, to fashion editors. It is a chic classic that we simply just can’t get enough of.  I guess what makes the Breton striped shirt so charming is that it’s unisex and is incredibly versatile. Regardless of your personal style, you can wear it with almost anything. Dress it up with your favorite blazer and heels for a workday or dress it down with your boyfriend jeans and ballet flats for the weekend, and you’ll still look fabulous either way. It’s simple, it’s chic, and it’s effortlessly stylish. Plus, it really gives an impression that you know a thing or two about style. The only thing you should be aware of about this top is choosing the right fit for your body. I always avoid the form fitting ones and go for a slightly looser fit to pair with my jeans and black trousers for a comfortable, low-key minimal look.

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Old-school Madonna — stripes and jeans, the perfect combination

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Rock stars and their stripes — Kurt Cobain and Alex Turner 

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Emmanuelle Alt, editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris rocking the effortless chic look with her Breton striped top, leather jacket, and skinny jeans. She makes it look so easy!

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Alexa Chung, Leandra Medine of Man Repeller, and Ashley Olsen

I believe the Breton striped top always look best when you wear it with confidence, a bit of attitude, and especially in a way that lets your sense of style and personality shine through. Whenever I wear my Breton stripes, I feel more confident and to be honest, more attractive. It’s simply just….feels right. So far I own 16 Breton striped tops (the first time I counted for this post), and I don’t think it will stop there any time soon! Below are some of the striped tops from my collection 😛

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