Breton Stripe History

The History of the Breton Stripe

The Breton stripe originates from Brittany (or ‘Bretagne’ in French) on the North West coast of France.   A decree on the 27th March 1858 introduced the striped shirt as the prescribed seaman’s uniform. The stripes were white for 2cm and then blue for 1cm.  The style of the top was crafted for practicality – the length of the top was intended to cover the lower back of the seafarer and the top was not too loose so as not to get caught on anything during work.

Brittany Flag and French marinière wearing Breton Stripe

The navy and white knitted shirt was made the uniform of the French navy.  Somewhat ironically, the garment usually has a boat neckline.  The distinctive striped pattern made them easy to spot in the waves in emergencies.

The stripe pattern is so closely linked with Brittany that their flag, designed in 1923, also contains the Breton stripe pattern, albeit in black and white rather than navy blue and white.  The nine horizontal stripes represent the traditional Brittany dioceses

The Rise of the Stripe

It became popular with workers in Breton as it was so easy to wear.

Icons Audrey Hepburn and James Dean wearing Breton Stripes

Many designer have a long enduring love of the simple but chic stripe. Coco Chanel introduced the striped pattern to a nautical inspired collection in 1917, after visiting France.  Seaside destination holidays, like St Tropez, were becoming popular and so this more casual style was ideal. This style broke away from the more heavily fitted styles of the time.   This stripe style was made even more popular by icons James Dean and Audrey Hepburn (above left and right) Marilyn Monroe, Edie Sedwick, and Brigitte Bardot, wearing the style.

Jean Paul Gaultier requires his press team to wear stripes during their runway shows. The designer himself is often found wearing his trademark Breton striped top and kilt.  In 2010 he even turned his hand to interior design to re-design the former apartment of famed French architect Jacque Carlu, situated in front of the Eiffel Tower, Paris. Signature nautical stripes were used all over the apartment, resulting in an interesting monochromatic look.

The Breton stripe is also well documented throughout iconic films.  James Dean wore breton stripes in Rebel without a Cause (1955).  In 1965, Edie Sedgwick dressed in a signature breton top and black tights, in Andy Warhol’s film ‘Kitchen’ optimising Warhol’s style throughout the 60’s.

From its humble beginnings as a naval uniform, the Breton stripe pattern has grown to be almost synonymous with effortless Parisian style but further than that it has become a truly unisex product that has stood the test of time.

Fully embrace the stripe with an all over striped knit, reference stripes with a contrast striped cuff on your jumper or a touch of stripes with a blue linen striped tie.