Breton striped Shirts
Breton stripes,  Nautical tops

The Breton Shirt

An iconic garment that never goes out of fashion.

From humble workwear for the French Navy to Haute Couture catwalks, the Breton shirt or “La Marinière“, is the classic French striped top that everyone should have in their wardrobe. The effortless choice for those “What to wear?” moments. Easy to wear with just a pair of jeans or with a blazer for the smarter city style. Of course, it is still at home on board whether on a cruise or on a yacht. This timeless garment is designed with everyone in mind and will last a lifetime.

A bit of history

Dating back to the March 1858 French Navy-Wear Act when all mariners were required to wear a blue and white striped long top in order to aid spotting and rescuing should they fall into the sea. The rules required 21 white stripes of 20 mm and 20/21 blue stripes of 10 mm. Sleeves were of 7/8 length to fit as an under garment of their smock. Indigo blue was also the colour at the time and still is in use in today’s official French Navy outfit.

French Navy Sailor Trainees 2013 © Claude TRUONG-NGOC, Wikipedia
French Navy Sailor Trainees 2013 © Claude TRUONG-NGOC, Wikipedia

The stripy style grew in popularity and by 1917, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was inspired to introduce it as the ladies fashion item we know and love today. Inspired by the local fishermen, particularly around the busy ports of Brittany, she was soon designing, wearing and selling a full range of Breton clothing from her Deauville boutique.

Coco Chanel wearing a Breton top
Gabrielle Chanel in marinière, 1928 © Wikipedia

Where Chanel’s “haute couture” lead the aristocracy and middle class, soon followed and by the 50s and 60s, the marinière had become a symbol for artists and intellectuals alike. Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Paul Gaultier, just to name a few, were all fans of what became known as the Breton style. This brought it public consciousness where it has remained as the effortless multi-functional top.

The original manufacturers

When we first started stocking Breton striped shirts back in 2010, the market was still relatively niche and focused around the original French manufacturers. Nowadays, every possible brand has jumped on the wagon from high street names to supermarket’s own labels. So when it comes to choice, you will find everything and anything, and for everybody’s budget.

However, for us, as a nautical clothing destination, it is important that we always remain loyal to our roots. Today, the word “Breton” has lost its significance in the English language being well overused for anything with stripes. But for us, a Breton shirt or a Breton top is simply and only an authentic “marinière”.

We classify authenticity from its country of origin. A few keywords which have become even more critical since Brexit when it comes to tariffs ! In other words, it must be made in France. Many are designed in France but not made in France, primarily for cost reasons. Today, there are only three main manufacturers producing in France, Saint James (1889), Armor-Lux (1947) and Orcival (1939) with Le Minor (1922), a smaller player but still proudly in operation. If you are unsure whether a Breton Shirt is made in France or not, the price and the quality are usually two good indicators !

How to choose your Breton shirt

Before you add it into your basket, let’s take a look at some features you should consider before making your final choice.

  • cotton type

Being originally designed for a life on board, the Breton shirt was made in carded cotton, ie a heavyweight cotton, to be practical and long lasting. Since then, manufacturers have introduced more options in cotton types and thicknesses to attract a wider audience. Essentially, you will find either a summer lightweight cotton or a heavyweight cotton.

Men's St James Meridien Heavyweight Breton Shirt, Navy Blue/Cream
Men’s St James Meridien Breton Shirt, Navy Blue/Cream, carded cotton, straight cut, £65*

The lightweight is always a jersey type, soft to the skin, perfect for the summer. However, if you are after one to wear as a transitional top, opt for the heavyweight. Make sure you check the types, typically carded, combed or interlock jersey. The carded cotton is what we would call a “dry” cotton. It can be a little scratchy to some, but will soften with washing. The combed cotton is softer and as a result more expensive as the cotton has been further processed to remove impurities resulting into a finer and better quality. The interlock jersey is very soft on the skin and very thick so no risk of see through and as such, much liked by ladies in our opinion.

⚓️ Take me to all summer lightweight Breton shirts ⚓️

⚓️ Take me to all heavyweight Breton shirts ⚓️

  • design

The cut has slightly evolved ever the years, but fashion is well known for revisiting itself ! Originally a straight cut, it followed by the drop shoulder, very much in vogue in the 80s and 90s. Since then the straight cut has been back on the scene, still as the most favoured design. However, if you are broad shouldered, you may prefer to opt for a drop shoulder.

Men's Breton Sailor Shirt, drop shoulder, thick interlock jersey
Men’s Breton Sailor Shirt, drop shoulder, thick interlock jersey, £59*

The traditional Breton shirt is with stripes from the neckline to hem but stripes from chest down are equally fashionable. It is really a matter of taste.

The neckline was originally a boat neckline, ie quite high and wide across. Today, it is mainly produced as a round or crew neck with a few more options for the ladies.

In terms of sleeve length, whilst the long sleeves are by far the most sought after, you can very much take your pick between 5/7, 3/4, elbow and short sleeves.

Ladies' Elbow Sleeved Breton Tops, Heavyweight Jersey
Ladies’ Elbow Sleeved Breton Tops, heavyweight interlock jersey, £59.99*

⚓️ Take me to all short sleeved Breton shirts ⚓️

⚓️ Take me to all 3/4 sleeved Breton tops ⚓️

⚓️ Take me to all long sleeved Breton shirts ⚓️

  • colours

White and navy blue are the unbeatable preferred colours followed by cream, ie ecru, and red. If you want to remain true to the French Navy style, opt for indigo or cobalt blue. However, as all our stripes fashionistas will know, you can never have too many Breton tops. Every year, nautical brands will bring some one off colours for one season only. So, if one takes your fancy, don’t wait. We particularly like the French label Mousqueton who champions colours in their entire range, not just their stripy tops. Whilst these are not made in France, these offer a very good quality/price balance.

breton top colours
Breton tops, some colour options

It is a family affair !

Of course, these lovely garments are not just for men and women alike. Let’s not forget our little sailors who are looking just equally on trend !

Children's Breton Tops, White/Red
Children’s Breton top, lightweight, white/red, £16.50*
Children Breton top, white/navy
Children’s Breton Tops, lightweight, white/navy, £16.50*

For more choices in our men’s range, follow this link ➡️ Men’s Breton shirts ⚓️

For our whole ladies’ collections, follow that link ➡️ Women’s Breton tops ⚓️

* Prices are correct at the time of post publication

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