The Breton sweater, a classic that no well stocked wardrobe should be without. We started stocking Breton sweaters back in 2010 when we first started The Nautical Company. For us, it was a no brainer, it belongs to the nautical classic range just like the cotton Breton top. As a native Breton myself, ie born and raised in Brittany before coming to the UK, I remember wearing my bright red wool mix top whilst sailing with my dad. I loved it and kept it until it was time to pass it down to my younger brother. And that is the key with quality Breton jumpers, they last for years. We could share the number of times customers come to us to replace their old favourites after 15 years or more of long and good service.
So what’s an authentic Breton sweater ?
It is traditionally a pure virgin wool, tight medium stitch knit, with a shoulder opening, high neck with a body hugging fit but no hem, and made in France. It is extremely warm. Originally designed and worn by French fishermen as a practical warm work outfit, aimed to be wind and waterproof, it has since become a bit of a fashionable garment for all, men, women and children alike.
Known as the “chandail Breton” in French, you will find variations in design in the marketplace nowadays to satisfy a diverse clientele but at The Nautical Company we focus on the original pattern and only partner with labels with strong nautical heritage.
Before buying a Breton sweater, here are a few key points you should look for:
Wool type: usually made in pure new wool, which depending on its country of origin, can be finer than others, the best being merino wool. Alternatively go for a wool mix, usually 50/50 wool-acrylic mix. This might be best especially with children but also the stitch is a little more relaxed so not as body hugging and therefore a bit more forgiving with body shapes.
Stitch type: always a medium size stitch but you can now find some really nice fine stitch merino wool ones for ladies (see below) which are much preferred if you intend to wear your garment as a fashionable piece rather than for outdoor activities.
Shoulder opening: always the same design but you will find a range of various types of buttons. The flat black buttons with the anchor shape are the ones we see as the most traditional ones but manufacturers also use branded buttons or silver metal ones which uplift the garment. The styling of buttons does change the overall finish of the garment so do check that too.
Neckline: There are two sorts. The authentic Breton sweater always has a high neck to keep you warm. However, in the last few years, manufacturers have produced some with a flat neckline too. It is a matter of preference of course but the overall effect is different so make sure you decide what you are after. It is not unusual for people to wear the high neck knit with one button undone as a matter of style or if you prefer a more relaxed look.
Hem: the traditional Breton sweater does not have a hem, it is a tube design to hug your body. Wonderfully warm but it will show shapes … and may not suit everyone. Therefore, you can get one with a regular fit, ie with a ribbed hem and a more relaxed shape, far less hugging. In other words, a traditional jumper with a shoulder opening and a high neckline like the one below.
Sizing: if you opt for the body hugging design, it is notoriously difficult to decide on sizing. Spend some time reading the sizing guide for the garment itself as opposed to a general one and do not hesitate to ask the retailer for advice before purchasing.
Country of origin: bien sûr, only the ones “made in France” classify as authentic !
Pattern: knitted both as plain and with stripes from neck or chest down, the choice is yours !
Colours: as you would expect a plain navy blue is popular. Alternative stripy versions abound. Every year, brands will release seasonal colours so if you see one that takes your fancy, grab it quick as it may be a one-off. Of course, you can always rely on the classics like this gorgeous deep red:
Unsure what will you fit best ?
Simple answer, contact us. As a small family business, we know all our garments very well. Give us a brief or detailed summary of what you want and/or want to avoid, your measurements & other requirements, and we will do our best to cover the options with you.
* All prices are correct at the time of post creation