FrenchStripes

How the French Got Their Stripes

Do French people actually wear stripes? What makes the striped shirt “French” and why all the stripes?

In this post, I’ll share with you the origins of the striped shirt and how it’s actually worn in France today. I’ll also share some tips on how to wear a striped shirt to make sure you look like a fashionable Frenchie instead of a Where’s Waldo outtake.

Origins of the ‘Breton Stripe':

The striped shirt was originally a naval sailor’s uniform, designed to help distinguish the sailors from the waves so you could find them more easily when they fell overboard. At the time, all the French navy hailed from Brittany, so the shirt was coined the “Breton” shirt and displayed 21 stripes – one for each of Napoleon’s victories against the British.

BretonSailors

The sweater was manufactured in both cotton and wool for sailors, but caught on with other workers in Brittany due to its practicality (seriously, what can’t you do with a knit top?). Eventually this became the popular garment for any sailor, not just those with the military.

Coco Chanel Earns Her French Stripes:

Breton_stripe_coco_chanel

On a trip to the coast, Coco Chanel became inspired by the sailor’s clothing and used it in her 1917 nautical line. Chanel designed her Breton top for ladies to be worn with flared trousers as a stark contrast to the then-popular corseted dress look for women.

By the 1930s, the Breton stripe had been elevated to “haute couture” status, making it a popular choice for fashionable upper class ladies.

New Waves and New Stripes:

Maybe they took the term “nouvelle vague” (literally: new wave) a bit too seriously, but the 1950s and 60s cinema in France re-embraced the sailor look whole-heartedly. Breton stripes graced the silver screen and became synonymous with the era.

Both women and men sported the signature look and soon even hollywood was playing along.

HollywoodBretonStripe

It was clear the stripes had become a real fashion staple.

The French Closet

Breton striped shirts these days are a closet essential, just like a black tee; they are as plentiful as baguettes on the streets of Paris.

Ladies can use a traditional Breton boat-neck tee or play with the pattern on other closet staples, like this awesome boyfriend blazer/ sweater on Betty from le blog de betty.

BretonStripesContemporaryParis

Left: the sartorialist, Right: le blog de betty

So there you have it! A naval uniform turned fashion staple! But use this staple wisely.

Here’re some tips to avoid the Waldo look:

Don’t make it gimmicky. This is certainly a piece that can go WAY over the top. If you pair a French striped shirt with a beret, everyone in Paris will surely laugh at you or think you’re on your way to get your mime makeup done.

When you wear a Breton top, make sure you pair everything else way down, like the lovely Parisians in the photos above.

Be aware that horizontal stripes make you look wider. Is this a cruel trick by skinny French girls to keep normal sized gals out of the cool kids club? Maybe. But you can still wear a Breton stripe as long as you pay attention to your figure. Form fitting horizontal stripes often make you look wider than something a bit more loose at the waist, so avoid the stuffed sausage look and go for comfort like Coco Chanel in that first picture.

Madewell Breton TopIf you’re looking to minimize the widening even more, getting a striped shirt where the thicker stripe is the darker color (navy or black) will help. I like Everlane’s breton striped top (pictured left) or this v-neck top from Madewell.

Tucking the shirt in a bit in the front can also help eliminate horizontal lines across the tummy.

Remember: you are not a Zebra. Camouflage is not your end-goal. Don’t wear head-to-toe stripes unless there’s some massive difference in scale between the top stripes and the bottom stripes. There’s nothing worse than looking like you just got released from cartoon prison.

Wear navy and cream or gray stripes instead of straight black and white stripes. This reduces the risk of looking cartoony, but you’ll still look Parisian chic. The black stripes tend to have that mime-y/ beatnik feel that can make them look a bit more costume-y. Navy stripes may be a bit more nautical, but that’s because they are! Remember, you’re paying a little homage to the sailors… hello, boys!

HelloBoys

I’ll leave you with this last little blog for stripe-inspiration: la mariniere.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’re sure to rock the Breton stripe in Paris or wherever you live!

What are your thoughts on Breton stripes? Do you love ’em or hate ’em? Let me know how you keep French stripes chic in the comments!

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. allison b-t says:

    thanks for the history lesson, way fascinating! i have worn stripes ala breton via my knit tops for so long that my friends are forever sending me links to anything striped saying how “me” it is. great tips on how to wear as well!

    Reply
    • emilygrossman says:

      Thanks Allison! Love that Breton stripes are already part of your signature style! Maybe you’re part French, or part sailor? In either case, way awesome!

      Reply
  2. Paris Pastry says:

    Fascinating! I like to add a little stripes to my wardrobe here and there. Never bores me!

    Xx

    Reply
    • emilygrossman says:

      They really are a fun basic, aren’t they? Adds just a little playfulness to any wardrobe!

      PS Your blog is adorable! And that rum punch looks perfect for a day like today!

      Reply
  3. What a great idea for a blog post! I never knew about the Breton stripes and connection to Napoleon.
    I am a sucker for stripes and recently found that I have quite a few skirts with the horizontal pattern on them. Although I have yet to buy a t-shirt – may have to go shopping!
    Love your site!

    Murissa

    Reply
    • emilygrossman says:

      Isn’t it fascinating?! It makes you think about the sailors every time you pull out a striped garment. Happy shopping and thanks so much for stopping by! So glad you’ve enjoyed it!

      Reply
  4. Ducky says:

    Love this, esp the comment about berets. I once saw a couple in Paris, aged about 30 and obviously tourists, each wearing identical brand-new navy blue berets. I wanted to step over and say ‘Excuse me but unless you’re a fisherman of about 80 and smoking Gauloises, a real French beret is not a good look.’

    Of COURSE I’ve got a beret. It’s pale turquoise wool and came from http://www.seasaltcornwall.co.uk Not very French.

    Reply
    • emilygrossman says:

      That is a hilarious story! And you’ve also given me a great idea – I should do a post on bérets! (though it would probably be a post with mostly, “don’t”s, haha!)

      I do like the “textured bérets” on seasaltcornwall’s site! They actually do look like things that French girls would wear — nothing like the traditional, stereotypically French béret. Thanks for sharing – you may see it in a post soon, too!

      Reply
  5. Chris says:

    Hi,

    This is actually pretty interesting and i really did not know about the number of stripes in the Breton sweater. I also just wanted to let you know that I have used some of the historical information that you have posted about the Breton top on my blog. However, I did cite your blog and added the link to it. Below, is how I included it in my blog:

    A piece of history about the Breton sweater according to Goutaste.com

    The striped shirt was originally a naval sailor’s uniform, designed to help distinguish the sailors from the waves so you could find them more easily when they fell overboard. At the time, all the French navy hailed from Brittany, so the shirt was coined the “Breton” shirt and displayed 21 stripes – one for each of Napoleon’s victories.

    Then on one of Coco Chanel’s trip to the coast, she was inspired by the sailor’s clothing and used it in her 1917 nautical line. Chanel designed her Breton top for ladies to be worn with flared trousers as a stark contrast to the then-popular corseted dress look for women. By the 1930s, the Breton stripe had been elevated to “haute couture” status, making it a popular choice for fashionable upper class ladies. (Source: Goutaste.com)

    I hope that you don’t mind if I used your posted information and cited your blog, if you are please let me know as I have not published the post yet.

    Thank you,

    Ms. Mashup

    Reply
    • Emily Grossman says:

      Hi Ms. Mashup! That’s no problem at all as long as you put the text you copied directly into quotes and add the citation. Thanks so much for thinking of Goutaste in your post :)

      Reply
  6. Lovely! It’s been a few days that I was indeed wondering where striped t-shirts come from and why they are typically associated with French fashion. Now we know, fascinating!

    Reply
  7. Marylou says:

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Many thanks!

    Reply
  8. This design is incredible! You obviously know how to
    keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent
    job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

    Reply
  9. Kory says:

    Awesome content. You should use social websites to increase traffic and make your site go viral.

    There are tools which automate this time consuming process.Visitors can flood your
    page in no time, just type in google for:
    Rixisosa’s Social Automation

    Reply
  10. mandi says:

    How about navy white striped dresses? What occasion is appropriate to wear a casual striped dress? only for sailing?

    Reply
  11. Daniel says:

    Great article! Do you recommend any brands for males?

    Best,
    Daniel

    Reply

Trackbacks for this post

  1. votre grande soeur / friday links
  2. Is A French Manicure Actually French? | goutaste
  3. My Fab Finds: Stylish Stripes | House of Evans
  4. Happy 130th Birthday, Coco Chanel! | goutaste
  5. My Style 'Must Haves': Stylish Breton Stripes | House of Evans
  6. Sea-ing Stripes | PreciOso Forecasting
  7. Why Do French Metro Musicians Sound SO Good? | goutaste
  8. Joyeux Nöel – A Holiday Gift List for the Francophile | goutaste
  9. Review: BFMC The Artist Barbie Doll | My Barbie Doll
  10. Wo kommen die Streifen her? | Sher-Lok
  11. Wishlist Wednesday #30 - Breton Stripe Dress | she dreams in perfect french
  12. Feeling Quintessentially French | Daisyish Days
  13. The History of Stripes in Bullet form | The Printapattern Blog
  14. ¿Por qué las camisas de marinero tienen rayas azules y blancas? - Brands & Roses
  15. Introducing the Liesl + Co Maritime Top | Blog | Oliver + S
  16. The Third-Generation Schmatte Man Who Became Shirtmaker for ‘Fiddler’ on Broadway – Kstati
  17. The Stripes Of Spring - Dear Velvet
  18. 15 gestreepte outfits -
  19. Rule Bretagne: How Bretons Got their Stripes
  20. Rule Bretagne: How Bretons Got their Stripes - LuxPad
  21. Independence Day 2015 – Chez Brollier
  22. Een gestreept shirt is alles wat ik nodig heb dit seizoen