A staple in most wardrobes, the Breton shirt has a bountiful history wrapped in historical culture and fashion industry heritage. The top is uniquely characterized by 22 alternate blue and white stripes, each said to represent one of Napoleon’s victories. The original and distinctive striped design made it easier to spot sailors that had fallen overboard.
This characteristically French garment has been on the vanguard of some of fashion’s most iconic moments. Gabrielle ‘CoCo’ Chanel was inspired by the Breton’s look and made its nautical style a classical French Riviera fashion statement. Chanel intended it to be worn with wide-legged trousers, thus using the practicality of menswear for the newly liberated women of the 1920s.
As with many staple fashion looks, it was cinema that cemented the Breton within the womenswear canon. Audrey Hepburn, whose influence made the little black dress, the white shirt and capri-style pants important, also gave us the template to the definitive simplicity of this timeless garment.
Jean Seberg wore one in Breathless and Brigitte Bardot matched her Breton top with a pair of cropped jeans and ballet pumps to define her signature look. Actresses beyond France adopted this quintessential French garment, with Natalie Wood, Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy all embracing the Riveria style. Its stylish interpretation has been elevated to a haute-couture status as well
as representing an anti-establishment / new wave symbol of rebellion.
Credit l-r: Getty, Vogue, Pinterest
From sixties French New Wave to Madonna’s 80s chic, to downtown NYC punk, this timeless fashion statement has always been a symbol of attitude, rebellion and elegance. It is one of the most gender-free looks of all time, and a cornerstone item for every woman’s wardrobe.
The Breton top has become a mirror of the times in which we live, high fashion and rebelliousness all in one. It has become as interchanging as the waves from which it originated. Now is the time for a new generation to grasp, embrace and reimagine.
Words by Ella Knight