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By Kasia Hastings, 21 April 2017

The Breton-stripe top is quintessentially French and, like most things from France, it’s cool, chic and perennially stylish. Its ability to transform even the simplest ensemble into a 'fit de triomphe means this maritime classic has garnered cult status well beyond sailors and seafolk. Here's the story behind la République's most famous fashion export. 

History of the Breton Stripe Top, French Sailors.

Wavy garms

The Breton has been making sartorial waves since its inception in Brittany (or Bretagne) in 1858. In fact, it was integrated into the national naval uniform to make sailors who found themselves floating overboard more visible in the waves. Originally in knitted or cotton form, each of its traditional 21 stripes is said to mark one of Napoleon’s famous victories.


Functionally fashionable, it was quickly adopted by seafarers, locals and other French folk, including Coco Chanel. The designer was so taken with the style that she included it in Chanel’s 1917 nautical-inspired collection, permanently positioning it in the couture wardrobes of the Paris elite.


The trend thrived in France throughout the 20s and 30s, and by the 50s it had broken into Hollywood with the help of style icons like James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Dean’s roguish reputation toughened up the Breton and cemented it as a menswear classic.

History of the Breton stripe top, Pablo Picasso.

Picture: Rex

Feeling like Pablo

It was also embraced by the art world, with Kanye West’s boy Pablo Picasso making it his vêtement of choice. In 60s New York, artist Andy Warhol added an alternative edge, wearing his with a thin stripe and black skinny jeans. It’s a look that’s easily updated with a bomber and a pair of loafers, à la Wiz Khalifa. And in the 70s, the print was popularised once again by that most stylish of rockers – Mick Jagger.

History of the Breton stripe top, Jean Paul Gautier.

Picture: Getty

Breton’s biggest fan

Perhaps no man has ever loved a Breton more than French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who hasn’t been seen without one since the early 90s. His penchant for (or unhealthy obsession with) the print has seen him pay homage to the style in countless collections and immortalise it on his iconic Le Male aftershave bottle.

History of the Breton stripe top, Justin Bieber.

Picture: Splash

90s nautical 

While the essential components have remained the same, the way we wear the shirt has continued to change. With the 90s came Windows 95, *NSYNC and Kurt Cobain. His infamous MTV outing with baby, Breton and shades in tow demonstrated how to do DGAF chic. His grungy style and attitude are emulated by longline lover Justin Bieber, who refreshes his beaten-up Breton with a camo jacket and pink beanie.

History of the Breton stripe top, A$AP Rocky.

Picture: Splash

An A$AP update

Fast forward a few years and the signature stripe has been picked up by everyone from Becks to Transatlantic brothers in garms Drake and Skepta, who team theirs with with black bottoms and fresh kicks, breaking new sartorial ground for the Breton. The print is now a key piece for streetwear labels like Neighborhood, Norse Projects and Unused, and featured heavily in style don A$AP Rocky’s GUESS Originals capsule collection in various red, grey and camel colourways. The rapper wears his with a denim jacket or dungarees to prove the Breton is still wavy.