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A brief history of the Breton stripe

A brief history of the Breton stripe

Although Iris has her feet firmly on the streets of London, you may have noticed we have a bit of a crush on French-girl fashion. And if there is anything more French than a choppy fringe, deep-red lipstick and the smell of fresh croissants drifting in through your wrought-iron Juliet balcony, it’s that ubiquitous bold stripe – in white, navy, red or blue – the Breton.


The original Breton stripe was born over 160 years ago, when it became part of the French naval uniform in the 1850s, in the form of the tricot rayé, or ‘striped knit’, inspired by the tightly knit, striped sweaters that fishermen across France wore at the time. These official navy undershirts featured 21 blue, horizonal stripes: one to represent each of Napoleon’s victories. The pattern was also said to have made it easier to spot any sailors that fell overboard. Soon, however, it began to stand out for more aspirational reasons.


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Coco Chanel was famously the first to weave the Breton into her womenswear, with the launch of la marinière – ‘the sailor’ – sold at the opening of her shop in Deauville in 1913, forever associating the design with effortless, French-girl chic. Not a decade has gone by since without another reincarnation of la marinière gracing the bodies of the world’s most glamorous and influential individuals, from Audrey Hepburn to Jackie Onassis.


In the 60s, the Jean Luc Godard’s Nouvelle Vague memorialised the Breton on screen, with the iconic Jean Seberg being driven through the streets of Paris in Breathless and Brigitte Bardot pouting her way through Contempt. Around the same time, across the Atlantic, the Breton was catapulted into the New York City underground scene, adopted by the Velvet Underground, and Pop Art darlings, Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgewick. In the 80s, Jean Paul Gaultier put la Marinière front and centre of his Boy Toy show and, twenty years later, Kate Moss was still making sure it was a staple of every it-girl’s uniform. In the last few years, Dior, Celine, Louis Vuitton and Valentino are among the big names in fashion still parading those classic French stripes down the runway.


Every year, there is an article about the ‘return’ of the Breton stripe, but by now we all know it has never really fallen out of favour. Alongside a little black dress, the perfect jeans (link) and fresh white tee (link), if you don’t have a striped jumper in your wardrobe, you have some shopping to do.

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