Now & Then: The Breton Shirt

An all-American style staple originated from French navy seamen.

When French designer Joseph Altuzarra won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize last year, part of his prize was the chance to collaborate with the ultimate retailer of the U.S. preppy lifestyle, J.Crew. Saint Tropez replacing Cape Cod as it’s inspirational epicenter, Altuzarra’s seven-piece capsule collection launched last month was influenced by that impeccable motif of French preppy style – the Breton shirt.

Joseph Altuzarra’s new collaboration with J. Crew puts a Gaelic twist on U.S. preppy style.

Eternally jaunty and iconic, the blue-and-white striped knitted top, traditionally known as a marinière was officially introduced as part of the uniform requirements for French navy seamen in 1858. It was said that this stripe made it easier to spot them if they’d fallen into the sea. The closely knitted double-twist cotton was also windproof and extremely sturdy, making it highly suitable clothing for other sea workers, including fisherman.

Coco Chanel elevated the shirt’s style status from its working-class roots. 

Ever influenced by the ease of menswear styles, Coco Chanel adopted the look pairing it with wide-leg pants after noticing it worn by the fisherman of Brittany during a vacation in 1917. Ever since, women have found it hard to resist its nautical charms. And it looks good on men too. Pablo Picasso, Jean Paul Gaultier and Andy Warhol have all been photographed wearing the classic style.

The blue-and-white striped shirt was popular with Andy Warhol and all the Factory regulars, including Edie Sedgwick in 1965.

The always-fresh print is the perfect piece to pack for a seaside vacation. It looks equally chic paired with a slim pair of pants and ballet flats as it does clashed with a floral skirt. As a part of classic French style, it lends itself beautifully to creative interpretation – but to be on the safe side – skip the beret.

James Dean proving the classic style looks so great men too.

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Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.