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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

The Breton Shirt - Your Wardrobe - The Francais Way…


For my dazzlingly brilliant and beautiful niece, Breton ... as one of a kind, and yet as classic as her name… je t’aime, Bret! ❤️

Many people think that the Breton top is little more than a French fashion cliché. P'Niche can assure you - this top is real "thing" and a staple you will want to explore as you update your own wardrobe - the français way...

Let's start with a little history of the Breton shirt (or La Marinière as it is more properly called).


The Breton stripe top actually had an official fashion launch. The shirt was first introduced in 1858 as the required uniform for all French navy seamen in Northern France (Bretagne, or from Breton).

A proper Breton shirt features 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories over the British, and these distinctive stripes made it easier to spot errant sailors who had fallen overboard.


What's this you say? Twenty one exact stripes on each Breton shirt?

While it may be a cheeky "so-there", in reality, let's be honest; the newly manufactured knitting machines of the era would have found it easier to produce a pattern in this simple and linear fashion.

Military victories or ease of manufacturing the shirt... tomato, to-mah-to. It all works to create the fashion we so adore!


Now, aside from the ease of the pattern, you'd be correct in assuming that other uniforms have lots of toggles, buttons, and other adornments for effect.

However, when it comes to our Breton shirt, we have to admit that the Naval officers' lives were at risk every day in their heroic livelihood.

This shirt's lack of attached buttons, toggles, and zips means less opportunity to get snagged or ensnared in rigging, fishing nets, and other perils of the sea.

image: wikimedia commons

Love her or hate her, Coco Chanel (seen here wearing Breton stipes in 1928), has a lot to do with the Breton top we covet today.

It was in 1917 when Chanel transformed this seafaring uniform into a chic wardrobe staple and investment piece, by featuring it heavily in her couture collection of that season. This shirt, while chic, was also an introduction to female liberation - well, at least from the corsets and other fashionable constraints of the time.

We do wonder what it must have been like for those women of the time, rushing to get this newest of looks along the Deauville shore - what an absolute fashion thrill!


While Chanel was certainly not the first fashion designer to interpret and feature the Breton stripe into her collections, she is undoubtedly the most well known. Her craftsmanship, or new vision for the shirt, then trickled down into the mainstream and celebrity lifestyles alike.

You can see here, French Screen Queen and timeless beauty Brigitte Bardot, as she was featured in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film Contempt.

In what can only be described as casual chic to the max, her windswept hair, simple bottom and Breton top are still the look many women are trying to emulate and recreate for themselves in their fashion journeys.


Listen, P'Nichers, there are many chic women in this world who rarely, if ever, make a fashion misstep.

Personally, Audrey Hepburn is just the absolute epitome of elegance, grace, and a chic lifestyle.

Her approach to both life and fashion was to give to others before giving to yourself. In her own words, "As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others."

It's little wonder that she reached time and again for her Breton top to achieve this effortlessly easy breezy (yet ultimately feminine) look.


On the gentlemen's side, who could be cooler that Andy Warhol?

He was a devotee to the Breton shirt, taking this French style icon and crafting it to his own American sensibility.

Again, bringing it down a casual notch, Warhol oozes confidence of self in this ensemble of a simple Breton and straight leg trousers.


It seems this emblematic Breton stripe really attracts the artistic types, as Pablo Picasso was often seen wearing this pattern in his home in Southern France.

Time and again, he was seen about France in the Breton stripe. We wonder if the Breton's linear tendencies inspired any of his later masterpieces?

We like to think so!


More current, but no less creative, Jean Paul Gaultier has become nothing short of an ambassador to the look, heavily incorporating into not only his fashions, but his fragrances. etc. He has made the Breton strip more than fashion - he has made it a lifestyle

Looking for something a little easier on your wallet to bring this look home? To take nothing away from Gaultier's genius, the Saint James brand of Breton shirt really has become the market standard for the look for men, women, and children's collections.


Even French pop icon Zazie features the Breton stripe in her videos. One of her latest videos (L'Essenciel) showcases the top, highlighting that the versatile top works for all styles, ages, and occasions.

The full video can be found on youtube and it's quite a catchy and fun clip.

Aside from her decades long music career, Zazie is also well known for her keen sense of playfulness and chic, fashionable style.

We can't wait to see what Zazie does next!

Speaking of fashion - how to style your Breton top, P'Nicher? Let's have some fun and take a look at some ideas!


Timeless and effortlessly chic, nothing screams chic Parisian like a classic Breton top paired with blue jeans.

The cut of the jeans is not truly important on this look. Boyfriend, skinny, cuffed, or holes in the knees. Go for what suits your body type and you are sure to turn heads.

Pair with a comfortable ballet flat (ballerine) and head out the door.

This could be a great time to try out that statement bracelet you've been hoping to debut, as the rest of the outfit is so stylishly simple.

Don't forget your Parisian red lipstick and manicure to complete the look!


Now, if it is a bit cooler out, your Breton shirt can still be center stage.

You can add a quality wool or cashmere sweater over your shoulders for those early mornings or afternoons seated at a charming Parisian café.

A gorgeous patterned silk scarf can also add a dash of color to your ensemble. There are lots of ways to tie your scarf for that chic Parisian street style.

Make sure to use colors that will enhance the stripe. For example, if your Breton is navy and white, make sure that your scarf has a deeper blue in it to pull the whole look together with playful elegance.


Headed to a business meeting? Let's get down to business!

You can still wear your Breton shirt to office and business meetings. The key here is to keep it simple, but ensuring the stripes are the highlight of your ensemble.

You can add a good quality wool, cotton, or linen blazer - you can even roll some stripes over the cuffs for a pop.

Pair with look with tailored pants (always make sure that you purchase the pant cut that looks best on your lower half).

At your feet, you can add leather pumps with a kitten or high heel, with a heel or ankle strap. Try to ensure the shoe is the same color as your pants to keep that monochromatic look and to elongate your legs.


Known throughout the world for her classically elegant and regal style, the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton)

really nails the Breton style.

Teamed up with a traditional sailor pant style, her look is playful and chic at the same time, with a nod to the military and street style all at once.

Known for pairing High Street styles and quality pieces, you can see her pants are of quality fabric. You can also see she kept her body's lower half consistently monochromatic to make sure the stripes remain the focal point of her outfit.

Adding a pop of color clutch, some dangly diamond earrings, and her look had quite the fashionable effect!


Not to be outdone, the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) wore her Breton top differently, but had just as much style impact.

Clearly a bit more daytime casual, but equally as chic, her ensemble features a much more tailored pant with a nude ballerina flat shoe (which complimented her chic trench-esque coat).

With a neutrally colored tote bag and yoga mat, she added large, gorgeous sunnies to her look, with flowing locks, held back by a simple hair band.

As she effortlessly displays, you can still look ridiculously chic while running errands - it doesn't take that much effort to do so!


Are you headed to a show, museum visit, a tour, or even a friendly brunch with bottomless mimosas? This is a great time to wear your stripes!

A great go-to look for those easy breezy social gatherings - you can toss on your stipes and wear with a skirt (from just above the knee to maxi length).

Style with a cross body bag (currently all the rage and bag of choice in Paris), some fun sunnies and playful earrings or bracelet.

Finish off your look with a flat ballerine, loafer, or even a (clean) white sneaker and you are ready to hit the scene with style.

Bellini with your brunch, madame?!


P'Niche discovered this personal fave look quite by accident. Invited to a wedding, it looks like I forgot to properly check my To-Do List and left the top half of my dressy outfit on the ironing board. Drama!

T-Minus one hour to the formal attire wedding, and I had my satin ball skirt, evening clutch, and heels - but no top.

What's a P'Nicher to do?!

I simply grabbed my Breton top, made a small knot by the side of my navel and headed out to the wedding, head held as high as any French sailor standing at attention.

Wouldn't you know it? People raved about the outfit and it's creativity. P'Niche felt ever so chic and comfortable all night long - from vows, to dance floor, to post wedding fireworks display!


Unseasonably damp, chilly or heading into that in-between season temperature?

No stress! You can layer up your Breton stripe top with a denim, white or even checked (Vichy) blouse underneath.

Pair these layers with a pant of any color or texture. White, blue, or black jeans, trousers, etc. with a flat loafer or sneaker.

This would be a great moment for a fun statement necklace as well.

Add on your favorite trench coat as an outer pinning for a warm and easy - breezy chic look. This multi-layered and multi-faceted look can take you from office to errands to drinks and dinner.

Gentlemen, we see you too (and we love to see you in Breton stripes as well!) You could consider some styling like these...


I mean, does it get any better or classically French chic than a man in a Breton top with jeans?

This go-to look simply could not be any easier. You grab your favorite jeans - again making sure that the cut of your jeans is what best suits or size and shape.

You add a Breton top, in the color stripe of your choice (there are so many options) et voilà, you're nearly set!

You can select the footwear that best suits your style - sneaker, loafer, or even a boot.

Depending on temperature, you can add a quality sweater to toss over your shoulders or even a great cotton or wool scarf to complete your look.

P'Niche swoons for this look!


Ok, P'Niche swoons for this look too...

Classically "sailor" in its homage (pom- pom beret not included), a Breton shirt, paired with white plants is just so crisp and fresh, it's hard not to stare.

White pants can be made from denim, cotton, or linen, and worn in the shape that best suits your body type.

Quite easily, you can add on white sneakers, loafers, or boat shoes and you're ready to hit the marina, the sand, or even the cobblestone streets of Paris.

Just don't be surprised if you hear whistles of appreciation and the occasional "hey sailor!" on the street...


Headed to the office to sign that big deal or dream promotion? Métro, boulot, dodo (train, work, sleep) - but with Breton style!

Add a blazer or slim fit dark denim jacket with a nice cut pant (remember to keep the look as simple and monochromatic as possible to ensure the stripes are the main attraction).

Pair this professional look with a polished loafer or even more polished dress shoe. Even a very clean sneaker can work (depending on your work's dress code).

You can cuff your blazer to highlight your gorgeous timepiece - you've got time to keep while wheeling and dealing in your Breton stripes after all!


Heading in between seasons? Your Breton stripes have you covered!

With any pant that you have in mind, you can add on a trench coat, pea coat, or wool coat for warmth.

Really chilly in the mornings or evenings? Add on a thick cotton or wool scarf for added effect and warmth. You will want to make sure the scarf has some of the color of your striped shirt. For instance, if you are wearing a navy and white shirt, make sure your scarf also has those colors to tie it all together (see what we did there?)

Add the shoe of your choice, grab your umbrella, and you're ready to head out the door in absolute Breton style!

As you can see, the Breton shirt is timeless and season-less, and suits (hey, wear it with a suit, too!) many different occasions and aesthetics. Dress it up, dress it down, wear it all around the town...

When in Paris, P'Niche likes to shop for Breton shirts at:

Saint James (several addresses)

116 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75003

Métro: Saint-Paul


28 Pl. Vendôme, 75001

Métro: Opéra

You will also be able to find many Breton shirts, in every stripe size and color, simply window shopping in the many boutiques (both chain and specialized). This is a classic, infinitely stylish shirt, truly a staple in every Parisian wardrobe.


Not currently in Paris? No problem! P'Niche's fave sites for online Bretons are:

Even Amazon has some great choices!

So, what do you think, P'Nichers? Do you have a go-to Breton shirt? If not, which color are you coveting as your first (of what will likely become a growing collection). Let us know in the comment section below et à bientôt!


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Sharyn Peterson
Sharyn Peterson
Jun 24, 2022

I adore the mariniere cotton shirts and own 5 of them. Mine aren't a fancy brand (Win's Nautic) -- I find them at the marches for under 20 Euros -- but the quality is excellent and they last a long time even with frequent wearing and laundering. (I also have a couple from, I think, Uniqlo, but they aren't as soft and cozy.)

Jun 24, 2022
Replying to

i am legit obsessed and my collection is far exceeding my wardrobe space - we need to "twin up" next time we meet!

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