Nautical chic is a look that comes back year after year, when days get longer and clothing layers are shed. When talking of nautical-inspired fashion, undoubtedly the first thing that springs to mind is the ubiquitous Breton top. A fashion no-brainer, the Breton is the perfect pick to pull on for a look that’s effortlessly cool when those panic inducing “what to wear” moments arise.
Traditionally known in France as “le matelot” or “la marinière”, the striped top in navy blue and white is a style staple during the warm weather months.
Not initially intended as a style statement, the Marinière was part of the French Naval uniform after a law passed in March 1858 declared that all mariners should wear a striped, white and blue top so that they could be easily spotted should they slip into the sea. The top was to have 21 stripes – one for each of Napoleon’s victories.
It wasn’t until 1917 after Coco Chanel, a young avant-garde designer added the Marinière to her nautical collection that the Breton top became à la mode. Chanel, inspired by the fishermen and sailors of Deauville -the fashionable seaside town where she held her boutique – wanted to give womenswear a functional, borrowed-from-the-boys aesthetic in opposition to the trussed up, bodiced fashions of the time.
Following Coco’s collection sailor-inspired chic made a big splash in the world of fashion where it has remained anchored firmly in place ever since. The traditional Breton top showed it’s staying power and versatility as it evolved into dresses, two piece suits, tunics, blazers and naval-style jackets.
When sporting stripes look to les Françaises for their nonchalant Gallic way of taking on the trend – think Brigitte Bardot reclining on the beach in Cannes, an insouciant Françoise Hardy leaning against a column in Italy decked out in a matching striped skirt and top, Jean Seberg in A Bout de Souffle, Vanessa Paradis or Emmanuelle Alt. This side of the Channel, Francophile Jane Birkin, Kate Moss and Marinière maven Alexa Chung also look effortlessly shipshape in stripy style.
Françoise Hardy – Not one to play it safe Françoise took the breton to new lengths wearing it top to toe in dresses and matching skirts and tops. To get Françoise’s look wear your Breton under a distressed leather jacket for a dose of attitude or slip on a trench coat for cool Parisian chic. Oversized white shades will give your style that extra Françoise finesse.
Jane Birkin – Rarely spotted sans her wicker wear basket, francophile Jane earned her stripes wearing her Breton top with denim, understated white linen trousers or chic navy capri pants. Make like Jane and wear your Marinière with patchwork denim jeans and navy or red espadrilles – don’t forget your basket (which Jane wore with every ensemble as her bag of choice) for that final touch of “je ne sais quoi”.
Brigitte Bardot – Never far from the French Riviera, BB is the ultimate poster girl for Riviera-chic. Be inspired by Bardot and pair your Breton with cropped trousers in red or navy. If you’re more of a landlubber at heart don your breton with cropped jeans and BB’s shoe of choice – a Repetto style ballet pump.
The main things to remember when setting sail on your sailor-inspired sartorial adventure are colour palette and not to go overboard (geddit?) on the theme. Keep your palette navy, red and white and make sure that your look is pared back for a sleek and effortless aesthetic – each outfit should feature just one nautical inspired piece for a look that’s cool rather than caricature-esque!
Have fun trying out your stripy style and see you in St Tropez!
Love Lauren x