As my old stripe tees and sweaters are getting faded and misshapen, I’m toying with which pieces will be added to my wardrobe to take their place. I love upgrading wardrobe items as the old ones are on their way out, so I’ve been looking to replace old BR and H&M stripes with something with a little more heritage and je ne sais quoi.
The ones I’m exploring are some of the oldest manufacturers of the Breton shirt…Saint James (which has been the official shirt maker of the French navy), Armor-Lux (which has been manufacturing in Brittany since 1940), and Petit Bateau (in operation for 150 years), which is probably my best bet given all indications point to the sizing running small (they make children’s clothes, with the larger sizes marketed toward adults). All three of these brands still manufacture their Breton shirts in France.
And because I love fashion history so much, here are some fun facts about Breton shirts:
- The Breton shirt is named after Brittany, a region in the north-west of France (the people who live there are called Bretons).
- In 1858, French sailors in Brittany got a new uniform – a navy and white knit striped shirt. Original designs have 21 stripes, each are said to commemorate a naval victory of Napoleon over the British. The stripes are also said to make any navy sailors who fall overboard easier to locate in the water.
- The company Saint-James has been the official Breton shirt outfitter of the French navy since 1889.
- Coco Chanel visited the French coast, and thought the striped shirts of the fishermen and navy sailors were so chic, she wore them herself (as photographed below) and incorporated them in her 1917 nautical collection. She single-handedly turned a strictly utilitarian clothing item into a chic and vital component of wardrobes everywhere.
- The 1950’s saw a resurgence in the popularity of the Breton shirt, as hollywood stars such as Cary Grant, James Dean, and Audrey Hepburn wore the stripes in iconic film roles.
If you have a favorite or would suggest a brand based on sizing, I’d love to hear it!