Maritime history has always influenced fashion, and no garment embodies the seafaring trend more than the Breton top.
The first Breton ("from Brittany") jumpers were made from tightly knit local wool to provide fishermen with much needed warmth from biting winds and cold water. In 1858 the French navy adopted it as its official uniform. The design – a white cotton sweater with indigo blue horizontal stripes – was a clever one, as the stripes were highly visible if a man were to fall overboard. Three-quarter length sleeves and low neckline meant it could be easily removed and waved around, making a lost sailor easy to spot. Made by independent tailors in Brittany, the original Breton had 21 blue stripes, a nod to Napoleon’s 21 naval victories over the English.
Designed with function and purpose in mind, it was iconic designer Coco Chanel who – on a trip to the French coast – was inspired by the sailors’ uniform and recognised its potential - turning the top into a fashion statement, and incorporating the stripes into her 1917 “Nautical collection”.
Her introduction of this casual, yet military-inspired design as a stylish holiday staple had a huge influence on womenswear at the time, helping fashion-forward girls to break free from heavy corsets, and liberating the female shape.
Intellectuals and artists loved the Breton’s French elegance mixed with countercultural edge, and it soon caught on. Pablo Picasso, Audrey Hepburn, and Brigitte Bardot were all famously photographed in their Breton stripes.
The Breton has sailed through time and continues to influence fashion today. The epitome of Parisian chic and effortless French style, it suits any occasion and anybody.