Do French people actually wear stripes? What makes the striped shirt “French” and why all the stripes?
In this post, I’ll share with you the origins of the striped shirt and how it’s actually worn in France today. I’ll also share some tips on how to wear a striped shirt to make sure you look like a fashionable Frenchie instead of a Where’s Waldo outtake. Origins of the ‘Breton Stripe':
The striped shirt was originally a naval sailor’s uniform, designed to help distinguish the sailors from the waves so you could find them more easily when they fell overboard. At the time, all the French navy hailed from Brittany, so the shirt was coined the “Breton” shirt and displayed 21 stripes – one for each of Napoleon’s victories against the British.
The sweater was manufactured in both cotton and wool for sailors, but caught on with other workers in Brittany due to its practicality (seriously, what can’t you do with a knit top?). Eventually this became the popular garment for any sailor, not just those with the military.
Coco Chanel Earns Her French Stripes:
On a trip to the coast, Coco Chanel became inspired by the sailor’s clothing and used it in her 1917 nautical line. Chanel designed her Breton top for ladies to be worn with flared trousers as a stark contrast to the then-popular corseted dress look for women. By the 1930s, the Breton stripe had been elevated to “haute couture” status, making it a popular choice for fashionable upper class ladies.
New Waves and New Stripes:
Maybe they took the term “nouvelle vague” (literally: new wave) a bit too seriously, but the 1950s and 60s cinema in France re-embraced the sailor look whole-heartedly. Breton stripes graced the silver screen and became synonymous with the era. Both women and men sported the signature look and soon even Hollywood was playing along.