From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

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From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe
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If there’s one piece that most of us probably have in our closets, it’s the classic Breton striped shirt.

Typically characterized as a cotton top with blue sailor-like stripes, the style was introduced in 1858 as the uniform for the French navy, possess any serous fashion cache until—after a trip to the French coast—Coco Chanel took notice. The iconic designer was so inspired by the sailors’ uniform that she incorporated the stripes into her 1917 nautical collection. The casual design helped break away from the heavily corseted fashion of the time, forever changing the face of casual womenswear.

As far as basics go, the Breton striped shirt is as necessary as a black blazer or a pair of dark-wash skinny jeans, and like those staples, the allure of the breton stripe shirt lies in its versatility. Whether worn by struggling artists, movie stars,  or modern-day It-girls, the styling choices have evolved over time, but its effect has astonishingly remained the same.

Here, we take a look at how the Breton striped shirt has been worn by such varied personalities as James Dean and Pablo Picasso to Coco Chanel, Kate Moss, Alexa Chung, and today’s street-style stars.

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  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    The Breton stripe shirt was first introduced in 1858 as the uniform for all French navy seaman in Northern France. The original design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories and the distinctive stripes made it easier to spot wayward sailors who had fallen overboard.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Coco Chanel drew inspiration for her 1917 nautical collection from the French sailors. The striped top she designed was designed to be worn with flared trousers.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    The Breton stripe was first worn in the 1953 Hollywood film, ‘The Wild One’ starred Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    James Dean wore a Breton striped top in the movie "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    In the 1956 film 'Funny Face', Audrey Hepburn was seen wearing black pants, a black turtleneck, and a Breton tee. 

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Actress, Ginger Rogers sported a sailor-inspired ensemble. 

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    In 1960, the Breton stripe was associated with French New Wave Cinema and was a favorite of many on-screen stars like Jean Seberg, who worn the sailor style in the 1960 film 'Breathless'.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Artist, Pablo Picasso was frequently photographed in his versions of the Breton striped tee.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    American pop artist, Andy Warhol stands behind a movie camera on the set of his film, 'Chelsea Girls' wearing a sailor-inspired striped top.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    French actress and style icon, Brigitte Bardot frequently wore a Breton striped top.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Alexa Chung spotted in stripes at the front row at the Unique show at London Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2011.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    A look from Balmain's Fall 2009 collection. 

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    French actress Audrey Tautou in classic breton stripes as Coco Chanel in 2009's "Coco Before Chanel" 

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    J. Crew's Spring 2013 collection proved that classic breton stripes can (and should!) be mixed with clashing prints to remarkably chic effect. 

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Olivia Palermo attends a private red carpet performance on August 26, 2009 in a sailor inspired ensemble.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Designer Jean Paul Gaultier has become a Breton stripe ambassador,featuing the style heavily in both his men and women's collections, and even outfitted his male perfume bottle, Le Male in s breton stripe tee. 

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attended a SportsAid Athlete Workshop in stripes on October 18, 2013 in London, England.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    A look from Jean-Paul Gaultier's Spring 2013 collection.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Taylor Swift performs on stage at Prudential Center on March 28, 2013.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Street style during Spring 2014 New York Fashion Week.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Street style during Spring 2013 Paris Fashion Week.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Major fashion blogger Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl showcases her impressive Breton stripe collection. 

     

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Russian designer and street style star Ulyana Sergeenko during Milan Fall 2013 Fashion Week. 

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Naomi Watts sighted in stripes at The Smile in Soho on October 8, 2009.

  • From Coco Chanel to Alexa Chung: A Brief History of the Iconic Breton Stripe

    Kate Moss sighted in stripes arriving home on June 8, 2010 in London, England.

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The Breton stripe shirt was first introduced in 1858 as the uniform for all French navy seaman in Northern France. The original design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories and the distinctive stripes made it easier to spot wayward sailors who had fallen overboard.

Photo: Gaston Paris/Roger Viollet/Getty Images

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