The Breton stripe is a classic French design that finds its origins not in the fashion industry, but rather, from the French navy. In 1858, the French government passed an act that made the white and blue striped shirt the official uniform of the French navy, stationed in the Brittany region of France (hence the name Breton).
Stripes have had a resurgence in popularity in the last few years, but the Breton stripe has been in fashion for decades, with everyone from Pablo Picasso to Brigitte Bardot, and Audrey Hepburn to Mick Jagger having worn one at some time or other. I challenge you (I tried this) to think of another single item of clothing on which these four dramatically different figures might converge. Nothing right? That alone is a testament to the abundant style of the Breton stripe.
Now when it comes to my personal style, stripes present me with a dilemma. I love their classic nature, and appreciate the interest and dimension they add to an outfit. I think stripes are incredibly chic (in general; they're even my home decor motif of choice) and I feel they're timeless. All of that goes in the plus category. What's on the other side? Well, I always find it challenging when something is as ubiquitous as the stripe to truly make it feel like my own.
Being back in France and thinking about this country's place in the annals of style, I was reminded how much I really do love a good stripe. So, I visited two shops in Paris, Saint James and Armor Lux, both of which have a long history of production in France, and bought a few striped shirts. I then challenged myself to style them in a way that felt authentic to me. Here's what I came up with:
Look 1: Default Mode a.k.a Black and White
We're just getting to know each other, but I think at this point, it's copiously evident: I love black and white. I couldn't help myself if I tried, but I'm not even trying- the pairing is just too good! So what's going on here? Four layers in melodic harmony if you ask me. The base layer is a Reformation tencel striped top (that I adore and wear all the time + I love tencel). Next we have an Armor Lux black and ivory (similar here) striped top cuffed above the elbow (this is done in a heavy cotton as opposed to the usual Breton stripe's lightweight cotton; I haven't taken it off since I got it because it's so warm). On top of that, I'm wearing a John Patrick Organic slip dress and then on top of that a black silk Lanvin skirt that I bought secondhand. Topped off with these awesome camel tassels, which I have been getting excellent mileage on thus far, worn as a belt.
Look 2: France, Meet China, I Think You Two Will Get Along
Never mind that I am in desperate need of an iron (my clothes have been in a suitcase for two weeks!), here I am back in this great vintage Chinese throw, worn over the same John Patrick Organic slip dress (three cheers for reuse!), which is worn under the classic Admiral Breton stripe shirt from Armor Lux. This outfit says, I might be in France, but I also might be on a French naval ship in the South Pacific and we just left a port with an excessive amount of good vintage silk. And I will continue to say it: fringe makes everything better.
Look 3: When In Doubt, Put Clashing Patterns Together
Nothing will make you feel more uniquely yourself than wearing something that no one else would remotely consider wearing. Enter: traditionally clashing patterns worn together. Here, a navy gingham top is worn over a signature Saint James Breton stripe in red. Paired with silk pants I bought at a literal steal at the Oscar de la Renta sample sale.
Finally, on the sustainability front, both Saint James and Armor Lux exclusively manufacture their shirts in France, supporting the national economy and preserving the heritage of Breton stripe manufacturing. Armor Lux has a number of social and environmental initiatives, including most notably a move to more ecologically responsible and fair trade cotton. Would it be great if the shirts were organic cotton or a more environmentally responsible material, like tencel? Ideally, perhaps yes. But supporting heritage brands is another part of a more sustainable approach to fashion, and an important one at that. So, I keep an open mind, I balance my sustainable purchases across a number of dimensions, and I always buy what I love, because what we love, we cherish.