It’s time to re-boot your Breton

Photos: Neil Mackenzie Matthews


This is not technically a Breton top, it’s an old striped t-shirt from Gap. The traditional design had a wide boat neckline to allow it to be swiftly pulled-on by sailors, while the broad horizontal stripes made it easy to spot a man if he fell overboard and early Breton tops had 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories. I’ve never counted the stripes on my tops (not even at the height of lockdown number three) but there are numerous colour combinations successfully collected over the years. These Bretons are rolled-up in my t-shirt drawer in a half-hearted tribute to Marie Kondo, for easy viewing and co-ordination.

As I tend to use my long-sleeved, striped t-shirts for layering, it’s at this time of year, rather than the summer months, when the Breton top comes in to its own. An absolute master of multi-tasking, this chic base layer looks the business beneath boiler suits, tunic dresses, pinafores and dungarees. I love to see a slither of stripe popping out from underneath a sweater, which is just as well as the temperatures in the UK are refusing to budge beyond mid-Feb. And, the classic navy and white combination feels as fresh now as when adopted by Coco Chanel in the 1920s. The one I’m re-booting is quite a neat fit and so works well under the navy leather shirt. The thicker, more traditional marinieres look great with a shirt underneath (as in the old image from French label Sezane, below); with or without the French Tuck…


French Tuck, anyone?


Some of my favourites striped tops are from Saint James (for a looser fit try the men’s or the unisex collection) and I have a couple of navy and black striped Bretons from an old Ines de La Fressange at Uniqlo collaboration. Petit Bateau is worth a look, as is Gudrun Sjoden who loves a good colour combo and uses eco-cotton, ‘Designing with a long lifespan has been my most important contribution to a greener world,’ says the Swedish maximalist.

Breton stripes, not just for summer and definitely not just for Parisians.


Clog on


Style Notes:  Striped t-shirt, from Gap. Leather shirt was a gift from Hobbs (still available HERE). Jeans are second-hand Levi’s 501s. The leather belt is an old J&M Davidson and my necklace is from Claire Stratton. Trainers are from Grenson. The loafer-mules in the second outfit photo are Russell & Bromley, borrowed for the shoot and returned.


Turn on your JavaScript to view content


*Please note affiliate links may gain a small commission


How do you wear your Breton?