Have you noticed Breton stripes are everywhere at the moment and it’s a timeless, wardrobe favourite all over the world. It’s so stylish it’s kind of beyond fashion. It sits up there on a fashion pedestal with white converse, bright red lipstick and Levi’s 501s.

It was first introduced into the French navy in 1858 and was called the Matelot. The original, traditional Breton sports 21 stripes in honour of the 21 victories of Napoleon and was quickly adopted by the working class fishermen of Brittany.


Coco Chanel featured it on the catwalk in her 1917 nautical collection and later on in the 1950s the American Beat Generation adopted it as their uniform of choice. Rebels, revolutionaries and the more avant-garde made it their go-to shirt including James Dean in Rebel without a Cause and Lee Marvin in On the Waterfront. The French connection has always kept it synonymous with chic style. More recently Jean-Paul Gaultier has used it on countless runways and to advertise his aftershave and Kurt Cobain was often photographed in one. The list of icons is endless!

What makes it so attractive? It’s a fashion unicorn – it looks good on every age, gender, shape or size (ignore the dictators that say horizontals are unflattering). With it’s clean stripes you can wear it minimalist or add a splash of colour with a bright necklace or scarf and it can smarten up the scruffiest of outfits.  Go all ‘Gwyneth-in-the-Hamptons’ and wear it with white jeans and a navy blazer. Or go mega-casual with slim jeans and ballet flats. If you fancy some iconic style inspo check out one of the many Pinterest boards dedicated to the Breton.

Kate Moss (age 41) showing how it’s done.

You can still buy them from the original maker Saint James but I picked up a soft, flattering version from Boden for only £25. Do you own one? How do you wear it? M