The one thing you never noticed about Breton tops

You won't be able to unsee it after this

audrey tautou french style rules

You won't be able to unsee it after this

You’ve probably got at least one Breton top folded away in your wardrobe (or ten if you’re anything like us), which you casually throw over a pair of jeans on those days you want to look smart but don’t have time to overthink it.

It’s such an obvious go-to that you probably never stopped to properly look at it, in which case you might have noticed that it usually contains exactly 21 stripes. Well, if it’s authentic that is.

Let’s take a little history lesson, shall we? The Breton top was first introduced as a uniform for the French navy in 1858, and was typically cotton with blue stripes, a design which made it easier to spot a sailor if he went overboard.

It featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories. It was considered workwear, until a certain famous designer made it fashionable.

Luc Lesencal, CEO of Saint James, says, 'Coco Chanel also helped the item become an off-duty fashion statement (and commercialized the look, too): Because people were taking time off on the country's coasts, she added "le style marin" to her Deauville boutique in 1913. Chanel was the first designer to design striped pieces in jersey, not wool - and to market the French staple expressly as leisurewear.'

'In the late 1940s and 1950s, the striped shirt became popular among Left Bank-dwelling artistes in Paris, as well as Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and Brigitte Bardot. Bardot especially represents that great balance between epitomising a real simplicity which touched the masses, and being some kind of a fashion deity. It's all about a timeless balance.'

Nowadays of course, the design has evolved loads, and striped tops now come in different colours, with slogans emblazoned on them, and of course, not everyone sticks to the 21 stripe rule.

But it’s worth thinking about next time you reach out for your trusted Breton. Bet we’ve made you want to count yours now.

Penny Goldstone

Penny Goldstone is the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire, covering everything from catwalk trends to royal fashion and the latest high street and Instagram must-haves.

Penny grew up in France and studied languages and law at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris before moving to the UK for her MA in multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University. She moved to the UK permanently and has never looked back (though she does go back regularly to stock up on cheese and wine).

Although she's always loved fashion - she used to create scrapbooks of her favourite trends and looks, including Sienna Miller and Kate Moss' boho phase - her first job was at, sourcing the best deals for everything from restaurants to designer sales.

However she quit after two years to follow her true passion, fashion journalism, and after many years of internships and freelance stints at magazines including Red, Cosmopolitan, Stylist and Good Housekeeping, landed her dream job as the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK.

Her favourite part of the job is discovering new brands and meeting designers, and travelling the world to attend events and fashion shows. Seeing her first Chanel runway IRL at Paris Fashion Week was a true pinch-me moment.