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The one thing you never noticed about Breton tops

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  • 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.

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