I wear Breton stripes at least a few times a week, they're my go to and have been a staple in my wardobe for years.
The legacy that was started by Brittany sailors continues today. As a fashion buyer I know only too well how popular and profitable the Breton top continues to be, every clothing brand I've ever worked for has sold these items in large volumes. Whether they're short sleeved, vests, multi coloured or of the traditional long sleeved variety, they're the defining items of many brands.
In my opinion the best are from Petit Bateau, they're the right side of slouchy and have a wide, boat neck. Petit Bateau's are also heavier, the thinner high street versions just can't compete.
The history of fashion is usually a little unexpected and The Breton is no exception. It began after an official decree (The 1858 Act of France) introduced The Breton top as the uniform of the French Navy in Brittany. Apparently the stripes made seamen easier to spot if they went overboard. I always find it so interesting that something functional can be the beginning of such a ubiquitous fashion item.
With a reference to it's maritime heritage The Breton is often referred to as a Mariniere and traditionally includes 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleans victories at the time.
Nautical style was later made fashionable by the upper classes in the 1870's, mainly in France and England. At this time it was pink, green and red. Later, Coco Chanel's 1917 nautical collection brought the classic Breton to the fashion fore, having been inspired by Breton fisherman while at the coast.
Throughout the 20th century the Breton was synonymous with artists and stylish creative types; Pablo Picasso, Jean Paul Sartre, Brigitte Bardot and the Beatniks of the 50's and 60's springing to mind.
More recently it continues to influence the aesthetic of many designers, Jean Paul Gaultier being the most obvious. Today it's synonymous with classic dressers like Alexa Chung.
For me, it's longetivity is in it's simplicity, ease and effortless style. It doesn't try to look stylish, which means it invariably does. A classic breton looks right on everyone, regardless of who you are, your age, colour or gender. I can't think of anyone I know that doesn't have one in their wardrobe, from my boyfriend, to my mum or my friends little ones. Even Cub, my Springer Spaniel, has some stripey items that look great on him.