“ Smell the sea, and feel the sky, let your soul & spirit fly…”(Into the mystic by Van Morrison)
Looking sharp, fresh and sexy, I just love the play of the sailor look and how the Breton shirt sails in a new direction in this month’s issue of Paris Vogue. When you think about it, it’s quite a course this shirt has charted over the years. From its humble debut as the official shirt in the old French navy in 1858 to its first appearance in the nautical collections created by Coco Chanel in 1917, this little sea treasure has been around for a while…
In its early years at sea, the shirt was also adopted by sailors and seamen for its practicality and ease of wear. Its distinctive block pattern of stripes made the sailors more visible on the waves. And all those striking stripes; did you know that there are twenty one stripes on a Breton shirt representing each of Napolean’s victories. (It’s so Frenchie!) Sea, there was a method all along in the stripes. Perhaps that’s why the breton shirt looks as strikingly good on dry land as on the waves?
Ashore, we have to thank Coco Chanel’s unique vision for bringing the stripes to dry land. Inspired by the sailor’s uniform on her trips to the French coast, Coco introduced the sailor shirt into her first nautical collection in 1917. Quel vision! Since then, the Breton shirt has become an iconic style piece and been popularised by our style heros and rebels; Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Audrey Hepburn and Kurt Cobain. The rest is Breton history.
Today, its popularity and personal interpretation lives on. And a few reflections more, this little tee treasure can ship up anywhere at anytime: at a festival (think Alexa at Glastonbury), running around town (think Kate Moss in London and Sophia Coppola in Paris) at a Saturday morning market (think the iconic Brigitte Bardot), in New York (think Olivia Palermo). It’s got that ‘anything goes’ and timeless appeal. I guess that’s the beauty of a good old classic?
As trends sail by, the old classics anchor at the bottom of the drawer only to be rediscovered over and over again.
So this week all striped up and inspired, I hit the streets of Paris in search of my first Breton Tee. Indeed, there is a great collection of stripey summer tees in many of the Parisien boutiques. I saw a super Phoebe Philo interpretation chez Céline, but let’s not go overboard right? At Cos in St Germain I found great ultra trendy variations and styles on the classic. On to Petit Bateau on Rue Cler, where the stripes are done brightly in various styles. But when it comes to the classic, it has to be quality right? Henceforth, I went straight to the source and to the original purveyors of the Breton shirt, Saint James Boutique on Rue Cler. And, so I found my first Breton Tee.
Below a little guide to finding your Breton T in Paris and beyond.
1) For the classic and original head to St James Boutique:
2) Petit Bateau for a great selection of stripey tees & great treasures for little sailors too