A brief history of the iconic Breton stripe – and how to wear it

A brief history of the iconic Breton stripe – and how to wear it - Lighthouse

Peer into the wardrobes of most people and you will likely find at least one sailor-striped tee or Breton wool jumper.

The first iteration of the latter was designed with tightly-knit local wool to protect fishermen from cold water and winds. This later evolved into the Breton stripe shirt, first introduced in 1858 as the uniform for the navy in France, where it has been a fixture ever since.

Its original design featured 21 stripes, one for each of French military and political leader, Napoleon Bonapartes victories. The distinctive stripes were also said to make it easier to spot wayward sailors who had fallen overboard.

But how did the Breton stripe go from fisherman to fashion?

It wasn’t until 1913 when Coco Chanel took a trip to the French Rivera that the Breton stripe gained its iconic glory. Chanel drew inspiration for her 1917 nautical collection from the French sailors she met during her visit and included a striped top in the range.

As well as creating a stylish investment piece for seaside holidays, Chanel also liberated the female form from the heavily corseted fashion of the time, pairing her Breton striped top with chic flared trousers and forever changing the face of casual womenswear.

In the years that followed, various figures in the public eye contributed to making the Breton stripe synonymous with summer freedom and relaxation.

The 1953 Hollywood film, ‘The Wild One’, starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, was perhaps one of the Breton stripe’s first famous appearances, later showcased by James Dean in the 1955 film, ‘Rebel Without a Cause’.

Audrey Hepburn – whose style is one of the most emulated and admired in the world – was also seen wearing a Breton tee in the 1956 film, 'Funny Face', providing inspiration to women across the globe for generations to come.

Many years later, designer Jean Paul Gaultier famously elevated Breton stripes to evening wear, further emphasising the style’s timelessness.

In the same way that a trench coat or little black dress are considered staple items in women’s fashion, the Breton striped shirt now shares the same status – its allure lying in its versatility, going just as well with jeans and trainers as it does under a blazer for the office.

As a nautical brand, Breton striped tops and t-shirts are staples at Lighthouse Clothing, and however you choose to wear your own, they are a wardrobe essential.

Among our most popular styles is the Lighthouse Causeway, a twist on the classic Breton top.

Causeway Cloud Midnight Stripe

Taking its name from Northern Ireland’s famous Causeway Coast, which clings to the rugged northern coastline between Belfast and Derry, this striped favourite shares the same bright coastal palette. The spectacular Causeway region lends itself to broadening the horizons of travellers who are lucky enough to take it in, and, of course, us locals, who find inspiration in everything from its sandy beaches and butter-coloured coves to its impressive sea arches and rolling green glens.

Crafted from a soft 100% cotton jersey, we've added subtle, modern details to the Causeway top with back neck zip detailing and long sleeves.

Available in a range of seasonal colours and hues –including our Floral Print and Teal Pink Stripe (new for Spring/Summer ’22) – you can pair with blue jeans and trainers to make the top the focal point of the ensemble, or team with extra patterns and colours for a bold statement look. The Causeway also looks great tucked in with a stylish skirt or cropped trousers for summer or under one of our lightweight coats on cooler coastal walks.

New for spring and a great addition to our Breton top collection is Ariana. Like Causeway, it provides the quality feel you’ve come to expect from Lighthouse, with additional details like its V- neck and 3/4 length sleeve providing a flattering and feminine fit.

Ariana Top

With just a touch of stretch, Ariana is made from 95% cotton and is available in five colour-ways : Midnight Stripe, Navy Stripe, Floral, Seagrass Green Blue Stripe, and Teal Pink Stripe.

A choice of vibrant stripe palettes and contemporary styling details makes our long-sleeved Seashore top another bright staple for your casual wardrobe.

Seashore Long Sleeved Top

New in stock for spring/summer, the long-sleeved version perches in beside our popular short-sleeved Seashore T-Shirt as a useful capsule piece for the coming seasons. Comfort is ensured thanks to a cotton-stretch mix, raglan sleeve, and scoop neck. Choose between Deep Raspberry and Pale Blue and pair with jeans and trainers for a simple, laid-back wardrobe go-to.

Last but not least in our pick of Breton-inspired staples is our Beachcomber Jacket, which has fast become a Lighthouse classic.

Long Beachcomber Coat

Waterproof and windproof with a peachy-soft outer, it’s the perfect lightweight jacket for your next seaside holiday, or when the weather is a little uncertain. Breton stripes on the jacket’s jersey lining complete its nautical look, as do adjustable drawcords and a variety of bold colour ways inspired by the great outdoors.

Whilst many are partial to the Dandelion version, it also comes in a range of other stand-out colours that add a finishing touch to your favourite casual outfit.


Shop our Range of Breton tees to see out the summer, whether relaxing on a beach abroad, or in your own back garden.
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