Peek into the closets of the French, and you’ll likely find at least one striped sailor tee or Breton wool sweater. The first iteration of Breton (“from Brittany”) sweaters were designed with tightly knit local wool to protect fishermen from biting winds and water. This “second skin” eventually evolved into a striped shirt, with sailors sporting the look since the start of the 19th century.
It wasn’t until 1913 when Coco Chanel herself ushered the striped marinière (“sailor”) top into popular fashion, making it a stylish investment piece for seaside holidays while also liberating the female form from the period’s sartorial constraints.
The rest of the 20th century and early 2000s saw the democratization of the marinière; it was adopted by intellectuals and artists, Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, John Wayne, and, famously, designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who elevated the stripes to evening wear.
While the original design may have been precisely prescriptive – 21 white stripes, each twice as wide as the 20 or 21 navy blue stripes, on front and back, with three quarter sleeves sporting 14 navy stripes on each – the shirt has been adopted by so many designers over the years since Chanel (perhaps most famously Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier) that there have been plenty of remixes on the style.
However, for maximum versatility, you can’t beat one in the original navy-on-white, or with the colours flipped. Avoid jersey or wool knits and instead invest in a lighter T-shirt cotton – that way it’ll be cool in hot weather, but can also be layered-up or slipped under a button-down when the chillier nights kick in.
Then all you have to do is test out just how many things you can get it to work with in your wardrobe. Your olive-green summer suit? Yup. Your millennial-pink swim shorts? Tick. Tucked into a pair of high-waisted, pleat-front chinos? Absolutely. We challenge you to find something it doesn’t look great with!