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This tee is still timeless, 163 years later.
Today, the best Breton stripe tops are accessible wardrobe pieces that offer a low-effort, high-reward stylish effect. But before the graphic T-shirt was synonymous with effortless Parisian fashion, it had quite the utilitarian and hard-working past. In 1858, the distinctive Breton stripe was dubbed the uniform of the French Navy. The blue-and-white tee, with 21 total stripes (a tribute to each of Napoleon’s victories), was an easy way to detect the whereabouts of unlucky French sailors who’d fallen overboard on the high seas. It wasn’t until the ’50s that the top was catapulted to fashion fame via French cinema girls like Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Seberg, who integrated the striped shirt into their sought-after capsule wardrobes.
“Like denim which started as railroad workers’ clothes, or how we all cannot resist the call of khaki, certain sartorial genres have been co-opted over time from more humble or utilitarian origins,” describes fashion stylist and creative director Mary Fellowes. “The image of dozens of French sailors with these horizontal lines cutting through our visual horizon was surely beguiling for fashion visionaries that effectively upcycled them into everyday civilian style,” she adds of the top’s journey from a maritime uniform to It-girl staple.
And for spring 2023, designers—both those working at a high-fashion caliber and those creating garments for your favorite affordable retailers—revisit the classic. Some remain strict to the signature look, while others veer away from the 21-stripe requirement and traditional color schemes.
Ahead, shop the best Breton tops of 2023, according to fashion stylists and Marie Claire‘s team, and find insight on how to style the striped shirts. Nautical by nature, a Breton-style top will look dreamy on a sailboat or amidst the French Riviera scene, but realistically it’s also a smart work-from-home uniform paired with a jogger or jeans.
The Best Breton Tops
Kule The Modern Long Sleeve
This relaxed-fit Breton stripe tee will, in fact, add more joy to your wardrobe. Kule is known for its signature striped tees that update the classic graphic via a playful, personality-filled slant. In particular, this red, white, and blue striped long-sleeve shirt represents the preppy-cool brand’s modus operandi to a T. It has a slightly tomboyish fit but is undeniably timeless with its straight silhouette and slightly-scooped neck. It pairs seamlessly with white jeans(opens in new tab) and your best pair of sneakers(opens in new tab).