The Classic Breton Top and How to Style It

Once favoured by Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Marlon Brandon the humble Breton top remains a wardrobe essential the world over.

Its popularity today shows no signs of waning, having recently been seen on the Duchess of Cambridge, Anna Wintour and Kate Moss too…

“It remains one of the few fashion staples that can look both bourgeois and bohemian, depending on how it’s worn – or who’s wearing it.” – Amber Butchart, author of Nautical Chic.

Budget isn’t an issue if you want to join the Breton brigade. From high street brands like Boden and Joules, through to luxury designer labels, there’s something for everyone.

You only need to search ‘striped t-shirts’ on Net-a-Porter to see Breton-style pieces from the likes of Max Mara, Jil Sander, Victoria Beckham and Balmain. Even Alexander McQueen has a striped sweater in this season’s collection. A mere £860 if you’re interested!

Breton Top History

As the name suggests, the Breton, sometimes also called la marinière, is French in heritage and hails from Brittany (or Bretagne) in Northern France.

In the 1850s, the striped shirt became the official uniform of the French navy, with a design featuring 21 stripes said to make it easier to spot sailors who had fallen overboard.

The claim that Coco Chanel is responsible for elevating the Breton from a uniform to a fashion item is arguably overstated, with numerous historians tracing its fashion status to friends of F Scott Fitzgerald who lived on the Côte d’Azur in the 20s.

Breton Outfit Ideas

Breton top styling
Image credits: and @emmahill

A marinière style top doesn’t need to be confined to seaside holidays or a life of white jeans and trainers. A Breton can’t change its stripes, but it can very easily be worn all year long and pushed into scenarios that shouldn’t work but do!

Let me show you how…

Breton top styling
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Add instant style punch with a vibrant silk square or knitted scarf. Most stripy tops will act like a neutral, so you can pick a colour – any colour! We think red is particularly vivacious…

Sézane Breton Top

On cooler days, embrace a layered look – and what could look crisper than a classic white shirt worn underneath a Breton. Consider going up a size in your stripy top to make this look really work. A top with a wider neckline would work best too. Roll back the cuffs and hoick up the hem to expose as much shirt as you can.

Breton top styling
Image credit: Fritha Strickland,

Throw your Breton over a floral blouse. A bitesize glimpse of pretty print at the neckline, cuffs and/or hem can be delightful.

Breton tops styling
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Instead of wearing your Breton, why not throw it over your shoulders for a nonchalant look that oozes Parisian charm.

Breton tops styling
Image credits: and Megan Ellaby
Breton top styling
Image credits: unknown and

A long knitted or silk scarf, worn vertically down the body will also break up the stripes and create the illusion of a lengthened torso too.

Breton style tops
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Perhaps my favourite way to wear a Breton – with a vibrant print. Shouldn’t work but it does.

Whether you opt for patterned trousers or a skirt, this winning combination creates an eye-catching look however bold or bright the pattern.

Breton top styles
Image credits: Sincerely Jules and

Who doesn’t love a pop of leopard print – and who says it can’t be worn with a stripe? The two prints look surprisingly harmonious together. Whether you opt for animal print accessories – or brave it with outerwear – you’ll be surprised how well it all works together.

Two Breton top styles
Image credits: and Des Petits Hauts
Breton top styles
Image credits: and Laura from Wardrobe Icons

A striped top creates the perfect backdrop for a statement necklace, be it simple chains, pearls, vibrant beads or a bold pendant. Go as wild as you want – you really can’t go wrong.

Breton tops
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Breton tops for all ages
Image credits: and Baukjen

When it comes to outerwear, anything goes, from a classic biker or denim jacket to a traditional trench or blazer – or the current trend for cargo jackets.

Breton top styles
Image credits: Baukjen and @trayslounge

A chic Breton base layer looks the business layered under jumpsuits, tunic dresses and dungarees. This is the perfect style solution if you’re not quite ready to go full-on stripy, with a less-is-more slither of stripe peeping out.

Breton styled
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Finally, a Breton is not just for a casual wardrobe, it can very easily be styled up for work or more formal occasions. Team it with a slim fit skirt or smart tailoring to elevate the stripe to new levels.

I hope you’ll agree this proves that when it comes to styling a Breton, almost anything goes. Be as experimental as you dare – you never know what fabulous outfit ideas you’ll stumble upon!

<< Check out (literally) our Navy Breton Stripe Cotton Jumper by Cleverly Wrapped >>