Imagine strolling along the sunkissed seafront in the south of France, dressed in a stripy Breton top; what could be more summery?
The history of the simple striped top
The marinière, or matelot, originated in Brittany in 1858 as a work shirt for the French navy, and was soon adopted by civilian seamen. The wide boat neckline allowed the garment to be quickly pulled on over the head, while the broad horizontal stripes were easy to spot if a man fell overboard.
Early Breton tops had 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories – before he met his Waterloo.
Coco Chanel was the first to spot its fashion potential. She introduced the nautical look in her Deauville boutique in 1917, and it was soon a staple of the French Riviera.
Today, the Breton is a wardrobe classic. There are many much-loved stripy T-shirts in my top drawer, and the Duchess of Cambridge always calls upon a trusty matelot whenever she’s within chauffeur-driven distance of water.
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But how to wear one without looking like a cliché French wannabe?
I’d recommend swapping the white trousers for something brighter, like red jeans. Or mix things up by teaming parallel lines with a floral-print pencil skirt.
Just drop the anchor espadrilles – flat leather sandals or plimsolls are much more chic.
And forget all that nonsense about horizontal stripes being unflattering. A top that fits well and is in proportion with the body shape will perk up any outfit and, as model, muse and author Ines de la Fressange says in her Parisian Chic style guide, ‘Rejuvenating looks are just as effective as an anti-wrinkle injection – and much more fun.’
Summer's prettiest prints
Three easy steps to nautical chic
...whether you’re in the south of France or Southampton.
Read more of Alyson's fashion musings on her blog That's not my age: the grown up guide to great style
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of the Saga Magazine, and was updated for the web August 2016.
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