Why the Breton top is the secret to an easy classic wardrobe

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Paul Smith casablanca acne studios - Courtesy of Acne Studios / Casablanca / Paul Smith
Paul Smith casablanca acne studios - Courtesy of Acne Studios / Casablanca / Paul Smith

Introduced as a naval uniform in 1858, with its distinctive stripes (allegedly representing Napoleon’s 21 victories) designed to identify Frenchmen overboard, the Breton shirt is having another fashion moment.

La marinière (as it was known) was first adopted as a fashion staple by the 1920s Riviera set – Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel were fans. Later, as worn by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, it came to represent a new spirit of liberation.

This summer, the shops are awash with nautical-inspired tops, some more traditionally Breton than others. The classic combo of navy and off-white stripes will pretty much work with anything.

uniqlo u zara ted baker oliver spencer matches fashion
uniqlo u zara ted baker oliver spencer matches fashion

Striped Boat Neck Short Sleeve T-shirt, £9.90, Uniqlo U; Stripe Print T-shirt, £19.99, Zara; Knitted Breton T-shirt, £95, Peregrine; Organic Cotton Long Sleeve T-shirt, £59.47, Scotch & Soda; Koncall Striped Lightweight Sweat, £79, Ted Baker; Conduit Striped Striped Cotton Jersey T-shirt, £49, Oliver Spencer at Matches Fashion

Seasalt Cornwall’s Rowing Boat T-shirt, made from breathable organic cotton and featuring a double-layered yarn-dyed stripe, is a good place to start; other great examples can be found at Arket and Scotch & Soda.

Some of the season’s best styles come in new colour pairings and less traditional fabrics. One of my favourites is Peregrine’s short-sleeve knitted T-shirt in saffron yellow, which looks the business with dark denim and a pair of suede desert boots.

arket agnes b orlebar brown next cut and pin seasalt cornwall
arket agnes b orlebar brown next cut and pin seasalt cornwall

Heavyweight T-shirt, £25, Arket; Striped Coulos T-shirt, £75, Agnès B.; Sammy Slim-fit Cotton Jersey T-shirt, £95, Orlebar Brown at Mr Porter; Stripe T-shirt, £15, Next; Cotton Long Sleeve T-shirt, £45, Cut & Pin; Rowing Boat T-shirt In Towery Yacht Salt, £25, Seasalt Cornwall

Other hits include Uniqlo U’s boat neck top in grey and black, and the red-and-white classic Coulos from queen of the Breton top Agnès B. For long-sleeve marinières, there are three that stand out from the crowd: Cut & Pin and Ted Baker have played with the idea of mismatching stripes as a feature for a pocket, while Orlebar Brown has given its Sammy cotton jersey T-shirt a lived-in appeal with an over-dyeing technique.

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