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T-shirts and polos

Three ways to wear a Breton top

Three ways to wear a Breton top

Take a peek into the wardrobe of almost every man and you will find a Breton top. The blue and white striped top is one of those throw-on-with-anything-style tops that you can’t survive without. 

Like most staple menswear items, the Breton, or Marinière as it is also known, has a military background. In 1858 a decree declared that a blue and white striped top – with 21 white stripes each as wide as the 20 or 21 blue stripes – would be official uniform for quartermasters and seamen in the French navy. This was the beginning of the love affair with the Breton that has become not only the uniform of the French navy but also emblematic of France itself.

As classic as the blue and white combination may be, it’s not the only option. There’s more to Breton than blue and white. “It’s draped in military history,” says stylist Freddie Kemp, “which means that any guy can wear it. And it’s versatile. You can go bright, dress it up or down and it still looks good. Do it in your own way, there are no rigid style rules – it’s not just for wearing on a yacht or on holiday in the French Riviera.” While the military history hints at stuffiness the Breton has been liberated throughout the decades – it went from French navy to uniform of artists (Picasso was a fan), actors and even the beatnik generation – to a type of hybrid item that can be worn by anyone, in any way.


Dress it up

Most people wouldn’t think of wearing a Breton under a blazer, but Freddie thinks that’s part of its easy charm, “You can dress it up and make it smarter, like under a double-breasted blazer. It’s more exciting than a plain white tee but not as formal as a shirt.” There are of course times that this wouldn't work – any occasion that requires a tie for example – but for a smart-casual occasion, this is a nice alternative to the classic shirt and blazer combo. Going for a double-breasted jacket adds an extra element of formality to the look, which balances the Breton. "It's about balance," says Freddie, "you're getting the best of both worlds."

Clash your colours

Traditional Breton is blue and white, but just because it's traditional, doesn't mean it's the only colourway out there. “You can go for seasonal colours instead, like oranges and red for summer,” Freddie says. “If you want to layer, go for a tonal combination and pick colours that contrast but work together.” If you are going to clash your colours, think about what you're wearing them with – neutral tones like stone, khaki or navy provide a really good base and let the bright, clashing colours stand out.

Add a layer

There's something about a hint of pattern that instantly adds interest, and that's true with a simple Breton too. Layering it, under a popover or jumper, can give your outfit a depth that's hard to find in the warmer months. “It’s a great thing to wear as a layer because the pattern adds interest to your outfit without overwhelming," says Freddie. "It’s best to go for light layers because the wider boat neck can pull when worn under heavier garments."

Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photography: Jamie Stoker
Styling: Freddie Kemp
Styling assistant: Toby Standing