Breton Stripes Kick Off “April in Paris” Month

Nothing says Spring like a Breton top. Each year, this long-sleeved striped shirt returns to clothing stores and catalogs as faithfully as pink blossoms pop out of the tips of tree branches. The design of it is somehow linked deep down in our minds to Spring.

Because it’s such an iconic piece for the season, I’ve chosen it to begin this month’s theme: April in Paris. Etched in my mind are classic, feminine images for French fashion. The photo below of Coco Chanel is one. Using images such as this one, my hope is to push my boundaries toward more feminine styles which have the spirit of what I imagine when I think of the phrase April in Paris.

Breton tops as worn by blogger and Coco Chanel

A Little Bit About the Breton

This striped tee, traditionally made up of blue stripes on a white background, is known in France as a marinière. That is, it’s named after the shirt Navy men wore beginning in the mid-1800s. We call it a Breton because at the time it entered mainstream fashion many sailors were from the French region of Brittany.

In the 1920s, Chanel adopted this look from the French sailors and seamen she saw wearing it on the beaches of France. Makes me wonder if the reason why we see the shirt so tied to sunnier days now is because of its ties to the water. Navy equals ships, ships mean there’s a sea somewhere, and the sea connects to the warm, sunny beach! Voila!

Spring outfit of distressed jeans, tretorn canvas sneakers, Breton striped top, black bandana

Fear Not the Breton’s Horizontal Stripes

Before I continue, I need to pause to discuss the Breton’s horizontal stripes. Because of an ongoing fashion myth about said stripes, I have avoided them in the past out of fear I would appear shorter and wider. For those of you who are petite, you know that’s the last thing we need.

But fear not! Scientific evidence suggests the opposite of everything we’ve been taught and we have my blogger friend Astrid of Total Petite to thank for calling our attention to this fact.

In one of her posts, Astrid wrote about the Helmholtz Illusion, a visual illusion that makes us see horizontal stripes as lengthening and slimming, while vertical stripes are actually the offenders, making a person appear shorter and wider!

Helmholtz Illusion in Fashion

So, now that I can go out in the world looking like a six-foot supermodel in horizontal stripes, let’s talk about this outfit I’ve put together.


Putting on the Stripes

I bought my top at I love shopping there for several reasons, not the least of which is price. The cost of my shirt was under $10! It retailed originally at Ann Taylor for about $30. Can you tell by looking at it that it was preowned? I can’t and I’m wearing it!

If you like this shirt (and the price!) and you want to find your own on ThredUp, start by clicking here and then search by size. I’ve set up the link to get you started with “striped shirts” in petites.

No-Stress Distressed Jeans

Although I appreciate distressed denim on others, I haven’t been a fan of it for myself since I was in my twenties. These Slim Boyfriend Jeans by Madewell may convert me, though. They’re not so distressed that they’re falling apart, but I have to admit they keep this outfit from becoming too cutesy, and that’s a good thing.

Spring outfit of distressed jeans, tretorn canvas sneakers, Breton striped top, black bandana

The Third Piece Brings It All Together

The bandana idea came from Elizabeth Podlesnik, a personal stylist I consulted at the flagship Nordstrom store in Seattle. She told me about her rule of adding a “Third Piece” to bring an outfit together. Not including shoes, the first two pieces are what covers your top and bottom halves. If it’s a dress, you can count that as two pieces because it covers both areas. The third piece is that last thing that pulls a look together.

You can see this idea played out a lot in the classic looks of Coco Chanel where she wears a skirt, a top, and a cluster of long-strand beaded necklaces. But she also abides by this idea in her outfit below — a Breton shirt, her wool jersey trousers, and the third piece is a belt with some stylish detailing that cinches it all up.


For my outfit, I chose a simple bandana as my Third Piece. It was eight bucks at Nordstrom. When wrapped up and tied, the pattern of it provides a little visual detail, just like the detail on Chanel’s belt, but not enough to overwhelm the stripes. When I put it around my neck, I felt like the whole outfit just came together. It just gives it that extra little je ne sais quoi.

Black bandana as versatile neck scarf.

Keep an eye out for more tips from Elizabeth in upcoming posts. We talked loads about dressing the way French women do. I’ll be featuring several ideas I got from working with her over the course of April in Paris. The Third Piece will always be a part of that conversation, but she also gave me tips on finding pants that fit and the art of dressing simply during transitional seasons like Spring and Fall.

Don’t Forget Shoes!

Finally, shoes. Although, Elizabeth says they are not a part of the Third Piece equation, they are still important and one of my favorite parts of any outfit.

I have loved canvas sneakers for what seems like a century. How happy I was when they came back in style. These Tretorns with the little red and blue stripes are playful (without being cutesy!) and they’re comfortable, too.

Tretorn canvas sneakers

The Verdict

Overall, I love this look for a casual weekend in the springtime and I learned a lot in the process. Not only did I learn the origin for this iconic tee, I learned that horizontal stripes are both slimming and heightening (yay!). And Elizabeth’s idea of adding a Third Piece helps me feel more put-together. Even if the Spring wind feels a bit arctic, I can escape to the beach when I look at my marinière and dream of a vacation in the warm French Riviera.

Shop this Look

Ann Taylor Breton Top ( Similar and on Sale!, Search on ThredUp for Similar  |  Madewell Distressed Slim Boyfriend Jeans  |  Tretorn Sneakers  |  Black Bandana

Affiliate link disclaimer: Please note, all of the items linked above are affiliated with companies I am associated with. By clicking the affiliated links and purchasing from those stores, I might receive a small commission. I do not place these links lightly — any company I represent is a company I buy from regularly. By purchasing from these stores, you support the work I do here. I greatly appreciate your support! 



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Sherry—this is marvelous and so Parisian!
    I am surprised you didn’t have your pup pose along with you—then you’d really look like the Coco photo!!
    I just got a striped top like this at Goodwill (and it’s an Ann Taylor too)—mine’s going to need a little surgery though—the boat neck seams keep getting all crazy!!
    ps…those tennies will be a good addition to a lace top—a definite dichotomy in the making!!!

    • Thank you, Jodie!! Yes–the dog usually does make an appearance and I wish he would have been up for it so I could do a little echo of what’s going on in the Chanel photo. Sadly, on the day I shot these photos, he wanted nothing to do with my goings on, and I can’t force him, so he stayed inside and slept while I worked! Ha ha!

      I’m still on the hunt for that perfect lace top, though I think I may have found something that could work. You’re right about the tennies being a perfect match for it!

      Will you be featuring your striped shirt on your blog once it has recovered from surgery?

  • Love this outfit! I have always been a fan of the Breton, even before I realized that was what it was called. You are definitely exuding femininity and chic with an “anyone can where it” casual vibe! Now I have to go look at my striped tops and see what I can put together. Thanks for the inspiration! – Amy

    • Hi Amy! Thank you for your kind words about this outfit! I love that phrase “chic with an anyone can wear it casual vibe.” I think you summed up my hope for cultivating a signature style — I want to look good and feel good about what I’m wearing, but I don’t want it to be a badge or a dividing line that separates me from others. Does that make sense? Your comment makes me feel like I’m achieving this goal.

      Also, you have been inspiring me over on your blog with all those Pantone Colors combinations!

  • Sooooo cute!!
    Hi! I am here from Suzanne’s blog where I have just admired your beautiful outfit with the long pearl necklace…
    Lovely post about stripes which are a very classic of fashion …

  • Hi Sherry, What a fantastic post! I have always loved breton stripes and, despite all the naysayers, I just instinctively knew they didn’t have a widening effect. One day, I decided to look into it and, voila (as you would say!) – absolute proof! So, we petites can walk tall in our stripes. Thank you so much for mentioning me and linking to my blog, it means an awful lot, especially as I am such a new, wet-behind-the-ears fashion blogger!

    You have captured exactly what I love about this Cote D’azur styling with this gorgeous top – a very French look, always smart and your bandana just finishes it off perfectly – reminds me of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, I know that is Italy and not France, but you know what I mean! The little row of buttons on each shoulder is quite unusual and adds a little extra charm too. I am also learning from you, as I had no idea about the ‘third piece’ but it makes absolute sense when you think about it! I am very nervous of accessories but the way you add in subtle dashes like this and, looking back at your earlier posts, little brooches, a string of pearls, or a simple scarf, that third piece always pulling the outfit together as you say and I am feeling encouraged to possibly dabble with a little more embellishment.

    So looking forward to the rest of your series on April in Paris – just what we need a touch of spring at last and should you ever decide to across the Atlantic, I am just a hop, skip and a jump from Paris, so would certainly join you for a croissant and un cafe!

    • Hello Ms Astrid! As always, it is a joy to hear from you and I’m so thankful for your kind comments! Actually, I’m more than thankful — I’m tickled that you’re enjoying my posts and over the moon that we’ve connected. Your words here are so uplifting and encouraging! Thank you!

      As for Paris or London — if I have to choose between the two, I’d choose London. (Shh…don’t tell anyone because as a fashion blogger I think it’s mandatory to love Paris.) And I do love Paris, but London has a piece of my heart that no other city in the world has. I feel so at home when I visit there. And now, the next time I’m in town, I have a friend to call up and say, “Let’s get lunch!” That makes me so happy!

      • I”m so chuffed, Sherry that my home City has a piece of your heart! I think the next time you’re in London, Sherry we ought to have a lunch of the Petite Posse; you, me and Astrid. Imagine the trouble us ladies would cause!

        • Jacqueline, I’m going to start planning a trip to London just so I can have lunch with you and Astrid and stir up some trouble! I would love that! It may take me a while to get plans in place — but you may want to start bracing yourselves now! 🙂

    • Thank you, Laurie! I thought the “third piece rule” was interesting too. It’s changed how I put things together now. Though I will say, for my upcoming post, I have been thinking I should have just stuck with two pieces. You’ll see what I mean, I think. 🙂