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.
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!
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.
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!
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 ThredUp.com. 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.
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.
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.
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
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