The Iconic Breton Stripe, Where Did it Come From?

The Iconic Breton Stripe, Where Did it Come From?

Posted by Island Pursuit on Feb 15th 2014

If there is one fashion look that has stood the test of time it’s the nautical or “Breton” stripe. We see it in clothing, home decor, and accessories. Its message is clean, casual, and coastal. We’ve seen some version of the Breton stripe on celebrities past and present, from A udrey Hepburn to Kate Middleton, from Pablo Picasso to Harry Styles.  


                                          Audrey Hepburn wears a breton stripe mod dress          Kate Middleton wearing a breton stripe top       

                                          Pablo Picasso wearing a striped tee shirt          Harry Styles wearing a breton stripe tee shirt

This nautical look was extremely popular throughout the 1960’s. Everyone who was anyone was wearing the look, even Barbie! The iconic doll was launched by Mattel in 1959 wearing a black and white striped bathing suit! 


                                                                  1950's Barbie wearing a striped one piece bathing suit                               

This popular look, synonymous with a nautical lifestyle, was actually born in the Normandy region of France, in a little village called Saint-James. This village of Saint-James dates back to the 12th century when William the Conqueror claimed it on the Bay of Saint Michel. The area was known for grazing sheep.  A local mill, Moulin du Pier, “Pier Mill", used the wool from these sheep to create warm sturdy sweaters for the local sailors and fishermen.  

Fast forward to 1858, the company was commissioned by the French Navy to create its official naval uniform. At the time, the headquarters for the French Navy was in the Brittany region of France so the striped look became know as the “Breton,” which means “of Brittany.”   Soon after that, in 1880, the mill previously known as Moulin du Pier became Saint-James Mills, Ltd.

                                                                     French navy uniform with a Breton stripe top

So how did the Breton stripe become so popular in the fashion world?  After vacationing in the seacoast towns of northern France and seeing locals wearing this striped knitwear, Coco Chanel introduced this nautical look, “la mariniere” (the mariner or sailor) in her 1917 collection in Paris, and as we say, the rest is history!  

                                                            Coco Chanel pioneered the Breton stripe top as chic, everyday fashion

Although the nautical stripe has been used by many designers throughout history, Saint-James continues today to provide the world with the authentic Breton stripe. Their attention to detail and quality control is very important to them.  At the time of this writing, Saint-James does not sell on major websites as other brands do, preferring to sell through independent retailers who will tell their story. They release just two collections per year and they are owned and operated by their employees.  In 2005 Saint-James received the “Ethics and Governance” trophy from the Ecole des Dirigeants et Creaturs d’ Enterprise, or EDC, a private business school in Paris.

Not only does Saint-James offer an authentic collection of Breton striped tops, sweaters and dresses in a variety of colors, but they have designed their Propriano dress and Garde Cote tops out of a polymid microfiber that provides UV protection from the harmful rays of the sun!  You will look great and be protected from the sun’s harmful rays as you enjoy your own coastal lifestyle or vacation. 

                                                       Saint James Propriano dress in navy and white     

                                        Propriano II Dress in Navy/Neige with UPF50

                                                  Garde Cote striped blue and white top

                                        Garde Cote III Top in Azure/Neige with UPF50


Island Pursuit is proud to carry Saint-James , especially our newest Island Pursuit exclusive designs for Chatham, Longboat Key,  Mystic, Newport, Sanibel, and Sarasota.  We worked with Saint-James to create an exclusive sleeve design featuring a French burgee flag and U.S.burgee flag custom embroidered with the name of one of these special resort locations where Island Pursuit is located.  Wear your love for one of these special places on your sleeve!


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