There’s an outdated yet very well known piece of style advice that discourages people from wearing horizontal stripes. We say disregard it. Horizontal stripes are great, no matter the body type they’re displayed on.
It’s one of the most simple and straightforward patterns there is, yet it draws the eye, gives outfits a focal point and is so accessible that even those who tend to shy away from anything too bold or bright can get involved.
The Breton top is the most popular vehicle for this pattern, and it’s something every man should own. From its roots in the French navy to its current wardrobe-staple status, this humble long-sleeved shirt has forged a reputation as a modern classic. It’s a garment with character and history, and there are lots of brands making excellent versions of it.
Thinking of adding a Breton top to your rotation? Keep reading to learn more about the origins of this European mainstay as well as a list of the best brands to buy one from.
What Is A Breton Top?
Also known as ‘la marinière‘ (the sailor) or ‘le pull marin‘ (the sailor sweater), the Breton shirt is a long-sleeve top in either navy or white with contrast thin stripes in the opposite colour.
The Breton top can be traced back to Brittany in the mid 1800s. Initially made from tightly woven wool, it was issued to all seamen in the region. It kept them warm, and if they were unfortunate enough to fall overboard into the English Channel, the stripes would make them more visible to search parties.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Breton shirt began to make its way off the water and into mainstream fashion. Chanel began selling them as casual garments and it wasn’t long before they were being worn by film stars and celebrities.
Over the years, the Breton top has been popularised by the likes of James Dean, Picasso and Brigette Bardot, and remains an effortlessly stylish option for both men and women today.
How To Wear A Breton Top
Keep it simple
A Breton top is a patterned garment, and unless you’re a professional stylist, you should avoid pairing it with other patterned garments. There’s just too much scope for missing the mark and winding up clashing badly.
Instead, keep the other elements of your outfit simple and restrained. Think little to no branding, no big graphics or prints – just simple, uncluttered block colours.
Taking this approach allows the stripes to take centre stage and become the focal point of the outfit without having to fight to be seen.
Give a nod to those French sailors whose shirt you stole and get it tucked into your trousers the way God intended.
Not only will this slim you down and make your legs appear longer, it also enhances the contrast between top and bottom, making for a more interesting outfit overall.
Try a wider leg
If you love skinny and slim trousers then fair enough, keep doing you. What we will say is that a straight, relaxed or wide leg will result in a much more modern look and keep your wardrobe up to date.
Also, it’s more comfortable, which is always a plus.
A Breton top looks great with open layers on top of it to add volume and depth to an outfit. In warmer weather, try layering one underneath an unbuttoned Oxford or an overshirt.
The Best Breton Top Brands
Closed originally started as a denim brand in the late 1970s but has since progressed into a fully fledged fashion brand with both men’s and women’s lines. It now produces a whole range of casual ready-to-wear clothes, including T-shirts and long-sleeve tops in various styles.
The brand’s take on the Breton shirt features evenly spaced navy and white stripes with a ribbed navy neckband. It’s made in Turkey using organic cotton to reduce environmental impact and comes in a classic regular fit.
Sustainably minded brand ISTO focuses on responsible materials, ethical production and avoiding harmful chemicals to make its clothes. The idea is to minimise harm to the planet while creating well-made clothes that will last people a long time.
The brand’s range includes everything from outerwear to accessories, along with Breton tops. ISTO’s spin on the design features a classic wide neck and is available in three colour options.
French brand Armor Lux has been going since the 1930s. In that time, it has become widely known for its Breton tops.
Hailing from the home of the Breton, Brittany, it is the last remaining manufacturer of the style in the region, making it a popular choice for discerning shoppers who are interested in the history and heritage of the pieces they spend their money on.
CDG Play is Comme des Garcons’ streetwear-leaning sub-brand that focuses on casual basics like logo tees, hoodies, sweats and shirts.
It has also become pretty well known for its take on the classic Breton top, featuring equally spaced contrast stripes, long sleeves and the label’s iconic bug-eyed heart logo to the chest.
H&M’s premium minimalist offshoot Arket is a great place to go for mid-range Breton tops. The brand has a number of horizontally striped long-sleeve tops that fit the criteria, with decent quality, supply chain transparency and nice relaxed fits.
British brand Sunspel is well known in the menswear world for making some of the best basics in the business. They’re not cheap, but they fit beautifully and a lot of the stuff is made in England.
Even James Bond has worn the label’s clothes, so where better to buy a Breton top from?
Sunspel’s Classic Long-Sleeve T-Shirt is a great option. It’s handmade in the UK using super-soft pima cotton and fits like a dream.
Horizontal stripes have become something of a visual signature for Parisian label AMI. Founded by Alexandre Mattiusi, the label specialises in elevated casualwear, modern silhouettes, chic styling and an overarching minimalist aesthetic.
The brand makes a number of striped T-shirts – both short-sleeve and long-sleeve – often featuring AMI’s small embroidered heart logo to the chest.