I wonder what would the fishermen say if a fortune teller told them about women of the future worshiping the humble undershirt as the ultimate style statement... They'd probably chuckle, no, they'd roll with laughter. Of course, we could then tease them back reminding of the reasons those stripes were stitched to a jumper in the first place - oh, yes, the ribbons were added by hand! - the strong and mighty wolves of the sea superstitiously believed that a striped top protected them from bad fortunes and creatures of all sorts - we are talking mermaids and monsters here. Oh, that would be one of a kind fun party (unless the men ended up throwing women over board - you know, the signs, the myths, a woman on a ship, the spirits)...
But lets leaves it for the "wolves" and instead talk about the history of the Breton stipe for such a conversation never occurred on the blog before. Besides, it is going to be part one of my Wardrobe Essentials series - something I've been thinking of and finally got around to putting together.
Once upon a time a striped top was a Breton fisherman's must have. Worn as underwear it provided warmth and protection from the elements, was hardwearing and easy to slip on. Besides the practicality, the tops were considered a lucky charm - a typical mariniere had 12 stripes to mimic the ribcage and cheat death.
As the time went by and people ventured out into the sea searching for new lands and undiscovered worlds, more and more fishermen joined the ship crews thus turning the top into a uniform. At first, the Bretons were the only one spotting the stripes, but in 1532 the jumper was adopted by the Dutch, who, unlike other European countries, didn't see it as "a sign of evil".
By mid-XVII century the Breton was worn by all French sailors. The top now had 21 stripes. Some say it was to mark the 21 victories of Napoleon, others believe that the men simply adopted the number 21 from their favourite card game, Vingt-et-un or Black Jack.
The Russians also loved the striped top and used to buy it from the travelling merchants until 1874 when Alexander II signed a new law making the breton a part of the official navy uniform. The Russian version weighing 336g was made of 50% wool and 50% cotton, with black and white stripes spaced at 1.1cm. It has always been a mark of strength and pride and reserved for mens' wardrobe.
In England it was Queen Victoria who got credit for introducing the breton top to the masses. In 1846 she dressed her son in what was described as "sailor's dress" to "delight" the officers and crew members.
In 1912 the breton underwent its final transformation. Now it was made of cotton with the stripes placed at 1.5cm intervals from one another. The number of stripes varied. For example, in Russia the total depended on the size of the top - the bigger the marinier, the more stripes you'd get.
Chanel spotted the breton in 1913 and began selling the jersey-knitted sweater in 1917. So typically of her, Mademoiselle turned this undergarment into a fashion icon. She thought it would look good on women of Deauville and worn hers with a pair of sailor's style trousers and pearls. In a matter of months the breton moved to Paris and appeared on pages fashion catalogues.
As time went by the little breton took its proud place in the wardrobes of the most stylish women of the planet, loved by Jean Seberg, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and Audrey Hepburn. The stripes were also an endless source of inspiration for the fashion designers, especially Jean Paul Gaultier and Sonia Rykiel who featured them in practically every collection.
Nowadays, it impossible to imagine our lives without a sweater or two (or a dozen, in my case for I am an addict). It's chic. It's simple. It's about youthfulness. It goes with everything. And yes, it does give an impression that you do know something about fashion and style... Plus, correct me if I am wrong, it somehow feels like summer...
Photo source: Camilla Rowe in Good vibrations / Vogue US June 2014 (photography: Angela Pennetta, styling: Tabitha Simmons), Vogue US January 1980 (photography: Alex Chatelain), Vogue US March 1983, Elle France February 1988, Christy Turlington in Vogue US April 1988 (photography: Patrick Demarchelier), Elle France November 1989, Elle US April 1989 (photography: Marc Hispard, styling: Sophie David), Linda Evangelista in Elle US August 1989 (photography: Gilles Bensimon), Glamour December 2014, Elle France February 1991, Nicky Taylor in Elle US March 1991, Christy Turlington & Naomi Campbell in Vogue US February 1992 (photography: Arthur Elgort), Amber Valletta in Elle France November 1992 (photography: Tiziano Magni), Elle France September 1993, Helena Christensen in Elle France January 1994, Elle France March 1995, Linda Evangelista in Vogue US May 1997 (photography: Mario Testino), Caroline Trentini in Vogue US December 2009, Vogue Korea June 2013, Toni Garrn in The Edit July 2014 (photography: David Bellemere), Edita Vilkeviciute in Vogue Paris May 2013 (photography: Gilles Bensimon, styling: Geraldine Saglio), Gisele Bundchen in Vogue US June 2006 (photography: Patrick Demarchelier), Anja Rubik in Vogue Paris June/July 2009 (photography: Terry Richardson), Abby Brothers in Glamour Germany July 2014 (photography: Paul Maffi), Elle Sweden February 2015 (photography: Ania Poulsen, styling: Jenny Fredriksson)