The Best Breton Stripe Shirts for Fall, Whether You Have $15 or $100 to Spend
Full disclosure: I love a Breton stripe. So does my mom. (And while we’re on the subject, so does my toddler—a sartorial choice so far inflicted mostly by me.) I wear one so often and dress my son in similar fashion so often, my husband frequently cracks a joke every time we accidentally twin and wear the iconic (and French-inspired) design on the same day: “Ah, I see I didn’t get the memo about the family uniform. Let me go change my shirt.”
But here’s the thing: The Breton stripe—in shirt form especially—is a wardrobe staple so classic and timeless, it’s been in style since the 1920s. (It was first known as la marinière, a nod to the French naval uniform of the mid-1800s, and so in vogue that everyone from Coco Chanel to Jacqueline Kennedy had a piece with nautical stripes in their closet.) Better yet, there are so many ways to wear one—to brunch, to school drop-off, on a Zoom call—that a polished attempt at style is effortless and practically guaranteed.
Still, with so many options to choose from this fall, which Breton stripe top is best? The most flattering? The one you have to have in your closet to mix and match with a blazer, a long coat or a cute scarf? I put 7 to the test in an effort to find the best fit. Here, my top choices, reviewed.
The Favorite: Sea Salt Cornwall
Known for its breathable organic cotton, this Cornwall, England-based (and maritime-inspired) brand definitely excels when it comes to the Breton top. I loved the width of the stripes, but also the quarter-length sleeves, length and material. (It was lightweight enough to wear in the 80-degree heat, but still makes for a great transitional shirt for fall.)
The Runner-Up: Kule
The brand’s tagline says it best: “home of the perfect stripe shirt.” I was intrigued enough to test this more high-end style and exceptionally pleased with the results. The fit is a bit boxier, but still felt feminine and flattering. Also, worth noting: The neckline features an added stripe that adds to the sophistication and polish—I definitely can’t wait to wear this with a blazer when the temps dip.
The Most Relaxed: Vineyard Vines
The pics don’t do this Breton top justice—you’ll want to live in this shirt 24/7. (I also got the most compliments on this design.) Maybe it’s the vibrant blue hue or the variety of ways to wear it (French tuck, anyone?), but I found myself gravitating toward this top frequently…for runs to the playground, a dinner out, a chilly end-of-summer night at the beach and more. It’s meant to be oversized, so a small was the perfect fit. And the dropped sleeve only extends the chill vibe.
The One With a Flourish: Boden
Proof that no matter how many Breton tops you have in your closet, you need one that feels distinctive. Case in point: This puff sleeve. This Breton stripe was much more fitted, but I liked that—especially since the material is a Jersey fabric that hugged and tucked in all the right places. (I also really like the length!)
The Most Authentically French: Sézane
Breton top? Nope, this shirt is called the Noan Marinière, beautifully made by Paris-based brand Sézane. From the boat neckline to the sailor-inspired buttons (there are four on each side), I loved the relaxed fit, but also the break in stripes at the top. Of all the tops I tried, this option felt the most reminiscent of the original French naval uniforms from back in the day.
The Coziest: Old Navy
This Breton stripe top—in mustard yellow—is made from French terry, which makes it incredibly soft and comfortable, too. I also love that the sleeves come with built-in cuffs, which gives it a more tailored finish while keeping the overall fit relaxed and loose.
The Everyday: J.Crew
There’s something about the crisp white cuffs and collar detail of this shirt that made it feel that much more unique in my closet. (It also looks great on a Zoom call.) This version of the Breton stripe was slightly less oversized, but still had easy breezy volume in all the right places. Perfect for a fall farmers’ market run.
A Brief History of the Breton Stripe
Inspired by the now-iconic uniform of the French Navy circa 1858, the horizontal Breton stripe was originally used as a way to spot a sailor that fell overboard. Coco Chanel eventually took inspiration from the design after spotting it on a holiday along the French coast. Her unique interpretation of the Breton stripe, dubbed the marinière, first appeared as a part of her collections in 1917.
Ever since, it’s become a cult favorite. James Dean wore a tightly fitted Breton stripe in Rebel without a Cause; Audrey Hepburn donned one in Funny Face; models like Alexa Chung have given it a hipster edge. Even Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, regularly mixes a Breton stripe into her wardrobe.
A forever quest to dress more like the French? Perhaps. Based on my research, it’s also a way to instantly (and affordably) infuse style into your closet.