The Breton top: The History of Princess Kate’s favourite style

The Princess of Wales marked the beginning of Children’s Mental Health week by meeting with primary school children in east London to talk about connecting with others. The video footage released by one of her patronages, Place2Be shows Kate sitting around a table talking to the children, discussing the theme for 2023 ‘Let’s Connect’.

For the occasion Kate wore one of her signature styles – a Breton striped long sleeved top with navy trousers. The princess is an ongoing advocate for the timeless stripe, and we know she owns three of the same marinière tops from Me + Em.

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This classic pattern is a staple style, adored by fashion royalty and actual royalty alike. The traditionally navy and white striped clothing has become synonymous with a Parisian-chic wardrobe in all forms from t-shirts to cashmere jumpers, to wear with jeans, trousers or shorts.

But how did we get from this style being the uniform of the French Navy, to being The Princess of Wales’ go-to dress code?

Where did the Breton begin?

It’s the French who we need to say merci to for the classic style. The Breton was periodically worn by the French Navy, who introduced this pattern as their official uniform in 1858, and the style has been worn by mariners and sea workers ever since. The original Breton apparently had 21 stripes to commemorate the country’s number of Napoleon victories.

According to The Culture Trip  “A government decree said that all seamen had to wear a striped top, designed with a 2 cm white stripe followed by a 1 cm blue stripe and so on. In total, there are 21 white stripes and 21 indigo blue stripes. It was stripey so that seamen would be easily identifiable in the water, in case of emergency. It was an extremely practical garment, designed to cover the lower back and not be too loose that it would get caught on anything while at work.”

French sailors in 1935

Coco Chanel and the Breton

There are questions whether Coco Chanel was the person to introduce stripes into popular fashion, or whether it was already a popular trend in France, but her famous marinière long-sleeved top was revolutionary in the world of womenswear.

In 1917 Coco launched a nautical collection inspired by sailors uniforms. Not only did her influence help establish the style within fashion circles, the relaxed fit of the top moved away from the sartorial constraints of women’s fashion at the time, like the corset. 

She famously said “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury”.

Audrey Hepburn

Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot sported the Breton in the 40s, and Pablo Picasso was famously photographed wearing a nautical striped top in the 1950s.

Pablo Picasso in a Breton striped v-neck

Fast-forward to 2010 and Prada showcased a Breton collection at Milan Fashion Week, and Karl Lagerfeld designed a Breton-striped away kit for the French international football team the following year.

A look from Prada’s RTW SS11 collection

The classic pattern has never been out of style

How to wear Breton like the Royals

Kate Middleton is the fashionable royal mostly associated with the classic stripes as she often dons the style for various occasions. Hello!’s Karen Silas explains “To copy Kate’s style, the key is to pair your Breton striped top with a pair of dark trousers or jeans, making sure they have a very clean line.”

Kate has a plethora of Breton tops

The Duchess of Sussex is also a Breton fan. She opted for black jeans, suede boots for the ultimate smart daytime look.

Meghan Markle in Morocco in 2019

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