The classic striped tees that we know today originate from the French coastal region of Brittany. The 1958 Act of France saw navy seamen in the area given a striped woven top bearing 21 horizontal stripes (one for each of Napoleon’s victories) as a uniform, known as a matelot or marinière.
The official Breton top, manufactured locally in wool and in cotton, was eventually adopted by many sailors across the region of northern France, and it was upon a visit to the coast that fashion designer Coco Chanel came across it. The seamen’s attire inspired her to create a nautical-themed collection in 1917, which was stocked in her boutique in the wealthy holiday resort of Deauville in Normandy.
Chanel favoured masculine silhouettes to empower her female clientele, and was famously pictured sporting one of her lose-fitting Breton tops tucked into a pair of wide-leg trousers. High society soon cottoned on and members of the upper class adopted these stripy tops under blazers.