Coco Chanel & Nautical tops

French sailors and fishermen had been sporting Breton tops — striped sweaters made from tightly knit wool to protect them from the elements — since the 19th century. Style maven Coco Chanel, however, turned the cotton long-armed shirt with horizontal blue and white lines into fashion.

Striped pieces appeared in her boutique in the society seaside resort of Deauville, in the French region of Normandy, as early as the 1910s. She reworked them in jersey, giving them patch pockets and accessorizing them with thick belts.

The nautical look was casual, and far less serious than the stiff aesthetic of the Belle Époque, quickly becoming a hit among stylish women both on and off the beach.

Soon enough, the tops, known as Breton shirts, as many sailors in the French Navy were from Brittany, could be found in the pages of both British and American Vogue.

And even today, chances are you have some of these style innovations in your closet.


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