Nautical but nice – the 100 year history of the breton

Bretons are a mainstay of many a wardrobe. Smartened up with a blazer and skirt or thrown on with denim shorts, they are the ultimate dress-up-dress-down style staple. But have you ever wondered where this wardrobe cornerstone originated?

Bretons have been a fashion classic since Coco Chanel introduced them a full century ago in her 1917 nautical collection, but did you know that their heritage runs even further back? In 1858 they were introduced by decree as part of the French naval uniform, and Chanel was inspired by the smart look sported by the sailors on a trip to the French coast.

The original naval breton stripe was a strictly regimented affair – the breton was intended to be long enough to cover the lower back of the sailor, fitted enough not to get caught on rigging, and the stripes were a strict 2cm of white to 1cm of blue (and if the use of centimetres in the 19th Century seems strange, consider that the French actually started using the metric system in the 1790s, and it was adopted by the country as a whole in 1837. Ahead of the game in more than just style staples).

The breton has been sported by everyone from Chanel herself to Audrey Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In more modern times it was revolutionised by Jean Paul Gaultier, and has been popularised by fashion icons such as Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo, and the Duchess of Cambridge frequently turns to a classic breton and jeans outfit for less formal engagements. We’ve collected images of famous breton wearers over on our ‘Nautical but nice’ Pinterest board, click image to view.

Of course, the breton in 2017 is every bit the style solution is was in 1917. A few twists and tweaks, and it still has all the fresh nautical appeal of the original, with added wearability. Kettlewell’s version has a slight change on the stripe width, and comes in four flattering colours, so if navy and white isn’t your best look, there’s still an option that looks amazing on you. And if you love the breton stripes but feel the need to wear something other than a striped tee occasionally (I suppose it’s possible that this might theoretically happen to some of you) then look no further than the maxi dress,  which carries the same classic-but-insoucient look of the original breton, brought right up to date.

Stripe Boat Neck in True Red, Cotton Blazer in Iris, Suede Tassel Clutch in Lobelia and Ballerina Pumps in Light Gold – all from Kettlewell


Stripe Maxi Dress in Red, Short Cascade Wrap in Azure, Tassel Necklace in Neon and Cream, Suede Tassel Clutch in Cobalt Blue – all from Kettlewell

Cosy Cotton Stripe Top in Deep Sea Green/Grey Marl, Florence Infinity Scarf in Soft Teal, Jersey Trousers in Marine Blue

If you haven’t adopted the breton stripe as a wardrobe staple yet, you probably should.


The not-a-coat coat

header_bIt’s a wardrobe essential.

The perfect lightweight jacket for warmer spring days and cooler summer ones, for when it’s very definitely not warm enough to go coat-free, but far too warm for a proper winter overcoat (you can tell this week’s post has been inspired by the sudden sunshine, can’t you?). The not-a-coat coat can come in many forms, from the classic blazer to the jersey biker jacket. Of course most ‘fashion rules’ blog posts would be telling you at this stage that all you need is a classic black blazer, but you know that I’m going to say that you should only be going for that if (a) black makes you look amazing and (b) a classic blazer actually suits your personal style and looks chic and sophisticated on you. On me, for instance, a classic cut blazer looks boring and frumpy. On another friend it looks mannish and clumsy.

No, the not-a-coat coat should perfectly match your personal style and your lifestyle. With the addition of a scarf it’s warm enough for a chilly school run in the morning, but can easily be slung over the shoulder or shoved into a bag if the sun gets over-excited later in the day. It can take you from park playtime to smart casual lunch with friends, and it definitely doesn’t need to be a sensible black blazer. So what’s the alternative?

The Stretch/Jersey Blazer

Perfect for a more relaxed look than the classic tailored blazer, the stretch or jersey blazer is an easy and timeless piece that can work with a variety of personal styles, either with jeans for a casual look or dressed up with smart trousers or a pencil skirt.

The Biker Jacket

My personal happy place. A slightly rougher tougher look, which can work really well for casual days with jeans, or pair it with a fab dress for date night.

The Chanel-style Jacket

A slightly more feminine option and often available in a range of colours and styles thanks to its iconic status. Just make sure that the cut suits your shape – sometimes these jackets can be a little boxy, which doesn’t work for everyone, so hunt patiently for your perfect version. Of course, if you’ve got £10,000 or so to spare, there’s always the real deal.

The Coatigan

The casual alternative, but still providing all the cosiness you need on chilly spring mornings. Go for overlong or textured for an up to date look, or keep it simple with clean lines and beautiful quality merino.

And, oh, go on then, the Classic cut blazer

Because there are actually people who it looks good on! Classics become classics for a reason, but be honest with yourself about whether this is your best look before you invest huge sums of money in an ‘investment’ piece.


Details of all jackets can be found on our Polyvore pages