The Best Breton Tops: Our 11 Favorite French-Style Striped Shirts for Women

This tee is still timeless, 163 years later.

Woman wearing a Breton striped top by J. Crew
(Image credit: J. Crew)

Welcome to The Essentials, our weekly series highlighting a must-have classic, key to building a timeless, pulled-together closet.

Today, the best Breton stripe tops are accessible wardrobe pieces that offer a low-effort, high-reward stylish effect. But before the graphic T-shirt was synonymous with effortless Parisian fashion, it had quite the utilitarian and hard-working past. In 1858, the distinctive Breton stripe was dubbed the uniform of the French Navy. The blue-and-white tee, with 21 total stripes (a tribute to each of Napoleon's victories), was an easy way to detect the whereabouts of unlucky French sailors who'd fallen overboard on the high seas. It wasn't until the '50s that the top was catapulted to fashion fame via French cinema girls like Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Seberg, who integrated the striped shirt into their sought-after capsule wardrobes.

"Like denim which started as railroad workers’ clothes, or how we all cannot resist the call of khaki, certain sartorial genres have been co-opted over time from more humble or utilitarian origins," describes fashion stylist and creative director Mary Fellowes. "The image of dozens of French sailors with these horizontal lines cutting through our visual horizon was surely beguiling for fashion visionaries that effectively upcycled them into everyday civilian style," she adds of the top's journey from a maritime uniform to It-girl staple.

And for spring 2023, designers—both those working at a high-fashion caliber and those creating garments for your favorite affordable retailers—revisit the classic. Some remain strict to the signature look, while others veer away from the 21-stripe requirement and traditional color schemes. 

Ahead, shop the best Breton tops of 2023, according to fashion stylists and Marie Claire's team, and find insight on how to style the striped shirts. Nautical by nature, a Breton-style top will look dreamy on a sailboat or amidst the French Riviera scene, but realistically it's also a smart work-from-home uniform paired with a jogger or jeans.

The Best Breton Tops

How to Style Breton Tops

  • Play With Proportions

"Since they are inherently boxy, you want to counterbalance that with something that elongates the silhouette—like long, lean straight trousers," says Fellowes. "Or else just roll with the overall boxiness and the slouchy casual world of the top by pairing it with loose, low-slung, and casual boyfriend-style pants."

  • Up-Style the Casual Top

"For a low-key dinner, pair your Breton top with jewel-tone satin cigarette trousers, match your lipstick or bag to the trousers, and then add huge statement earrings," offers Fellowes. "The high/low or utility/precious mix makes a fresh juxtaposition."

  • Be Mindful of the Horizontal Stripes

"Because the Breton stripes are horizontal, they add the illusion of width to the body," notes the stylist. She shares that there's no need to be deterred by the illusion, however: just wear it in a way that will "bring out your best." Her go-to tip is to balance out the horizontal visual by "throwing a gilet or waistcoat over, ideally one that has a decent wide shoulder and is long to the ankle or to the hip." She says "it will give great effortless Beatnik vibes."

  • Go for Gold

"Lots of gold jewelry" on your "fingers, wrists, piles on the neck, and stud earrings" is critical, says the stylist when putting the finishing touches on an outfit featuring the Parisian-chic top.

Meet the Fashion Experts

Mary Fellowes
Mary Fellowes

Creative director, stylist, editor, and now sustainability expert Mary Fellowes has operated in the top echelons of fashion and media for two decades. Based in London, she currently styles leading Hollywood entertainment talent for promo and red carpet while also consulting with fashion and luxury brands on being responsible, ethical, and transparent.

Candice Lambert
Candice Lambert

Candice Lambert is a Los Angeles-based stylist and costume designer best known for her “street meets high fashion” approach. Lambert is regularly called upon by Hollywood and the music industry for red carpets, award shows, television sets, campaigns, world tours, iconic performances, and more. She is a favorite of high profile clients such as Kelly Clarkson, Green Day, Bon Jovi, Our Lady J, Danica Patrick, and many others.

Sara Holzman
Style Director

Sara Holzman is the Style Director for Marie Claire, where she's worked alongside the publication for eight years in various roles, ensuring the brand's fashion content continues to inform, inspire, and shape the conversation about fashion's ever-evolving landscape. With a degree from the Missouri School of Journalism, Sara is responsible for overseeing a diverse fashion content mix, from emerging and legacy designer profiles to reported features on the influence of social media on style and seasonal and micro trends across the world's fashion epicenters in New York, Milan, and Paris. Before joining Marie Claire, Sara held fashion roles at Conde Nast's Lucky Magazine and Self Magazine and was a style and travel contributor to Equinox's Furthermore website. Over her decade of experience in the fashion industry, Sara has helped guide each brand's style point of view, working alongside veteran photographers and stylists to bring editorial and celebrity photo shoots to fruition from start to finish. Sara currently lives in New York City. When she's not penning about fashion or travel, she’s at the farmer’s market, on a run, working to perfect her roasted chicken recipe, or spending time with her husband, dog, and cat. Follow her along at @sarajonewyork

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