The Piece: Trust Comme des Garçons Play to put an offbeat and yes, playful spin on an iconic wardrobe staple. This all-cotton crew-neck T-shirt, as seen on Frida Gustavsson and Diane Kruger (below), features a vaguely boxy fit and lightly cropped long sleeves for a modern update on the timeless Breton striped shirt.
The Backstory: On March 27th, 1858, the Act of France introduced the striped Breton shirt as we still know it today. Originally known as marinière or matelot, the navy and white-striped knitted shirt was the uniform for all navy seamen in Brittany. The bold pattern was easy to spot on the waves, and it featured precisely 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories.
By 1889, it was manufactured by Bretagne, Tricots Saint James, and towards the close of the 19th century, it became popular with Breton workers because it was so easy and practical.
The Evolution: Out with the Belle Epoque and in with beachy sportswear: In 1917, the inimitable Coco Chanel (above, left), inspired by the glamorous seaside resort city of Deauville in Normandy (where she frequently vacationed with her lover, Boy Capel, and opened her second boutique), made the shirt fashionable by introducing it in her nautical collection. She paired it with long, flared trousers, and the look projected a sunny, south-of-France breed of ease. By the 1930s, women in the know were sporting it with cravats, blazers, and shorts.
The Outcome: From Rebel Without a Cause to the French New Wave and far beyond, the shirt's been worn by Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick, James Dean, Pablo Picasso, Jean Seberg, and Audrey Hepburn, as well as '80s-era Madonna and much-copied women in the 2000s, like Kate Moss, Alexa Chung, Emmanuelle Alt, and Ulyana Sergeenko.
Above: Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, Jean Seberg, Madonna; below: Kate Moss, Alexa Chung, Emmanuelle Alt, Ulyana Sergeenko
The shirt has also been reinterpreted by the houses of Balmain, Meadham Kirchhoff, Clements Ribeiro, Junya Watanabe, and of course, Jean-Paul Gaultier (who has also made it a signature of his personal look) and reimagined in countless nautical-themed (and sometimes naughty) fashion editorials.
Below: Looks out of the Balmain Fall 2009, Jean-Paul Gaultier Spring 2013, Clements Ribeiro Spring 2010, Meadham Kirchhoff Fall 2009, and Junya Watanabe Spring 2011 Menswear collections; miscellaneous editorials