You know that feeling when your crush makes eye contact with you, and your heart skips a beat? You're breathless for a second then goosebumps slowly spread down both arms? That's exactly how I feel when I see a very good stripe. As a photographer, I love the contrast and statement they bring to lifestyle, portrait, and interior photography. Here's why we love stripes and what makes them so irresistible.
Why do we love a classic stripe so much?
My theory is the enduring classic stripe give us that European chicness that Americans are constantly chasing after. We all know the stereotypical portrayal of a Parisian: a cigarette in one hand, baguette in the other, sporting a beret and a shirt with those infamous Breton stripes or better yet, the undone perfection of French girl style.
It’s chic without trying too hard, and always looks perfectly put together.
the undone perfection of French girl style. It’s chic without trying too hard, and always looks perfectly put together.
How can you not love something with such a rich history?
The Breton striped shirt was first introduced in 1858 as the uniform for all French navy seamen in Northern France. The original design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories, and the distinctive stripes made it easier to spot wayward sailors who had fallen overboard. The link between stripes and the sea was cemented when the striped undershirt became part of the official French naval uniform in 1858. The uniform regulations for the ‘tricot rayé’ were meticulous, listing the exact number of stripes that could appear on the body and sleeves.
By the end of the century stripes were a popular choice for swimwear (which was also knitted) along the coasts of Europe — no matter how cold. Our friend on the left looks like he's not so keen on the idea.
If you search the internet, many histories of the nautical striped top will tell you that it first crossed into fashion via Coco Chanel. However, this isn’t entirely true. Some of the very first clothing items that she made way back in 1913 were based on the clothes of local fishermen, but didn’t include the striped top.
For that, we have an American couple to thank — Gerald and Sara Murphy, 10 years later in 1923. The Murphys had first visited the French Riviera the year before as guests of Cole Porter. They liked it so much that they came back the following year and set up home. In doing this, they started a summer ‘season’ (previously society had only visited during the winter months) and alongside that came the vogue for suntanning. Sara Murphy’s predilection for pearls at the beach foreshadowed Chanel. In 1923 Gerald took a trip to Marseille to get supplies for his boat, and returned with striped tops from the marine shop for himself and his guests. His guests variously included artists, writers, and trendsetters such as Man Ray, Dorothy Parker, Stravinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
As far as basics go, the Breton striped shirt is as necessary as a black blazer or a pair of dark-wash skinny jeans, and like those staples, the allure of the Breton stripe shirt lies in its versatility. Whether worn by struggling artists, movie stars, or modern-day it-girls, the styling choices have evolved over time, but its effect has astonishingly remained the same. From Picasso to Andy Warhol, Brigitte Bardot, Anna Karina, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, The Ramones, and Kurt Cobain, stripes have an enduring appeal fuelled by their links to both French elegance and countercultural cool. Far from its beginnings as occupational clothing, today the top is a chic classic worn by everyone from rock stars to fashion editors.
Whether worn by struggling artists, movie stars, or modern-day it-girls, the styling choices have evolved over time, but its effect has astonishingly remained the same. From Picasso to Andy Warhol, Brigitte Bardot, Anna Karina, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, The Ramones, and Kurt Cobain, stripes have an enduring appeal fuelled by their links to both French elegance and countercultural cool.
How to choose the best stripes for you.
Now that you have a better understanding of the striped shirt with its Parisian allure and fascinating history it's time to find the perfect one for your closet. Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the best stripes for you.
Fabric & Weight
The shirts worn by sailors were designed to keep them warm so very traditional versions will be heavy and thick. I've had a few classic versions but found the cotton fabric far too stiff to roll the sleeves, never mind trying to layer a collared shirt underneath. The ideal weight and fabric should be thick enough to withstand layering but no so think that you can't tuck it into your pants. This bamboo blend option by Lacson Ravello is a good example.
Consider layering — under and over
I'm tall, with more leg length than torso so the traditional boxy versions make my proportions look odd. I prefer a shirt with enough length to layer and tuck in, cropped boxy versions never work for me. My arms are also long so sleeve length is important, cropped sleeves are a no no. The ideal length is long with extra length for rolling or allowing a cuff to peek out when layering over.
I prefer a shirt with enough length to layer and tuck in, cropped boxy versions never work for me. My arms are also long so sleeve length is important, cropped sleeves are a no no.
I love a boatneck, especially for photographs. It lengthens the neck and that peek of collar bone is lovely in a picture. However, crew is much easier for layering under a jacket or sweater. Are you spotting a theme here with the layering?
Thanks for reading this little departure from my usual blog posts. If you'd like to see more like this, leave a comment and let me know.