The Timeless Appeal of Stripes

I love to wear stripes. I have at least half a dozen striped t-shirts, 2 striped skirts, 2 striped dresses, and 2 striped sweaters. What is it about stripes? Certainly they have been trendy for awhile, and according to the March edition of Vogue, continue to be so. Just a quick flip through this venerable fashion tome,  and you can see stripes being shown in campaigns by Dior, Ralph Lauren, Target , and Givenchy. No, I think my love of stripes goes far beyond any trend. Stripes are classic, and there is history behind them. And history is something that speaks to any lover of vintage.


The popularity of the striped shirt can be traced back to Coco Chanel. She fell in love with the Breton shirt on a trip to the French coast around 1913. This shirt started being worn as part of the French Navy’s uniform in 1858. After doing a wee bit of research, I learned that the original shirt incorporated 21 stripes, one for each one of Napoleon’s victories. This style was originally worn by the fishermen and merchant sailors of Brittany. The Russians liked it so well, that the Imperial Russian Navy adopted it as well in the 19th century. The Telnyashka can be sleeveless like a tank top, but I think the most gorgeous one I’ve seen is the one given to my husband during a tour in Russia with his band The Real McKenzies. It is long sleeved in a quadruple knit, heavy enough to wear in cold weather. Beautifully made, and built to last. Hopefully someone will give him another one soon, because his shirt is disintegrating from years of sweaty touring!

In more recent times, the striped sailor shirt has been made iconic by everyone from Pablo Picasso, Audrey Hepburn, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Brigitte Bardot, to name a few. Doing a quick search on the internet, it is easy to see that several companies specialize in just the French marinière, several of them claiming to be the original.  And I love that striped shirts always make me think of pirates too. Nothing wrong a bit of pirate action to liven up your day. My verdict is that as long as there are sailors, pirates, and rock ‘n rollers, stripes will be here to stay. Ahoy!



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