The Breton striped top is undeniably one of the most loved, and timeless of all the wardrobe classics. With a 150 year history behind it, the connotations of effortlessly chic French style, and a bevy of tastemakers as fans, from Audrey Hepburn to Alexa Chung, it’s unsurprising that the versatile style is still going strong.
Originally created for the French navy in 1858, the utilitarian style quickly evolved for everyday wear, and the Breton’s reputation as a fashion icon was cemented when Coco Chanel included the recognisable stripes in her 1913 collection.
Now you’re likely to find a version of the Breton top at most retailers, from cashmere at luxury brands like Saint Laurent, to cotton on the high street. The team at Boden, now well known for its bretons, told us that the brand has sold over half a million of its long-sleeve version since 2008 alone, proving its popularity shows no signs of abating.
The nautical trend is one that comes around again and again, especially for spring, bringing with it that sea breeze on the skin feeling we’re all particularly craving this year. According to fashion search engine Lyst, searches for striped pieces are rising in 2021, up 109 per cent year-on-year, and searches for T-shirts, sweaters and long sleeve tops in particular are up collectively 54 per cent since January. Clearly its popularity lies in its timelessness and versatility; the Breton goes just as well with jeans and trainers at the weekend as it does under a blazer for the office.
These days there’s hundreds of different iterations, but for the purposes of narrowing down the 11 absolute best here, our testers focused mainly on the classic, long sleeve cotton version that instantly comes to mind, with a few updates thrown in.
They may all look similar but there are subtle factors to consider when choosing the perfect Breton for you. Do you prefer a heavier sweatshirt style or thinner stretchier version to tuck in? A crew neck or boat neck, boxy or slim fitting, wool or cotton? Whatever your preferences, there’s one here for you.
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La Redoute organic cotton Breton-striped jumper
Unsurprisingly our favourite all-rounder comes from a French brand and, in our opinion, this is about as close to a perfect Breton you can find. Made from 100 per cent organic cotton with a slightly ribbed effect, it’s on the thicker side making it great for wearing in-between seasons. Although a small detail, the stripes starting lower on the shoulders make this the most similar to the classic French designs looks wise, and the shoulder button detailing gives just enough of a nautical nod. The slightly looser fit and heavier material means it sits beautifully whether tucked in or out, and the quality is excellent considering the price point. The nicest thing about La Redoute’s design is that it can be casual with denim or more formal when paired with tailoring – exactly what you want from your Breton. Plus, the crisp ivory against the navy stripe is just so classic, you can’t really go wrong.
Next raglan long sleeve top
Next is well known for great quality everyday basics, and this long sleeve top is one of them. Definitely on the more casual side of things, with exposed stitching on the arms and a thinner, relaxed fabric, but as classic Bretons go it’s up there. The lighter fabric means it’s perfect for tucking into anything from denim to chinos to create that classic French look, and it will fit into any wardrobe seamlessly. It’s 100 per cent cotton so likely to wash and last well, plus all cotton bought from Next supports the sustainable Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), so if responsibility in your wardrobe is important to you then this style should get a tick. This is a top you’ll wear forever and one of the comfiest we tried.
Baukjen Samara organic sweatshirt
Although on the more premium side with its price point, you do get the quality and comfort to back it up with this beautifully soft Baukjen number. We loved the loose fit and thicker material, and there’s even room to wear a T-shirt layer under this style if you wanted. The cuffs do give it more of a casual sweatshirt feel opposed to a long-sleeve tee but this only adds to the cosiness— it’s the kind of Breton you’d want to throw on after a dip in the sea when changing into fresh dry clothes, are you with us?
Loungewear is very much having a moment right now and this premium organic cotton top is a step up from your average jumper if you’re looking for a refresh. Plus, the chic stripes will inevitably make you feel more pulled together, without compromising on comfort.
Warehouse Breton stripe jumper
This fine knit crew neck is definitely more of a jumper than a T-shirt on the grand scale of Bretons, but that’s what makes this style stand out from the rest. Although the striped design is as classic as the more casual styles, the knitted texture gives it a more premium feel— you could definitely dress it up with leather trousers for a meeting or an evening out, for example. It bears a likeness to the timeless Saint Laurent versions but obviously at a much more affordable price. With a slightly slimmer fit than the others in this list we’d size up if you’re a fan of a looser style, but we liked that this meant it was super easy to tuck into trousers. The gold button detailing on the shoulders really highlights the nautical theme, and we’re OK with that.
Mango babydoll neck striped sweater
OK, this is a bit of a rogue addition, and the frills do break from Breton tradition… but the oversized collar trend is still going strong this spring, and we couldn’t resist trying this modern take from Mango. Although it might not be the style that you’ll wear forever, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth wearing it again and again over the next few seasons. In a chic dark navy cotton, this straight design is definitely on the more “fashion” end of the spectrum, and great if you prefer a less fitted Breton. It also does the job of making your outfit look a bit fancier than just a T-shirt and jeans, despite still having the comfort factor. The 100 per cent organic cotton is so soft and feels much more expensive than its high street price tag, which is always a bonus.
Joanie Clodagh lucky horseshoe stripe top
If you like your Breton with a bit more personality, independent brand Joanie is the place to look. As well as this cute (not to mention lucky) horseshoe embroidered design, there’s also options with dinosaurs and sausage dogs to name a few – we told you it was fun. The green stripes make a nice change to blue, while still staying firmly in the nautical range. It’s good to note this style has ¾ length sleeves, so would be particularly good for petite sizes or if you find standard sleeves too long. This 100 per cent cotton version with a crew neck and classic fit is closer to T-shirt material with not too much, but just enough stretch to it. As all Bretons should be, it’s really very comfy, and looks particularly lovely with cream or white jeans, or even clashed with other prints like florals for a springtime feel.
Jigsaw cotton stripe boyfriend tee
Jigsaw’s cotton slub jersey Breton is comfort personified (if a Breton top was a person, but you get the idea). Super relaxed in shape and fabric, this is definitely set to be a weekend (or working from home) wardrobe staple for those who invest in it. The drop shoulders and slight fade in colour give it a more laid back feel than some of the other styles on this list, but, with it being from Jigsaw, you can be confident that you’re not sacrificing quality for comfort. Whether you choose the typical navy and white stripe, or the understated grey stripe version of this top, it’s guaranteed to become one of your everyday go-tos. The rounded hem makes this a nice option if you prefer not to tuck your tops in, and the longer length at the back means it would look great with anything from leggings to skinny jeans.
Marks & Spencer pure cotton striped straight fit top
It’s undeniable that the low price for this responsibly sourced 100 per cent cotton top makes it one of the best value on this list, and therefore a close second to our best buy. To be quite honest, it’s really all you could ask for in a basic long sleeve striped T-shirt. The twist of the pink neckline against the classic blue and white stripes shouldn’t put you off, and actually still manages to feel classic when worn. This cute update is just enough of a break from tradition to feel fresh, and would be perfect if you already own the classic Bretons but are looking to expand your arsenal. It does have a slimmer fit, especially on the arms, with less stretch than your average Breton, so size up if you prefer a looser fit.
M&S cotton products support the Better Cotton Initiative so you can feel good about your purchase at the same time as getting a great bargain, which isn’t often the case. It’s also good to note this is made with the brand’s StayNew technology, another of its sustainability initiatives, keeping items safe from any bobbling or wear for longer. That’s a lot of bang for your buck.
Boden Imogen Breton
As we mentioned above, Boden has become the go-to for Bretons on the British high street scene in recent years. The brand included one in its very first collection almost 30 years ago and has offered them ever since, with at least 38 different options on the site currently. Basically, the brand knows what it’s doing when it comes to stripes, and whether you want embellished, colourful or classic, there’s a Breton at Boden for everyone. This one, though, deserved a special shout out, as the puff sleeves were just such a nice twist. It made the sometimes adrogynous style feel feminine, and we found it balanced out wide leg jeans or trousers particularly nicely. Plus, you can still choose to get that classic crew neck look by simply layering a shacket or blazer over it. The bright orange-red also makes a nice change to navy while still feeling nautical and classic.
Boden long sleeve cotton Breton top
Because Boden does the Breton so well, we couldn’t not also include its bestselling long sleeve version. In 100 per cent pure BCI cotton, this timeless style was very close to topping our list. Although many different colourways are available, the monochrome stripe is the most enduring, so we’d opt for this one first. Compared to the other styles we tried, it was perhaps the most slim fitting so, again, if you prefer a looser boyfriend fit you know what to do. When tucked into jeans with a classic black blazer over it, this style gave such a nice streamlined look that was possibly the closest we’ve ever got to that French girl je ne sais quois. The label even makes you feel special, reassuring you that you’re now part of a club that “celebrates supreme quality” having invested in “the best stripes in the business”. We find it very hard to argue with that.
Zara striped knit sweater
In recent years the Breton has evolved and can now be found in knitwear form so, for those of you who might prefer a warmer style, we’ve included this cosy Zara number which in its simplicity, stands out. It has a very similar shape to the classic boxy Breton, comes in the classic colours and does still, ultimately, feel very Parisian. The soft ribbed effect keeps that nautical touch and we could see ourselves wearing this both in the city and throwing it over our shoulders when it gets chilly in the evening on holidays. The dropped shoulders and stretch provide a slouchy, relaxed vibe and the slightly cropped length makes it perfect for pairing with high waisted trousers, skirts or even over dresses. We could probably do another piece solely dedicated to Breton knits, but for now we’re perfectly happy to let this one sneak its way onto here.
The verdict: Breton tops
This was, of course, a tough one but La Redoute’s thick cotton, simple navy and white stripes and nautical button detail made it, in our eyes, the most classic and versatile Breton we could find. M&S’s T-shirt deserves a nod for its excellent value and everyday appeal, and Boden for its superior quality and range but, for us, La Redoute’s version had it all.
For more fashion favourites, read our guide to the best plus-size brands to know
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