An act of government is rarely a major influencer in the world of style. But not so with the March 27, 1858 Act of France. The act declared a new uniform for the French Navy: A knitted shirt with navy and white horizontal stripes, chosen because the distinct pattern was easily sighted beneath the ocean’s surface. Highly visible shirts meant less sailors consigned to Davy Jones’ Locker upon falling overboard. And that’s why the style quickly fell into favor among seafaring types, especially the northwestern region of Brittany, or “Bretagne” in French.
From there, it’s not a huge leap to the anglicized “Breton,” or to the rationale for the name of the now-iconic stripe that can be found on everything from genuine sailing garments to high-fashion runways. And for those out there that call it a nautical stripe—and many do, not necessarily incorrectly—we think you can be trusted to surmise the explanation for that particular moniker on your own.