Are you interested in French style? You may have wondered why the striped sailor’s shirt, called a marinière in French, became such an emblematic symbol of French fashion.
The marinière has become a timeless top that every French woman has in her wardrobe.
In 1858, a decree issued by the Bulletin Officiel des Armées stated that the tricot (sweater) was to become the official uniform of the French Navy. At this time, the measurements of the stripes that the sailors had to wear were given to the exact millimetre: “21 horizontal white stripes of 20mm and 20 or 21 horizontal blue stripes of 10mm”. It is said that this simple knit was introduced to make sailors who fall in the sea visible.
Since 1889, this top has been made by Saint James, a brand from Normandy that had the foresight to make this striped top its signature garment.
At this time, and even earlier, stripes had some very negative connotations linked to convicts, crazy people, prostitutes and people from low social classes. In the Middle Ages, stripes were even associated with the devil. In short, back then, stripes upset the proper order of society.
Just a few years later the tricot rayé (striped sweater), as it was originally called, took on a positive side. It made its first entry in the prêt-à-porter world thanks to the clever eye of a pioneer in fashion, Gabrielle Bonheur, known as Coco Chanel.
In 1913, Coco Chanel spotted some sailors in Normandy while on a coastal walk with her lover, Boy Capel. She was inspired to give the marinière an updated, modern look and, being the perfect ambassador of her brand, was the first to wear it. Her creativity and audacity seduced members of high society and the stripes entered the bourgeois world. She shortened the waist, giving the garment a more comfortable feel and, in particular, she adapted it for women by using a more delicate material: silk. A true revolution had started.
Coco wasn’t the only person to be inspired by the striped sailor top; it later made an appearance in the world of cinema. The marinière starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s movies during the Nouvelle Vague – a French cinematographic movement at the end of the 1950s. In 1963, in Le Mépris (Contempt) Brigitte Bardot posed wearing her marinière, giving it a glamorous twist, as only she could at that time.
The striped sailor top also crossed the ocean to Hollywood and appeared in American cinemas in the movie The Wild One with Marlon Brando.
But even more memorable is the charm of the stripes on James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Even Marilyn Monroe gave up her sexy dresses for a moment to wear the emblematic top.
In terms of couture, Yves Saint-Laurent introduced his nautical-themed collection in the 1960s. But it was Jean-Paul Gaultier who really heightened the success of the sailor stripes with his Boy Toy collection in 1983. Playing with shapes and materials, Gaultier drew inspiration from his childhood memories of wearing a marinière. It even became the muse for his men’s cologne Le Mâle, which features the stripes on the male-torso-shaped bottle.
The stripes have inspired numerous other designers, including Hermès, Prada and Comme des Garçons. It even made it onto the soccer field in Nike’s 2011 collection for the French soccer team. Many artists, such as Picasso, Colette and Marcel Marceau, have been the perfect ambassadors for the stripes too.
The sailor stripes will continue to inspire, be reinvented and surprise us because it is a timeless fashion item that has truly captured the hearts of the French.
DID YOU KNOW?
The legend goes that the number of stripes represents the number of Napoleonic victories at sea against the British army.