Fashion  La marinière: the story of the French stripe
15/09/201700:00 Fren'CHIC Touch
If you are interested in French fashion and culture, you have probably wondered why the striped sailor, called the Marinière in French, became such a quintessential symbol in French culture. The striped sailor is a timeless motif that each French woman has in her wardrobe.

In 1858, a decree issued by the Bulletin Officiel des Armées stated that the tricot (knitting) was to become the official uniform of the French Navy. The decree was as serious as it could get; it even defined the stripes that the sailors have to wear down to the millimeter. “21 white large stripes of 20mm and 20 or 21 large blue stripes of 10mm” was the guideline given. The idea was that this  simple knit would make it easy to spot the sailors who’d fell into the sea.

Since 1889, this t-shirt is still made by Saint James, a fashion brand from Normandy who has made the knitted stripes as its signature.
© Alice Bertrand, Saint James

At that time and even earlier before, the stripes had some very negative connotations. It was commonly identified with convicts, the mentally unstable, prostitutes and people from lower social classes. In the Middle-Ages, stripes were even associated with the devil. In short, the wearer of the stripe was synonymous with one who upsets the proper order of society. It would only be a few years later that the tricot rayé (striped knitting, as it was originally called) would take on a positive side and would go public in the prêt-à-porter world, thanks to the clever eye of a pioneer in fashion, Gabrielle Bonheur, who you might know under the pseudonym of Coco Chanel.
Coco Chanel makes everything better. Yup, we'd said it.

In 1913, Coco Chanel spotted the sailors on the coasts in Normandy and was inspired when she walked with her lover Boy Capel in Deauville. Her inspiration gave rise to a new image for the marinière. She was also the first one to wear it, touting the design as a perfect ambassador of her brand. Her creativity and audacity seduced the high society and allowed the stripes to enter the world of bourgeoisie. She shortened the waist, giving the garment a comfortable feel and in particular she adapted it to the female silhouette by using silk, which is a delicate material. From that point onwards, a true revolution had started.

Coco was not the last one to be inspired by the striped sailor. With the Nouvelle Vague, a French cinematographic movement at the end of the 1950, the marinière plays the star in particular within Jean-Luc Godard’s movies. In 1963, Le Mépris (Contempt) showed Brigitte Bardot posing with her marinière, giving it more glamour. Effectively, during that time it was only Bardot who could carry it right.
Brigitte Bardot who puts her own unique twist to every trend and style she dons.

The striped sailor also crossed the ocean and headed to Hollywood, making appearances in American cinema, such as The Wild One with Marlon Brando. Even more memorable is the charm of the stripes with James Dean in Rebel without a cause. Even Marilyn Monroe will give up her sexy dresses for a day just to wear the emblematic t-shirt.

On the couture side, Yves Saint-Laurent introduced his nautical themed collection in the 1960’s. However, it would be Jean-Paul Gaultier to highlight the success of the striped sailor, with his 1983 “Boy Toy” collection. Playing with shapes and textures, Jean-Paul Gaultier drew inspiration from his childhood memories when he himself was wearing the marinière. It then becomes a real tool of seduction for the “Male”, He has gone as far as turning stripes into the face of his perfume bottle.
Even the Jean-Paul Gaultier wax figure wears stripes.

Of course, numerous designers have been inspired by the stripes including Hermès, Prada, Comme des Garçons. The symbol extends as far as into the realm of sports; Nike’s collection for the French soccer team in 2011 is a prime example. There are also many artists such as Picasso, Colette, Marceau who were the perfect ambassadors for the quintessential stripes. We can be sure that the striped sailor will continue to inspire, be renewed and surprise the world. It is a true timeless piece of fashion that has reached the heart and the wardrobe of French people.
I'm Caroline, French brunette who decided to expand my life after 10 years in the French event management industry. After a lots of travels on this amazing planet, I decided to settle in Melbourne, the fashion city of excellence in Australia. Passionate about fashion, beauty, and lover of my French culture, I wanted to start a blog, just for fun (oui oui), to share with you my thoughts, tips, secrets, and my favourite places that bring me back to France.

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