La Marinière - Icône de la mode française

Author: THIBAUT GUIGUES   Date Posted:16 April 2016 



The blue and white striped boat shirt is a classic fashion staple worn by both men and women, with a stylish but relaxed feel. It is commonly called a marinière and its origins are a tribute to French cultural heritage. The name marinière was initially given to a blouse without stripes but with a large triangular collar, worn by sailors in the French navy. The marinière we know today was originally called a tricot rayé, literally a striped sweater, and was an undershirt worn by sailors in Brittany and La Manche (part of Normandy) from the early 19th century. 



The striped boat shirt was first introduced into the official wardrobe of quartermaster and sailors in the French navy with a military ruling in 1858. This jersey undershirt was to be made up of 21 horizontal white stripes measuring 20mm and 20 to 21 indigo stripes measuring 10mm. The sleeves were 3/4 in length so they would not go past the vareuse (sailor’s tunic), with a neckline cut close to the neck. 



While some say the 21 white stripes represent the number of Napoleonic victories at sea against the British army, or that the stripes make it easier to see a man overboard, in reality the Marinière was designed for practicality – out of one piece of fabric so that it didn’t catch on sailing ropes or equipment, and dyed with the most available colour at the time, indigo. 



The marinière became a fashion item during World War 1 when Coco Chanel, inspired by her holidays on the coast of Brittany, started wearing the sailor’s marinière in the chic sea front town of Deauville. Chanel successfully turned a working man’s uniform into a French fashion icon worn by the Bourgeoisie, contributing to the emancipation of women with easy to wear clothing made of simple fabrics. 



French Sailors wearing Marinières                                      Coco Chanel turned a working man’s uniform into a French fashion icon


In the 1940’s the marinière continued to grow in popularity when it was worn by John Wayne who switched his cowboy outfit for a sailor’s in the movie ‘Reap the Wild Wind’. Hollywood also discovered this fashion item in the movie ‘The Wild One’ in 1953 with Marlon Brando as ambassador and then in Jean Seberg’s film ‘Breathless’ in 1960. James Dean & Audrey Hepburn were also among the celebrities who wore the striped marinière. Other icons such as Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot and Marcel Marceau were seen wearing the stripes over the years and contributing to the timeless perception of the marinière.



The marinière has been reimagined throughout the 20th century by French and international designers. It inspired dresses in the YSL 1966 haute couture collection. In the 1980’s Jean Paul Gautier used the marinière style as a flagship in his collections, most notably in his ‘Boy Toy’ collection. Modern designers such as Sonia Rykel and Comme des Garçons continue to use the striped shirt in their collections. The marinière today remains an essential and versatile part of every wardrobe and a typically French item. It even made a political debut when former French minister Arnaud Montebourg wore one on the cover of Le Parisien magazine in 2012, to promote products made in France. La marinière is still manufactured in France by a small number of companies among which is Saint James, based 20 minutes from the Mont Saint Michel in a little village of the same name.



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