It is not that Bonaparte himself took the design of the famous striped sweater from within his vest, but he did have a lot to do with the popularization of this garment in his country. In 1858, in the middle of the second French Empire, a decree published in the Official Gazette of the Navy established what should be the uniform of its sailors: pants with wide leg, white shirt with blue collars, short wool coat and striped sweater. But how many stripes should this jersey have? Exactly 21, one for each victory of Napoleon.
From Jean Paul Gaultier to Briggitte Bardot, Fraçoise Hardy, Coco Chanel or Jeanne Moreau, the French took as no one this garment whose original manufacture was occupied by a workshop located in the town of Saint James. The Legallais family created this small company in this French town of the Brittany to supply the shirts to the Navy. Over the years, the t-shirt became popular among sailors from all over the world, since it was perfectly insulated from the high seas wind and its quality resisted well the ups and downs of work on the ship. The small workshop was becoming a successful company and, to this day, the factory is still standing in the same place, about 20 kilometers from Mont Saint Michel. Just the sea, the first online store specializing in products that respect the sea, has not been able to resist the current models manufactured by Saint James.
But what did that place have to make those perfect garments? The answer is in his sheep. In the Middle Ages, herds raised in the local salt marshes of Saint James provided the ideal variety of wool to weave sweaters, hats and nautical equipment to keep sailors and fishermen. In 1850, the company dyed the wool that was sold in the form of skeins and balls in the stores of dry products and, like underwear and socks, for the hosiery shops.
A century later, between the 60s and 70s, the nautical style became fashionable among French women who know how to take advantage of their savoir faire. Although the true pioneer of this fashion had been Coco Chanel. The designer, on a trip she made to Brittany to visit relatives, fell in love with the garment and included it in her nautical collection of 1917.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the stingrays of Saint James were recognized by all water sports enthusiasts. But also non-amateurs fell in love with the marine pattern. The cinema had a lot to do when he decided to give them prominence in 1950 by including them in the costumes of one of the actors of the iconic The Wild One (1950). Lee Marvin took them giving the reply to Marlon Brando. And James Dean looked like no one, a five years later, in Rebel Without a Cause.
From there, Hollywood surrendered to the sailor stripes. It is not difficult to find online photos of Cary Grant, Robert Redford, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Garbo, Jane Fonda or musicians like Jagger, James Stewart or members of The Beattles, with a garment with the design.
The Nouvelle vague was also served of them and Jeanne Moureau, Jean Seberg or Charlotte Rampling appropriated the stripes and walked through the French capital, away from the sea breezes of the Norman coast. In the 70s, Visconti used them for the character of the teenager of Death in Venice, played by Björn Andrésen. And in this same decade Jackie Onassis does not stop including it in their looks in their summers on the coast of Skorpios.
In the decade of the 80s Saint James became the ambassador of the French maritime tradition. At the end of this decade, 1989, to celebrate its 100th anniversary, he wove the largest sweater in the world: 26 feet high and 45 feet wide from one end of a sleeve to the other, a Guinness World Record.
The great designers of the eighties have them for their collections. The king, at that time, was undoubtedly Jean Paul Gaultier, who incorporated this motif to the models presented in his first fashion show, made in 1978, and in 1983 he used it again to create his Boy Toy collection. He turned his t-shirt ‘le Marinière’ into an essential piece of clothing in the wardrobe. Of course, one of Gaultier’s muses, Madonna, became a fan of the stripes and another singer of the time, Donna Summer eclipsed in 1983 with her striped jumpsuit.
In the 90s, the company continued to grow and decided to create collections of ” cut and sew “(pants, shirts, jackets, etc.), signing artisans known for the precision of their work. In that decade one of the unconditional of the striped shirt was Kurt Cobain.
Saint James has become a reference. The sweaters have joined other accessories that make their quality a reference in fashion. Who has not had a striped shirt? The most important artist of the 20th century, Picasso, wore it on numerous occasions. Warhol was also a fan of the stripes, as were icons of culture such as Hepburn or Elvis Presley. If you want to know more about the history of striped shirts, do not miss the number 8 of Sirene where it includes a report about it.