Making It Work: The Striped Top

Coco Chanel helped popularize the marinière as a fashion item. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

I’ll confess, I’ve always had a soft spot for a Breton striped top. There’s the French-ness of it, bien sûr, but it’s also one of those pieces that seems to work with almost any style and adds a certain élan to a simple outfit.

But it can be a challenging piece to wear well when you’re busty or curvy. The marinière was originally designed for and worn by men (fishermen and sailors). In 1858 it officially became part of the French naval uniform. Coco Chanel adopted it as women’s wear in 1917, and it’s been a classic ever since. If you’re willing to deviate a little from the more traditional marinière styles, there are some versions and ways to wear a striped top that can work with curves.

Stripes

First, let’s look at the stripes themselves.

Narrow stripes and more negative space between stripes can be more flattering. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Narrower stripes, especially with more “negative space” between the stripes, can often be more flattering than thicker or evenly spaced ones. (Lighter narrow stripes against a darker background will also work.) Shown above.

Lower contrast stripes can be more flattering with curves. Karen Kane top. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

A lower contrast between stripe and background can also reduce the visual horizontal emphasis. Shown above (Plus).


Low-contrast stripes create less of a horizontal effect and can be more flattering. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Shown above (Misses).

Fabric

Stripe swing tee from Michael Stars. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

In general, I find that light- to medium-weight knits with some movement and drape are better for curves than stiff, heavy ones. Blends that include viscose, modal, linen, silk, or rayon tend to drape well. Shown above.

If you prefer a more fitted style, I’d advise medium-weight blends that skim, not cling.

Fit And Design

Boatneck stripe tee with set-in sleeves. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

A lot of marinière styles have dropped shoulders, which I find create volume and horizontal emphasis exactly where I DON’T want it. So I’ve learned to look for either set-in sleeves or a minimal drop from the shoulder. Shown above.

A v-neck stripe tee will be more flattering for those with curves. Majestic Paris top. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

And finally, neckline. I’ve learned to avoid necklines that are higher than my the bottom of my clavicle. A more open neckline will break up the space between neck and chest, and de-emphasize the bust (provided the neckline isn’t low enough to get into serious cleavage territory). A v-neck, scoop neck, henley, split-neck, or even a very open boatneck can work. Shown above.

Budget-friendly option: Misses/Petites | Plus

Wearing your striped top underneath an open jacket or cardigan can create a ladder-like effect that draws the eye up and down. Another way to mitigate the horizontal effect is to add vertical lines with a vest or a longer scarf like this:

Polished Casual: outfit with a striped top, grey denim and utility jacket. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Shown above: earrings | scarf (similar) | lippie | jacket | tee | watch | bracelet | jeans | bag | shoes

Do you have a preferred style of striped top? How do you wear it?

Top image: Wikimedia Commons

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23 Comments

  1. Paula Anastasio
    March 26, 2018 / 4:39 am

    When your a petite and curvy. Stripes are a challenge!

  2. March 26, 2018 / 5:55 am

    Ah interesting Susan…I’m the opposite. I’ve always resisted the Breton top. Purely because of its conformity to the ubiquitous French Chic Look. I must admit I do have one though & I really like wearing it on those occasions when I just don’t know what to wear!
    I guess that means it does its job well? Perhaps I’ll buy a second one day 😉

    • Toni
      March 26, 2018 / 5:53 pm

      I’m with you!

  3. March 26, 2018 / 6:45 am

    I love them, but it is hard to find good ones for a generous bosom. I tend to prefer the opposite – wider stripes of the dark, thinner of the lighter colour. I find viscose and modal tend to cling, though I never buy them too small. This type of stripe gives a sense of movement and vitality to people’s bodies! And I love them on MEN!

  4. Marguerite
    March 26, 2018 / 7:05 am

    Oh how I love a striped top. I’m an average bust size so that helps with fit. Must not buy any more for a while I suggest to anyone on the fence about the stripes, just get one that’s a bit loose. A nice casual look on anyone!

  5. Lyn
    March 26, 2018 / 7:24 am

    My daughter asked for clothes for France from one of the online “box-of-clothes” services and got what amounted to a mime costume, centered around a Breton striped shirt. All it needed was a beret. It went back. Nevertheless, I’m going to take a Breton striped turtleneck on my next trip to France. My last trip was to Brittany, which is now my favorite region, so I guess I feel I’ve earned my stripes.

    • Susan B
      Author
      March 26, 2018 / 7:38 am

      Hah! Maybe my next post needs to be “how to wear a striped top and not look like a mime.”

  6. Lisa B
    March 26, 2018 / 8:04 am

    Hi Susan, Love the idea of a striped V neck top! So many striped tops are either a crew neck or a boat neck. When you have a short neck and are busty it’s not a good look. Unfortunately, here in New England it’s still too cold for cotton tops. Longing for some warm weather. My cashmere and wool sweaters are pilly and worn from constant wear. Taking a weekend trip to DC in May to visit my son and daughter in law and you just gave me some ideas for a casual day look.

    • March 26, 2018 / 11:11 am

      Lisa, my favourite is that, black with red stripes, good cotton, three-quarters sleeves. I have to take care not to wear it too often as I can’t find another similar v-neck. I’m in la Nouvelle France, north of you unless you are from Maine, and I wear it with something else atop it.

      It should be warmer in DC, though there has been unusually cold weather in much of eastern North America, quite far south. Frozen pipes in NOLA…

  7. Garden Goddess
    March 26, 2018 / 8:08 am

    I do like the look of a Breton striped top — on other people… I got one a year and a half ago and the consensus is that I look like the Hamburgler from MacDonald’s (black and cream stripes). Let’s just say that it doesn’t get a lot of wear outside of the house! I think I NEED that post on how to wear a striped top.

  8. Mary
    March 26, 2018 / 11:00 am

    I have narrow shoulders and a short neck so striped tops with a boat neckline have become a uniform for me in retirement – I just counted 9 of the LL Bean version in my closet. Saint James makes a great version too. They’re perfect in Florida year round.

  9. March 26, 2018 / 11:09 am

    Love, love, love marinieres / Bretons / striped tops of all kinds. They’re part of my no-thinking-required daily outfits. Your post reminds me that it’s time to buy some new ones, since my old ones are pretty pill’ish.

    I also appreciated your style geometry and proportion lessons in this post. Never occurred to me not to buy just any old shape or neckline or stripe-width, etc. other than the ones I see in catalogues, online, and malls. I’ll now be a better consumer of marinieres.

    P.S. I also love an “other” mariniere — one with a black background and narrow white stripes. That feels quite classic to me as well.

  10. Angela
    March 26, 2018 / 11:52 am

    My wakeup call for pattern in tops came when I saw a mature lady like myself wearing the same one that I had in my wardrobe. Whilst it was not unflattering per se, there was no youthful or sophisticated element to it. And coincidentally this was when I first started following your blog. How times have changed as stripes are now my go to pattern of choice. I also have a fuller bust and tend to wear longer length necklaces to draw the eye away.

  11. March 26, 2018 / 12:35 pm

    At last count, I have 6 striped t’s…I’m curious to learn the criteria of my favorites (ratio of dark/light, fabric content)…I DO know that “raglan and dropped sleeves” are not the best look on me and my ample bust. Thanks, once again, Susan, for the education. love. your. blog!

  12. Rose-Marie Patev
    March 26, 2018 / 5:21 pm

    Just got the llbean version (their classic boatneck) and I really like it! Very nice knit. Paired it with the llbean utility jacket in olive and I think both are keepers. Don’t typically shop there, but I was looking for some standard classics to add into my wardrobe. Will be nice with cropped or skinny jeans this spring – if spring ever arrives in New England!

  13. March 27, 2018 / 3:52 am

    Excellent ideas! I’m 5’5” and curvy, and I have one orange and cream striped top. It is fairly short with 3/4 length sleeves. I usually wear it with bootcut jeans to balance the top and give me leg length.

  14. Donna Oliphint
    March 27, 2018 / 8:39 am

    I LOVE any top with horizontal stripes!! So much so that I had to forbid myself from buying any more last year!

  15. TURNER
    March 27, 2018 / 6:03 pm

    My mother always said horizontal stripes were a huge no no, but I don’t agree. And I especially love stripes with a v-neck but that’s difficult to find.

  16. Patty
    March 27, 2018 / 6:03 pm

    I have10 striped tees/tunics. I wear mostly jeans, and feel the stripes look fresh and modern whether worn as is, or paired with a cardigan, blazer, duster, utility, or denim jacket.

  17. Duchesse
    March 29, 2018 / 10:20 am

    @ lagatta: I can guess one of the men of whom you might be thinking!

  18. Lynne Merigan
    March 31, 2018 / 1:31 am

    I am in Paris the first week of May, my friend travelling with me has never been.there. . My first visit was in 1973 can you believe it but I have visited many times since.
    Even at 82 I have bought a striped blue and white top and it looks good However I don’t look my age so my dermatologist and others tell me. Your site has been really helpful as what shoes to take has been a problem as we are travelling south to warmer climes and need something for more summery clothes as well as for walking . Sneakers in black and silver has solved that. At the moment wearing them in.

  19. Marybeth
    September 15, 2018 / 9:08 am

    I avoided stripes bc I thought they looked too masculine on me. BUT, I bought a top that looked kinda cute on me & I was receiving compliments! And THEN, I went overboard & bought MORE striped tops but the stripes are LARGE & are overwhelming for my smaller body…. OH Well! Live & learn!

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