Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Je Voudrai Une Marinière

As in a navy-striped French (specifically Breton) sailor's T-shirt. A marinière. I was hoping to find one in Paris last month but, apparently, they are not as hot there are they are over here.

Stripes are all the rage for spring, but this is one trend I don't mind adopting, since these Breton shirts haven't changed in many decades. Or at least they shouldn't change, or at least not much. They were popular in the 1950s and '60s. I'll bet Audrey Hepburn had one. When I get mine, I intend to wear it long after everyone else stops.

There are many variations, good and bad, on the marinière around these days. Anthropologie has one like this:

It's tissue-weight, stretchy-clingy, and has shirring up the sleeves and shoulders, with tiny buttons. Very cute and kind of a deal (for Anthropologie) at $48. But it's not a marinière. I'd like something close to the real thing.

You can get the "authentic" Armor-Lux brand from Brittany over there, but not over here. It's 49 Euros and it looks like this:

According to their Web site:
The Breton shirt was officially created by the 27th March 1858 Act which introduced this blue and white striped knitted shirt in the uniform list of the French seaman. It was said that this stripe allowed to locate more easily a man fallen into the sea.
I'll be sure to wear this on my next rocky mailboat ride out of Southwest Harbor.

There is another "authentic" French shirt you can get over here. At J. Crew, you'll find the Saint James marinière:

This one is unisex, made of heavy cotton, will set you back $85 and is out of stock until the middle of April. There are Saint James shops all over France, including two in Paris (one is on the Rue des Rennes, not far from our hotel). Oh, well. I'll just have to go back. You can also find their line in various shops on the Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Cape (as well as Stockbridge, that seafaring town).

We have a Petit Bateau shop on Newbury Street (which is why I didn't look for shops in Paris), and that seems like an apt place to find a marinière. They sell this one, in heavy organic cotton jersey for $89:

The classic navy is sold out online. If it ever stops raining, I'll see if they have navy at the shop. It seems a little pricey, but Petit Bateau shirts tend to be very chic.

Finally, here another example, from a Breton clothier, that seems both authentic and chic, Comptoir du Matelot. This shirt is 25 Euros and even the mannequin has that insouciant French je ne sais quoi:

Too bad you can't get them over here.

But in America there are plenty of sailor shirts. Ideally, I'd get mine from Maine, which means L.L. Bean. Here's their version, which comes in lots of colors, for $29.50:

This is from their regular women's line, known and loved for its frumpy styles and overgenerous fit. (There's also a new "Signature" line, meant to appeal to the younger, hipper Preppy. To me, it looks vaguely like Boden clothing, only in duller fabrics. (They offer a weird, tunic version of a marinière; click here to see it. I can't imagine anyone remotely college-age wearing it.)

This LL Bean marinière doesn't look half bad, though. I know it will hang on me and make me look fat, because every single thing I've ever tried on at L.L.  has depressed me thus. It shows me a glimpse into the future: what I'll be sporting when I'm an apple-shaped senior citizen in 25 years. But L.L. Bean stuff also shrinks, and I think mariniéres should be somewhat baggy and overscaled, being men's shirts.  So an XS might just be all right (and it's been a long time since I've worn anything XS.) It certainly looks more plausible than this seemingly A-line or trapeze-style Eddie Bauer version, also at $29.50:

Is it odd how some of these shirts look obviously unflattering — like they add pounds — whereas others are clearly more "gamine"? It's the cut, not the stripes. It's all about how it skims the body.

It occurs to me that the marinière is the sort of thing J. Peterman would have sold. I just remembered seeing a slim catalogue of his recently. And, yes, they do sell them, for $44. Only they call it a "Russian Navy Shirt." And the sales copy for it is as florid as you'd expect. And worse. I will not dignify it by quoting it here.

But... for crying out loud. I have always thought that their copywriting was overrated despite its "literary" style (which is not difficult to master; even Elaine Bennis succeeded, on "Seinfeld.") I read in Peterman's book that their writers spent days working on one piece of copy. In my retail-copywriting days, I was renowned for turning out at least 50 blurbs (and once I managed 100, all witty and inspired) per day.

Anyway, I want a marinière, not a Russian shirt. Even if it looks like this in watercolor:

I think I've done my research and earned my stripes, so to speak. If I can't catch myself a French marinière locally (or back in Paris; I'm over that traumatic return flight and ready to go back, please, please...), I'll even try out L.L. Bean.


  1. Since je voudrai une mariniere aussi, this post was perfectly timed, and very helpful! Though I have discovered the LL Bean ones are out of stock now until June.

  2. Yes, how disappointing! But I'm going to order one anyway. The question is: cream and navy, or navy and cream? I don't think I need both, so this decision could keep me up for several nights.

  3. They stock the Saint James shirts at Looc in the South End!

  4. Thanks for the tip! I've got an XXS small on hold at J. Crew (and a gift card and an educator ID for the discount). I'm also heading to Petit Bateau today. But if nothing works out, I'll check out Looc, which I've been meaning to do anyhow.

  5. Wow - you are one opinionated writer. I guess that's a perk of having your own website. :)

    Like you I also love marinière shirts. I've collected quite a few, from various brands, over the years.

    It's interesting you would mention J. Peterman here, because their "Russian Navy" shirt is a great alternative, next to the Saint James marinière. Soft fabric and rich in color. Now I wouldn't say they give Saint James a run for their money, but if anyone is looking for something affordable, with foreign appeal, that would be the one!

    AND, if you have basic tailoring/seamstress skills. I would even look into Uniqlo. It may sound like a stretch, but their company wins in quality over cost. The fabric is breathable yet, heavy. I bought a black and gray marinière, over the winter for ($10 sale, $20 retail). The issue was the fit. It wasn't the most flattering cut, so I tailored it to skim my body, and it looked amazing! I wore it all winter with a simple wool cardigan! Parfait!


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