Like many classic staples of a man’s wardrobe, the Breton shirt has military origins. In 1858, it was adopted as the official shirt of the French navy. Its contrasting stripes made the wearer easier to spot among the waves.
Over time, the shirt became more generally associated with French working men, especially those in seafaring occupations. By the 1950s, the shirt had insinuated itself into bohemian culture.
I recently purchased a long sleeve Breton shirt from Canard Shop, a New Orleans based purveyor of American made goods. We’ll have more on that venerable enterprise in a later post.
This particular shirt was manufactured in Portland, Oregon by Columbiaknit. Columbiaknit has been in business since 1921. In 1958, Holocaust survivor Jake Kryszek took ownership of the company. It’s been in the hands of the Kryszek family ever since, with an unwavering commitment to American manufacturing. In the elder Kryszek’s own words:
I never, never wanted to go overseas… I wanted my business and my employees, who were always my family to me, to remain in America. It was very important to me.
Columbiaknit manufactures a wide range of knitwear–from what I could tell, entirely of cotton. They’re probably best known as one of the leading domestic makers of rugby shirts.
I’m quite pleased with my shirt. It’s made of a robust 7 oz. cotton, with the open sleeves that are one of the hallmarks of a Breton shirt. From the measurements on the Canard website, I noted that the shirt has a slim fit, so I ordered up a size, as a Breton should have somewhat generous dimensions.