Is the Saint James Breton Worth It?

Is the Saint James Breton worth it? A Review of two styles of Saint James Breton stripe shirts and how they hold up after multiple washings.

I love a Breton striped shirt, it's a classic and really pulls a wardrobe together. Go through my capsule wardrobes and you'll see almost every single one includes a Breton. Stripes are a neutral and add interest that a solid cannot. They can dress up or down, work for multiple seasons and multiple occasions. I always have at least two Bretons in my wardrobe, but had never tried the iconic Saint James Breton.

That is until now. Now that I have owned two shirts from Saint James, laundered them, and seen how they have held up. Is the Saint James Breton worth it? How does it compare to other Breton shirts? Below I share my review.

The History of Saint James Breton Shirts

As early as 1067, the village of Saint-James on the Mont Saint-Michel bay in France has bred sheep that provide the ideal strain of wool for knitting sweaters, hats and nautical gear. In 1850 the village of Saint-James became a brand, providing dyed and weaved wool to dry goods and hosiery shops.

french sailors wearing breton shirts

In 1858, the striped Breton shirt became the official uniform of the French Navy. The original Breton shirt design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories. The stripes also made it easier to spot wayward sailors who had fallen overboard. Saint James still provides the French Navy with their sweaters.

In 1950, Saint James changed their focus to making sweaters and cardigans, among which the “Vrai Chandail Marin Breton“, knitted with pure wool. In the 1960s, the French national paid vacation increased one week per year, and seaside holidays, and with it, seaside-inspired fashion, gained in popularity. Saint James became THE brand for those looking for classic nautical knitwear.

style icons wearing breton striped shirts
Classic and modern style icons wearing a Breton shirt

In the 1980s Saint James expanded across the globe, starting with Tokyo and eventually reaching all major cities. Saint James products are officially included in diplomatic gifts given by the French government to foreign ambassadors.

Is Saint James an Ethical Company?

Since the 1970s, Saint James has looked for ways to create their quality goods with low waste, and keeping the majority their manufacturing in-house. The items they have made outside of Normandy are crafted in factories known to excel in such products and they are kept to strict standards for not contracting out work and treating their employees with the same care and respect as the ones in the Normandy factory.

saint james factory
The Saint James factory, image via L'Usine Nouvelle

For those wanting to know more about the ethics of Saint James, the site Ecocult has a fantastic piece where they visited the Saint James factory and share a lot of history and current manufacturing practices of the company.

Is Saint James Size-Inclusive?

Saint James offers their women's and unisex-sized pieces up to XXL which is equal to a US women's size 20. Men's items are available up to 4XL.

saint james breton fit review
The four different fits of Saint James knits and sweaters

Saint James has four fits for their merchandise which in my experience, determines what size you may need. For example, I am usually a size 14 for tops. I have this unisex top from Saint James in XL and find it very relaxed in fit; if I could do it over I would have sized down. However, I have this top in size 14 and it fits perfectly for a trim, tailored look.

My Size for Reference

For reference, I am 5'3″ tall and usually wear a size 14 on top, 14 petite for jackets, blazers, and pants. I usually choose regular, not petite, for tops due to the fullness of my chest, shoulders, and upper arms. I am in my mid-40s, have a 36 F-cup chest, and up until the ‘demic was weight lifting five days a week.

Saint James MINQUIERS Review

A year ago, desiring some cheer in my at-home wardrobe, I bought the PRIDE version of the Saint James MINQUIERS MODERNE Authentic Breton Stripe Shirt. Offering the same classic style, but with the stripes in rainbow colors, the MINQUIERS PRIDE shirt is made with seven colors in the Saint James factory in Normandy. $15 of each of the MINQUIERS PRIDE shirts sold is donated to the Born This Way Foundation.

Saint James MINQUIERS Review
This Saint James MINQUIERS has taken a serious beating this past year!

The Saint James site says a unisex XL is equal to a woman's size 14. As this is my standard size for apparel, I bought an XL. As I mentioned above, I wish I sized down.

The colors are just as bright and beautiful in person, the white crisp. The knit isn't especially thick, but tightly woven, soft, and durable. The instructions say to not put this shirt in the dryer, but because I wanted it to shrink, I tried washing it on hot and drying it on hot. This shirt didn't shrink an inch, it didn't cause it to fade, pill, or get misshapen.

is the saint james breton worth it? one of their shirts after dozens of wear
The Saint James breton shirts have a logo on the left arm, but I don't think it's too much of a distraction to reduce its classic style

I have since washed and machine dried this shirt dozens of times. I'll be honest, I haven't been precious with this shirt. It has been washed with towels, with activewear, with kitchen rags. It has been forgotten in the washer and had to be re-washed to get out the mildew, it has been left to crease in the dryer, it has been thrown over the side of the deck to dry after hosing down the dog and part of myself, worn over swimsuits at the beach, and been through a lot.

Saint James MINQUIERS Review

I think if I had gotten the Large I would have been kinder to it as it would have been a more polished fit and something I would wear as part of a nicer ensemble. Instead, it became a favorite throw on and go shirt. When the world opens, even though I have abused it, I will take it to my tailor to shorten the sleeves to bracelet length as I think it will make it even more enjoyable to wear.

saint james rainbow breton

I have owned t-shirt weight Bretons from J. Crew, Talbots, Armorlux, L.L. Bean, Lands' End, Halogen, ALLSAINTS, Boden, and more and none of them would have been able to withstand the abuse I have given this Saint James Breton and still be something I'd wear and not cut up and turn into cleaning rags.

Saint James MINQUIERS Review

I don't recommend such abuse to any shirt you plan on wearing beyond dog washing and beach bumming, my situation is extreme but it does prove this simple striped knit shirt is high quality. It isn't as crisp as it was when new, but still nice enough condition for casual wear outside the home. You'll get the most mileage by following the washing instructions.

Saint James GALATHEE II Review

I think the best Christmas gift is one you wouldn't buy yourself. While I wear Breton striped shirts on the regular, I rarely invest in a high-priced one, knowing how much they are worn. I buy on sale, I buy low price, and know at the end of the season they will end up in the rag bin. But after experiencing the quality of the Saint James MINQUIERS I added the GALATHEE II to my Christmas list and was excited to find it under the tree.

Saint James GALATHEE II Review
Both Saint James Breton shirts are the same weight and composition of fabric

I received a size 14, and the fit of the GALATHEE II is completely different from the MINQUIERS. Going back to the four fits of Saint James shirts, this shirt is clearly the cut on the far left of the graphic. There is no way I could rock a smaller size; that being said this is the perfect size for me, even with my full bust and shoulders.

saint james review large bust
Shorter and more tailored sleeves and a slightly shaped torso with the Saint James GALATHEE II

This is a more tailored fit than my go-to J. Crew striped boatneck. While I love that J. Crew shirt, it is a boxy/square fit that reads more casual. While I have worn the J. Crew Breton under blazers, it's still a more casual effect.

saint james galathee shirt review

The Saint James GALATHEE II is the kind of shirt that you could wear under a blazer to work. It could be styled with some tweed trousers or a pencil skirt and silk scarf for the office and more polished and professional situations. That being said, it's still super cute with joggers and jeans.

is the saint james breton worth it
A bit shorter than the Saint James MINQUIERS but still long enough to tuck in

I have washed the GALATHEE II four times in the machine and line dried and it still looks and fits like new. It is the same weight and weave of the MINQUIERS, made in the same Normandy factory, and I can only assume that with a bit more care than I have given to my rainbow Breton, it will provide way more seasons of style than my cheaper striped shirts.

Shop Saint James Breton Stripe Tops:

350

What About [Enter Other Brand Here]?

Each time I mention my love for Breton shirts, I receive comments about brands I have not tried that are excellent. And I believe you. But as someone who has been plus size and is right on the cusp of standard and plus sizing, I cannot support a brand that does not at least cater to the average sized American woman.

I once had an Armorlux Breton that was quite lovely, though I found it ran small and narrow and not catering to a bust, full arms, or even slightly broad shoulders. A.P.C. may be great but their XL is equivalent to a US size 8/10. Petit Bateau is another classic French brand that makes Breton shirts but isn't size-inclusive.

In general, French brands run smaller and more narrow than US and even UK brands. Doesn't make them bad, but makes them impossible for me and many of you to comfortably wear.

As for brands I have tried, the two other t-shirt weight Breton knit tops that I have really been impressed with are Boden and Lands' End. Lands' End no longer makes the shirt I loved, and Boden is great but I find them too snug along my bust (or else too wide in the shoulders) and the sleeves and torso too long for my 5'3″ self.

If you desire a heavyweight Breton, I have found great ones at L.L. Bean (currently sold out in classic colors and not available beyond size XL) and Talbots (which has different colors each season and are available in misses, petite, plus, and plus petite), both which have survived multiple seasons and multiple trips through the dryer.

Shop Breton Stripe Sweaters:

350

Alison, This Isn't Your First Post Raving about a Breton Shirt

I know, last year I wrote about this J. Crew Breton I found that was perfection but discontinued. And that shirt, even though I have babied, is now falling apart and looks like crap. Back in 2015 I even wrote about my search for the perfect Breton tee.

I like striped shirts, and last year when I wore the same items over and over instead of spreading out the wears of a variety of clothes, it made me care even more about quality and durability. Last year also made me more conscious of how clothes are made and I've started researching where and how brands make their clothes and trying to shop with more thought and care. With all that it brought me back to Saint James. I felt this was the time to buy one and see in fact, is the Saint James Breton worth it?

So, is the Saint James Breton Worth It?

Yes. The J. Crew Striped Boatneck is $39.50 and I am lucky to get one season out of it before it gets weird. Even with line drying and proper detergents, the neck stretches out, the navy fades a bit, the white can look a bit dingy.

I don't believe that price equals quality, and have found high quality at big box discount retailers and crap from higher-end designers. But factoring in the manufacturing process with the results I've found from their shirts even when they've gone through a beating, I do think the Saint James Breton is worth it.

Shop Breton Knit Tops:

350

18 Comments

  1. Tara
    January 15, 2021 / 10:26 pm

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter. Thank you so much for this review! After recently downsizing to a smaller home (and closet), I was truly appalled at how much fast fashion I owned and needed to purge. Bags and bags of crap clothing. My goal moving forward is to invest in higher-quality pieces. I am also a lover of Breton shirts and just placed an order from Saint James. I am excited to put the GALATHEE II in black/white into the rotation!

  2. Jess
    January 15, 2021 / 6:31 pm

    I bought a St James Breton top in a St James store in Saint-Malo, Brittany in 2018. Great quality and a great “souvenir” from France!

  3. Liz
    January 12, 2021 / 2:42 pm

    Hi – I left a Breton shirt comment on one of your older blog posts just the other day but thought it might be better to comment with today’s post. I have been searching for the now hard-to-find LLBean French sailor shirt and found an interesting website.
    The Breton Shirt Company — https://bretonshirt.com/
    I’d love to know your opinion! Thank you!

  4. Bonnie Grove
    January 12, 2021 / 1:28 pm

    I love the rainbow stripe and just ordered it in a Small – usually I’m a M but based on your review I hope the small works!

  5. Genevieve
    January 12, 2021 / 12:22 pm

    Thanks as always for the comprehensive review. Even when the item is not my style, I always read the entire post.

    • another Alison
      January 12, 2021 / 8:49 pm

      Same! Alison Gary is a good narrator and always includes interesting details.

  6. Nadine
    January 12, 2021 / 9:40 am

    No one has mentioned the problem of horizontal stripes. I have tried to get past it and convince myself that they are not unflattering but every time I see someone (who is not unnaturally thin) in one of these tops, I can’t help but notice that they looked much better the day before when they did not wear horizontal stripes. The stripes pull at the bust and other areas of tension and I just can’t do it!

    • January 12, 2021 / 9:47 am

      I get not wanting to wear it, you should wear what makes you feel confident and happy. I love stripes, even with my full bust, broad shoulders, and large/muscular arms and I think the joy I get from wearing them balances them out. I do find a fitted stripe doesn’t make me feel as confident as one that is tailored. Same with one that is too relaxed of a fit, I think it makes me look like a box instead of a body 🙂

  7. Bette
    January 12, 2021 / 9:09 am

    I love Breton shirts and have a few. With that said, they are ALL too short. I’d kill for a tunic length Breton, with side slits and a slight a-line shape.

    I do recommend LL Bean’s boat-neck striped Supima tee — I now have three and wear them almost every day with yoga pants. Yes, they are short in the body and the arms. LLB needs to offer these in Talls!

    https://shopstyle.it/l/bqE5W

    • January 12, 2021 / 9:16 am

      I wish the Saint James Breton tunic came in tall, but otherwise, I think it has what you’re looking for: https://bit.ly/3qee4Xb the point of talls in Breton shirts is an important one and when writing this I noticed how few retailers offer them in tall, but many do in petite. Missed opportunity by them!

      • Bette
        January 12, 2021 / 9:28 am

        I love this tunic and looked at it before, but it’s microfiber, not cotton! My search for the holy grail continues!

        • January 12, 2021 / 9:47 am

          Dag nabit, I missed that! I too will be on the search!

    • Linda
      January 12, 2021 / 9:21 am

      LLB needs to offer a lot of their shirts in talls. They seem to think tall people only have long legs.

    • Ayala
      January 12, 2021 / 5:46 pm

      Old Navy has a Bretonesque V neck tunic that is available in tall and petite. It’s probably too basic for most. It’s 95% Rayon & 5% Spandex, though.
      Loose-Fit Luxe V-Neck Tunic Tee:
      https://oldnvy.me/38DtbDH

  8. Stephanie
    January 12, 2021 / 8:41 am

    I purchased two St. James Bretons on a trip to France in Spring 2018 and wear them often. I agree. They wear so well and are worth the money. The stores in France must have a wider selection because Indo not see the second one I own on their website!

    • January 12, 2021 / 9:17 am

      I would love to visit one of their stores once the world reopens!

  9. Ruth Slavid
    January 12, 2021 / 6:58 am

    What about those of us who love the idea of Bretons but are too narrow across the shoulders? I adore stripes and have several striped tops, but they are all T-shirt shaped with round or scoop necklines. Any Breton I have tried always shows two bra straps all the time…

    • January 12, 2021 / 9:14 am

      J. Crew has a perfect tee that is a beautiful stripe but has a crew, not bateau or boatneck. I like that there are customer photos of individuals wearing it so you get a better idea of how it fits at the neck: https://shopstyle.it/l/bqE4r

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