Fishermen’s Friends

Like all busy women I have an ever growing to-do list. Its a mix of all the things I need to get around to doing. Paying bills, updating the diary, booking appointments, clearing out certain cupboards, sorting out various pet ailments (and paying the last vet bill), household shopping, washing, car cleaning… etc etc. Oh and of course, the biggest (and let’s face, it the most exciting) list of all – add some much needed items to my wardrobe.

I have a pretty decent wardrobe; I am happy with my jeans, have a nice range of t-shirts and tops, some good shirts, a couple of great dresses, dungarees, jumpsuits and loads of shoes. But there is ALWAYS a want for a few extra bits. It’s not just a seasonal urge, it’s more about building my core wardrobe (thats my excuse anyway..). So I’m doing a monthly update on The List – to see what I can tick off and what remains elusive.

Right now I am craving good quality Breton tops and Guernsey style jumpers. I have no idea where this latest craving comes from. Being up to date with my fashion literature, I know that I should be craving embroidered denim, studded biker jackets, Gucci granny shoes and pleated skirts.

I must have seen a Guernsey somewhere recently for the craving to have begun – probably adverts for the new Swallows & Amazons film…


However, I should point out that I always seem to do this – get an idea for something, that I then can’t find anywhere. Luckily I love a challenge!

So first up is the Breton. We all have at least one in our wardrobe – they’re a classic, a staple for most women I know. Dating back to 1858 the Breton started life as the uniform for the French navy, originally featuring 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon Bonaparte’s victories. Coco Chanel incorporated stripes into her 1917 nautical collection and from then on the humble Breton secured its place in fashion history.

The problem with a lot of Breton tops I’ve come across is the fabric quality – its either too thin and cheap (doesn’t wash well and bobbles) or too thick so it doesn’t flatter my shape. It needs to be soft but not too drapey. The neck needs to be a boatneck. Not too wide or too small. Ideally the cuffs will have some kind of detail on them, perhaps a slight stitched edge to them and maybe a couple of buttons on the shoulder. It’s easy to end up looking mumsy in a Breton top, so important to keep accessories just right – dark denim jeans and white converse work well.

I also don’t want to pay over £50 and I don’t want a logo stitched on to it which many of the sailing brands do. I still haven’t found THE perfect one, but I’ve put together a selection that are pretty good.

  1. Trouva Red & White Stripe £35 I like the wider white stripe on this and the red is more contemporary. Would be good with white shorts or trousers whilst the weather is still good.
  2. Iris & Ink Navy & White Stripe at The Outnet £45 I like the cut of the neck on this one.
  3. Asos Reclaimed Vintage Stripe £28 I really like this one. Its a step away from a classic Breton, but I like the casualness of it. Works really well with mid blue denim and clean white trainers like Stan Smiths (see my earlier post!).
  4. Jack Wills £34.50 This is a great colour option for Autumn and Jack Wills fabrics tend to be pretty decent.
  5. Comme de Garcons £84 Love this colour so much! Would look amazing under a burgundy jumper with the sleeves rolled up. Of course its a classic in its own right but at £84 its a bit pricey. More of an investment buy.

Next on my Fisherman Fashion list is the Guernsey jumper. I’ve loved these jumpers from childhood as my Dad wore one, but I’ve never found the right one for women.

The Guernsey‘s sweater ‘Gansey’ dates back all the way to the 15th century, when they were originally knitted by the fishermen’s wives with a tight hard twisted yarn, that is both durable and water repellant. The word “Gansey” is said to be from the Irish word Geansaí, which means jumper or sweater.

Each seafaring region had its own knitting pattern and it is believed that if the fisherman drowned at sea, he could be identified by the pattern on his sweater by his family.
 Different stitch designs signify nautical or religious elements; honey comb stitch is a symbol of the hard working honey bee, a diamond is a wish of success and wealth, whilst the cable represents good luck and safety at sea.

The rib at the top of the sleeve is said to represent a sailing ship’s rope ladder in the rigging, the raised seam across the shoulder a rope and the garter stitch panel, waves breaking upon the beach. The traditional Guernsey sweater was originally a local fisherman’s working garment, hence the diamond under the arm for ease of movement and extra strength. It is knitted with close stitches from tightly twisted wool and this gives it its ability to withstand sea spray and rain. The distinctive pattern was handed down from generation to generation and the knitting skills passed on from mother to daughter.

Channel Jumper website

Its wonderful that these jumpers are still made in Guernsey. However I find the originals are just too thick and scratchy and most of the ones on the fashion market are not cut quite right on the sleeves and neck. The sleeves should be slightly cropped (the originals had shorter sleeves to avoid fishermen getting them wet when bringing in the catch) and the neck needs to be upright and wide but not too high or slouchy. Also I don’t want horizontal stitching, the main jumper should be plain with details on the upper sleeves and neck only. Picky huh….?!

However when I eventually find my perfect jumper I love the idea of wearing a long sleeved Breton under a shorter sleeved Guernsey so the stripes show. Or a crisp white pintuck blouse with a an upright collar and delicate cuffs.

  1. Toast Guernsey £135. Looks lovely and soft but too much stitching on the chest.
  2. Isabel Marant Etoile £245 (pricey but amazing – those cuffs are perfect)

I’ve cobbled together the look I’m after but until I find the right jumper I won’t be happy (this is a very old cotton one from J Crew thats really had its day – didn’t do too well in the wash unfortunately).


I absolutely love the beige jumper below, if anyone has any idea where its from please let me know. It popped up on a Guernsey visitor website but no link sadly…. the neck is just perfect…. sigh….


Also this one is good from Asos menswear, but its sadly sold out…. grrr….

3. Asos Mens *Sold Out*

In my search I came across a couple of non Breton, but non-the-less Nautical sweaters that are worth a mention:


  1. Isabel Marant Etoile £190 – Red & Blue Stripe
  2. Petit Bateau £82 – Navy & White Stripe with buttons

So over the coming weeks you’ll no doubt find me scouting the harbours at Whitstable and Rye, on the look out for my perfect fishermen finds… if you know any fishermen’s wives from Guernsey who can knit me my own design, or have any thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

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Kate x

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