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How to dress like a grown up with Sarah Mower

You couldn’t reasonably make a case for the return of Breton stripes - they’ve never really been away. They’re a permanent summertime fact of middle-class life. And that’s absolutely fine with me, for I confess I’m a Breton fanatic of the first stripe.

The first nautical T-shirt I can remember wearing was at the age of eight on a bucket-and-spade holiday in Paignton, Devon.

I dressed my own children in them for as long as they didn’t have a choice in the matter.

Show me that iconic blue-and-white stripe on just about anything and I’ll buy it - rugs, cushions, curtains, plates, mugs, bedclothes - our house is embarrassingly full of it.

Sarah Mower's super-chic French friend Caroline de Maigret demonstrating just how fashionable Breton stripes will be this summer. Caroline is in her 40s, a mother, model and co-author of the book How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are

Surprising, perhaps, for someone like me who has a double-life criticising haute couture. For the just-off-to-Waitrose look so adored by British mummies has not exactly always been beloved by the fashion pack. Too ordinary. Too middle-of-the-road. Too accessible?

This season, however, something has shifted.

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While idly flicking through Boden’s online catalogue a few days ago, my finger froze mid-swipe. There was my super-chic French friend Caroline de Maigret wearing a pink-and-white striped T-shirt with chipper children clambering over her among sand dunes.

To have netted de Maigret, who is French fashion cool incarnate, to epitomise this year’s Breton-wearing woman is a bit of a coup for Boden.

Caroline is in her 40s, a mother, model and co-author of the book How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are.

With her long hair and fringe, strong nose and rangy looks, she’s the kind of woman who exudes good-humoured confidence and intelligence - and never overdresses - in that unapologetic French way that causes admiration in the eyes of any woman.

Well, if Caroline de Maigret is not afraid to be seen in a Boden striped T-shirt, then neither am I. (Especially its £34.50 ‘glitter spot’ version.)

Design-wise, the French association is subliminal, but still there. After all, the Breton stripe’s history begins in French fishermen’s seafaring kit.

Coco Chanel was the first to co-opt sailor tops, bell-bottoms and nautical caps into her wardrobe while she was floating around the Mediterranean on the Duke of Westminster’s yacht in the Thirties. The aristocratic British were swift to adopt it, followed by preppy Americans.

A couple of American Vogue ex-colleagues of mine have just set up a company, La Ligne, which is based entirely on nautical stripes applied to fashion and homewear.

Meredith Melling and Valerie Boster are fortysomething working mothers, and they, too, appreciate the importance of such a wearable classic for everyday life.

The best low-cost ones I ever found were from Uniqlo (I can’t remember how much they were at the time - not more than £12 a go) in alternating blue, red and white stripes. But it has stupidly stopped stocking them.

So where do I buy mine now? J. Crew (brand name no coincidence) has a variety of stripey T-shirts that I’m considering buying in bulk.

Breton-stripe tops are still in constant rotation in my wardrobe. I wear them under blue blazers, black jackets, with jeans and trainers, with navy tailored trousers and heels, Parkas and camel coats.

I lucked out with the inexpensive Uniqlo Bretons, which have proved indestructible five years on, but I wouldn’t buy any old £12 T-shirt just because it had a stripe on it.

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Experience proves it’s not worth touching T-shirts with anything synthetic in them - they always deteriorate in a few washes Experience proves it’s not worth touching T-shirts with anything synthetic in them - they always deteriorate in a few washes. Likewise, anything that is too thin, skimpy or drapey never passes my quality-control tests for durability and semi-smartness.

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