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A bateau neck is a straight neckline that stretches across the collarbone to each shoulder. This neckline is also called a boatneck, as bateau is the French word for boat. The name refers to what is thought to be the origin of the bateau neck — the striped French sailor shirt. This thick cotton t-shirt style with thin stripes of navy and cream or white is what many people think of when picturing the look of a bateau neckline or boat neck.
Once issued to sailors in the French navy, the bateau neck sailor shirt has become a classic summer look in many parts of the world. Men, women and children alike wear this loose-fitting, striped cotton t-shirt style. The wide neck makes these shirts possible even for small children to put on and take off easily. Classic French navy style boatneck shirts are available in assorted striped patterns in nautical blue or red paired with white or cream stripes. While the original French stripe is equal thin lines of one color plus a neutral shade, today there are many variations on the width and colors of the stripes.
Bateau neck sweaters are another use of the straight neckline. Winter weight boatneck sweaters aren't as commonly found as other neckline shapes, however, since so much of the neck is bared. The boat neckline bares a bit of the shoulders as well as the entire collarbone area. Summer weight boatneck sweaters are quite common and popular. They are available in many different solid colors as well as French inspired stripes.
A bateau neck dress design tends to be on the casual side. Many boatneck dresses are made from cotton jersey or t-shirt fabric. These are usually very informal, loose fitting dresses that may be striped like a French sailor shirt. Another name for these types of dresses is the t-shirt dress, as they're basically an extension of the t-shaped, baggy fit French sailor shirt.
The fanciest bateau necklines can be seen on wedding gowns. Many of these feature a straight piece of beautiful lace that can seem to frame the bride's face and neck as it stretches across her shoulders. Since the bateau neck highlights each shoulder, it may not be most flattering neckline for people with broad shoulders. While bateau necklines do draw the eye to the neck, it's not necessary to be long-necked in order to wear this style well.
Bateau necklines are said to work well for small chested figures, as the wide neck helps create the illusion of a larger chest. The wide neck of a bateau neckline can also visually balance a pear shaped figure. Pear shaped body types have a small bust and wide hips.