Stripes - horizontal and vertical, black and white; graphically expressive or just barely whipped stripes? Rather quite frequently stripes were appearing in sportier and casual striped clothes and in fashion history where they have undergone dramatic turning points. Do they make us slender or maybe just the opposite? It all depends on how they are located and what is the distance between stripes and how wide they are...And in the end - what meaning do they have in costume composition?
That's why let's take a look at the history of striped fabrics!
Stripes - how did they come about?
Stripes is one of the oldest cloth patterns that came out in a very natural way. Striped cloth is one of the earliest extant examples of woven textiles and must have arisen as a natural consequence of the color variability of woolen yarns.
Randomly distributed warp yarns of different colors would have spontaneously produced a sort of asymmetrical striped cloth.. The use of yarns dyed in different colors must have been the next obvious step in the process of producing striped cloth. Since ancient times striped clothes were found in cultures around the world. In the same time stripes did not appear as dominant feature of cloth patterns in any of ancient cultures. [6.]
But when did stripes become a sign of modern costumes?
Before the stripes became modern, it turns out that they were initially a sign of expulsion. French social historian Michel Pastoureau writes that, in the European Middle Ages striped cloth took on strong connotations of deviance and abasement. Servants and court jesters wore striped cloth; so did prostitutes, madmen, and criminals, not voluntarily but by official orders. The bold, broad, contrasting stripes of their garments seemed to stand for neither-this-nor-that, ambivalence, ambiguity, and a realm of unclear and violated boundaries. [6.]
The ancient quite a negative connotation of striped cloth has not been forgotten to this day. Clothing made of broadly striped cloth, in either horizontal or vertical stripes, instantly carries the association of prisoners. Also a loose, lightweight suit of brightly striped cloth, with a broad collar and cuffs, is the iconic outfit of the clown, a figure whose humor derives from his license to transgress the boundaries of orderly society. [6.] By the 13th century the bias against stripes was well entrenched in Europe’s Sumptuary Laws. Disreputable guys and slutty girls were helpfully depicted wearing stripes to signal their outsider status. [7.]
The wearing of stripes was not always a sign of social deviance, but even as a fashion statement, stripes had connotations of boldness and daring, a willingness to test the boundaries of social tolerance. The broadly striped hose worn by young gondoliers (as seen in the painting of Vittore Carpaccio. see the picture above) in the Italian Renaissance, must have seemed impudent and shocking to more soberly dressed elders.
Striped cloth also had a role to play in heraldry. Use of striped cloth survives in the practice of suspending medals signifying civil and military honors from striped grosgrain ribbon, with the color, width, and placement of stripes specified exactly by the rules of the decoration. Ribbon in the tricolor pattern of red, white, and blue, often folded into a rosette worn as a hat decoration, became a potent symbol of the French Revolution. [6.]
Stripes on Stripes As a Fashion Statement
Since the 18th century striped cloth entered the repertoire of ordinary European fashionable clothing. In particular, striped clothing acquired sporting or leisure connotations; Victorian paintings of seaside scenes frequently show women strolling in long summer dresses of black-and-white or blue-and-white striped fabric. As this association with the seaside suggests, stripes also called to mind nautical images. Woolen sweaters knitted with horizontal stripes of blue and white became standard clothing for sailors. [6.]
The classic navy blue and white striped T-shirts that we know today originated from the French coastal region of Brittany. The 1958 Act of France saw navy seamen in the area given a striped woven top bearing 21 horizontal stripes (one for each of Napoleon’s victories) as a uniform, known as a matelot or marinière. The garment was born out of functionality: the boat neckline allowed sailors to dress quickly and to spot an overboard shipmate. [8.] The official Breton shirt, manufactured locally in wool and in cotton, was eventually adopted by many sailors across the region of northern France, and it was upon a visit to the coast that fashion designer
Coco Chanel came across it. [8.]
Pinstripes or Chalk Stripes?
Striped cloth is primarily used now for men's suiting materials and for shirts and ties. Partly in the hope that vertical stripes produce an illusion of a slimmer and taller body, many men wear dark suits with very thin stripes (pinstripes) or slightly fuzzy stripes (chalk stripes) of white or some other light color.
Pinstripe suits were originally worn by style-conscious Brits and made iconic by men such as actor Cary Grant and U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The only aspect of the origin of the pinstripe suit that historians agree upon is its British roots. Beyond that, there are generally two different stories about the origin - one in banking and one in sporting. Some hold that the first pinstripe suits were worn as bank uniforms with slightly different striping to identify employees of different banks. Others say that pinstripes came into formal menswear from the sporting world, particularly striped boating uniforms of the 19th century. [4.]
British fashion historian Colin McDowel writes that, striped suit is an essentially urban fashion statement. Its wear in the country is confined to clergy, medical men and lawyers. Both chalk stripes and pintripes symbolize the ruled ledgers found in the 19th century counting houses where striped suits were originally worn. [2., 186.]
Since World War II, striped cloth has occasionally been fashionable for women's attire, and almost any year's ready-to-wear collections will include some striped dresses, skirts, and shirts. Horizontally striped sweaters remain sportswear standards for both men and women.
The iconic pinstripe suit once made by Yves Saint Laurent in 1967 is still one of the symbols of the androgynous style which also reminds of gangster suits of the 20s and 30s. Indeed, the 1930s inspired, three-piece pinstripe suit is cut along masculine lines with sharp shoulders emphasized by the angle of the revers and pleat-front trousers worn with a belt. Resonant with an androgynous style of 30s film star Marlene Dietrich, the model poses in a typically masculine attitude, but nevertheless the suit is sculpted into a feminine shape by the waist darts on the jacket and the form-fitting waistcoat worn underneath. A special emphasis is given to the snap-brimmed trilby hat, positioned at the back of the head and obscuring the slicked-back cropped hair. Such a trilby hat was a characteristic of the Hollywood screen actors of the 1920s and 1930s. [1., 385.]
In this variant female pinstripe suit actually appears like the tuxedo, an evening version of the suit, that first was shown as a part of Yves Saint Laurent's haute couture fall/winter collection in 1966. Several black-and-white photographs taken for French Vogue in 1975 by famous fashion photpgrapher of that time - Helmut Newton brought Le Smoking collection to a wider audience and depicted it as one of the most influential garments of the 20th century, along with the 'little black dress' by Coco Chanel. [1., 385]
When looking into the history of the stripes, we can conclude that this has been a very controversial, but also an incredibly popular cloth pattern. And it's just that.
So many artists, musicians, movie stars and others were seen wearing striped clothing...
Not just they, we are all in love with stripes!
References & Further Reading:
1. Fashion - the whole story./general editor: Marnie Fogg. - Thames & Hudson, 2013.
2. McDowell, Colin. The Man of Fashion. - Thames & Hudson, London, 1997.
3. Pastoureau, Michel. The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric. Translated by Jody Gladding. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
You May Also Like:
Share this story & Flip it!
Other Stories In This Section
My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.