Today, stripes are always popping up on the latest “trend-of-the-season” lists. In fact, striped cloth is so prevalent in our fashion-consciousness that it has become a completely fundamental part of our wardrobes. Men’s suiting materials, shirts and ties all feature subtle pin-stripe patterns, and who doesn’t own a cute nautical-inspired striped top that they whip out each spring? This season, we’re seeing stripes again, and it’s been a long-lasting love affair indeed.
Once upon a time, stripes were not at all the fashionable forte we enjoy today. The style really emerged in the 19th century, a white cotton top with blue stripes that became the official uniform of the French navy. The look didn’t really make its way from the decks to the fashion world until Coco got her hands on it after a trip to the French coast. Inspired by the sailor’s uniform, Chanel incorporated the “Breton stripe” into her 1917 nautical collection, worn with loose trousers. It was a stark contrast to the then-popular corseted dress look for women, and it played a significant role in changing the face of casual womenswear. Striped clothing began to acquire sporting or leisure connotations, making a regular appearance in many seaside scenes, as both men and women donned black-and-white or blue-and-white adorned their tanned bodies in striped tops and shorts.
By the 1930s, the Breton stripe was rising steadily to attain its own “haute couture” status, perhaps something to do with the obsession that the wealthy and fashionable elite had with the French Riviera. Hollywood starlets embraced the look, from Audrey Hepburn, the epitome of effortless chic, to Marilyn Monroe, the era’s classic femme fatal. Once Hollywood had started seeing stripes, it quickly became a “classic” and a “staple” style. It swept across into the high fashion arena, appearing in various magazines and strutting the catwalk in many designers’ collections. Rebecca Osei-Baidoo, women’s wear buyer at Browns, London, explains, “Breton stripes have become like leopard print, something everybody has in their wardrobe and can go back to every season.”
But the look quickly evolved from Parisian chic to take on vibrant new heights when London exploded as the fashion capital of the world in the 1960’s. At its epicentre, Carnaby Street boutiques became lined with striped delights, its bohemian designers unable to resist adding their own eclectic twist to the nautical charm. Baby doll dresses, mini-skirts and men’s ties were all splashed with bright striped patterns. Perhaps one of the most influential designers at the time was Paul Smith, who made a dramatic entrance with his trademark rainbow of colourful stripes. The 70s wasn’t letting go of the look, turning it up a notch with a multitude of colourful kaleidoscopic patterns and incorporating the funky wavy chevron stripe into its designs.
With the melange of bright patterns that the next two decades brought, it was no surprise to find the striped variety nestled safely amongst the florals and block colours. The pattern even went on to become a mark of professionalism and status, making its way into the business sector with an array of shirts, suits and ties.
Today, stripes have maintained their status as a timeless and enduring motif. There’s still an abundance of looks across the catwalks that have arisen straight from the lookbooks of past decades, from the 60s vibrant rainbows to the nautical look that Jean Paul Gaultier and Tommy Hilfiger have perfected. But then there’s also a distinctly unique striped style of today, as designers are finding innovative ways to incorporate the trend into new looks. Make-up, hairstyles and fabric cut-outs – nothing is to be left out from the enduring striped sensation.
Jean Paul Gaultier, Tommy Hilfiger