Yikes, Stripes

1 – Welcome to #ThreadTalk! This week we’re talking stripes. And let me say, y’all have *opinions.*

Which is totally on brand for this pattern.

From the high seas🏴‍☠️ to the school yard🧑‍🎓, the red light district 🚨to the palace at Versailles🏰: Let’s dive into the striped past.

 Visiting dress, 1867 - French. A silk striped dress in pale yellow and purple, with big purple buttons and pleated ruffles on the edges of the sleeves, high collar, jacket bottom, and all along the train and bustle. From the Met Museum, public domain.

2 – Stripes may be humankind’s first fabric pattern, simply woven in as the yarn color shifted from one to another. The word “stripe” is from “a line in cloth.”

And stripes show up everywhere: fabric, pottery, and jewelry. Like this Neolithic (2650 BC) pot from China. Gorgeous!

A Neolithic pot from what is now China, about 4500 years old. It is wide in the middle with two handles and has a narrow top. The whole thing is covered in varying stripes and swirls, drawing the eye. Met Museum, public domain.

3 – ‘Cause you know what? Stripes are POWERFUL. Just like we naturally turn our gaze to the horizon, stripes grab attention. Contrast, y’all.

Unsurprisingly, the great pharaohs of Ancient Egypt chose stripes for their Nemes (headcloths) like head-turning Thuthmose III below.

This fine indurated limestone torso and head was uncovered in the early Twentieth Century during excavations conducted by Edouard Naville at the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II at Deir el-Bahri. The face, which had brocken off in antiquity, was discovered in the 1960s by Polish excavators who were clearing the destroyed temple of Thutmose III which is adjacent to Mentuhotep's temple. This piece is now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. In the 1990s, the Egyptian Museum made a cast of the face, which is now displayed on the Metropolitan torso. At the same time, a cast of the torso was sent to Cairo and is now displayed with the face. Artist Donald Jensen painted the two casts to match the originals. From the Met Museum, Public Domain.

4 – As it turns out, nearly every culture on Earth uses stripes in some way–from Tibet (19thC) to Peru (500 BC) & beyond. Whether in jewelry or design, it imparts power & more than anything: attention.

But what they mean and WHO wears stripes, that’s where the story comes in.

5 – In Japan, you find stripes in many motifs, and especially in theatre costuming.

This beautiful example–“The Second Ishikawa Monosuke in the Role of Karigane Bunshichi” (a famous outlaw) from 1782 by Katsukawa Shunshō–uses stark contrast and bright reds for impact.

A man in Japanese theatre costume with a long kimono in black wide stripes with narrow white stripes. Below he wears a red tunic. He has red makeup on his eyes and is scowling, a sword at his side. Met Museum, Public Domain.

6 – Many indigenous people in the Philippines use stripes in bold, meaningful ways–sometimes indicating they’ve killed in battle or hold presitge. These photos are from National Geographic at the turn of the 20th C.

First image: Bagobo woman; Second image: a Bukidnon chief.

7 – In India, stripes are often used on turban fabric like this one from Madras, dating from the mid-19thC, but looking strikingly modern.

It’s also frequently on the edges of saris, embroidered or brocaded to beautiful impact, like this 19thC choli from Satara . Bonus: dots.

8 – And muslin, too, comes in many striped varieties. Some are woven in stripes, and others, like this fragment from Hyderabad (1700-50), had the design applied–in this case, with gum and gold leaf.

I want to run this through my hands so bad. Sigh.

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London - Fragment of cotton (muslin) with a vertical striped design of paired red leaves on stems outlined in dark violet. Gold leaf detailing applied with gum in pattern of striped bands and spots.

9 – We also have the artisans of India to thank for an iconic stripe: seersucker! 🥳

That odd name comes from the Persian word for the cloth, shir o shakkar, meaning “salt and sugar” referring to the alternating stripes of different texture and weight. Easy to wash & wear, too.

A seersucker frock coat in a classic, three-button suit. A summer frock coat of this kind assumes the same cut as a wool coat, distilling at this time into black or gray, for winter. - Met Museum, Public Domain.

10 – The term “seersucker” can be traced back to the late 17th C (in its Western incarnation) & eventually–due to slavery in the American South and cheaper cotton–it became synonymous with working class, affordable clothing for men and women.

Purple windowpane check dress with cotton seersucker blouse, American, ca. 1860, KSUM 1995.17.53 ab (dress) and KSUM 2008.13.3 (blouse). Kent State University.

11 – Seersucker eventually became a sign of the ultra yacht club rich. Which is interesting considering the West’s super weird relationship with stripes.

Medieval Europe had BIG FEELS about stripes, namely that they were OF THE DEVIL and EVIL. 😈 See Roy D’Aragon below.

Roy d'Aragón - a knight, in bright yellow and red stripes. Both he and his horse are covered in stripes. 1433-1435

12 – In 1310, in Rouen, France (shout-out to my ancestors) a man was put to death for wearing stripes. Social historian Michel Pastoureau: ”Stripes were the devil’s clothing. The dress of prostitutes, of hangmen.”

Stripes got you noticed. And getting noticed was not ideal.

The oldest picture of the Pied Piper copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hameln/Hamelin Germany (c.1300-1633). Dude is wearing a pointed hat and lots of stripes.

13 – It was the Carmelites, an order originally from Palestine, who so shocked 13th century Europeans with their “barred” habits, that eventually it caused the Vatican to ban stripes for ALL clergy.

Europeans also thought Zebras were demonic for their stripes. Come on!

Two striped zebra, one looking at the illustrator and one posing a la odalisque. Dating from 1700-1880 or so. Public domain via Wikipedia.

14 – Naturally, stripes became popular anyway.

Sailors from Brittany started wearing stripes & it may have helped save their lives (easy to spot overboard). Today we call this the Breton stripe (AKA Marinière)

Mimes also needed to be rescued from their invisible boxes, so…

A sailor wearing a Marinière shirts or Breton shirt. From the early 20th century. Public domain.

15 – Getting noticed was also essential for sex workers. In Bristol, they specifically wore striped hoods to signal their clientele.

The famed & outlandish “macaroni” was also known for his striped hose. And clearly this cartoonist thought very little of the devilish stylist.

A fashionable man takes his hat off whilst strolling; his hairdresser assists him by supporting the weight of his large wig. The headdresser looks devilish--like a goat. And is wearing all stripes.

15 – Eventually, by the time of the Tudors, stripes started seeping into society esp. with military connotations.

It was still considered a scandalous (or powerful) thing to do, and men in the Renaissance definitely started sporting stripes like Eddie VI here. Mmmm… Pasty.

Portrait of Edward VI of England wearing a striped doublet in red velvet and gold piping. Public domain.

16 – Stripes began creeping into the Georgian era by way of France, who was the first country to really take stripes to town.

You see stripes both alone and mixed together with florals (a throwback to China and Japan) in some divine sack dresses. This one has 5 widths of silk.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - A woman's sack with a stomacher and petticoat made of striped green and white satin trimmed with a fly fringe and embroidered in chenille with floral sprays. These include pansies, morning glories, ranunculas, carnations and harebells and rosebuds. The sack is open at the front with elbow-length sleeves with double, scalloped sleeve ruffles. The bodice and sleeves are lined with linen; the back of the lining in two pieces and fastened with linen tape ties. The back has two, double box pleats extending shoulder to hem, with the front skirts pleated into the waistseam. The sack is made of 6 widths of silk, with 2 triangular gores on each front side. The robings of the bodice are seamed a the waist to the front skirts. The skirt robings are trimmed with a pleated band of silk arranged in a zig-zag down the front. A fringe of elaborately looped silk flowers and floss knots is arranged in a zig-zag down the bodice robings. It edges the sleeve ruffles.

17 – I said “muslin” so the ghost of Mr. Tilney has arisen, and of course we had many striped muslin gowns in the long Regency.

This gown a far cry from prison garb (which wasn’t until later–and created for better retrieval) & exudes innocence rather than seduction.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London- Dress made of warp-knitted fabric, probably cotton. With a pattern of alternating stripes of close 'plain' knitting and open work. The sleeves and a band inserted around the neck are also in knitted cotton with a smaller pattern of alternating plain and open work.



Low square neck and short sleeves, and with a frilled yellow silk ribbon epaulette and a yellow ribbon draw string through the binding at the sleeve border. Yellow ribbon bands are mounted over the white silk band trim neck opening, the top of the bodice and the sides of the front. The waist is high and the skirt is attached to the high waist except at the centre back where it is slightly gathered. The skirt is cut with a centre front, centre back and two wedge-shaped side panels. The hem is bordered with a gathered yellow silk band. The dress fastens at the centre back with a yellow silk ribbon through the neck, and a cord and a tape through the waist attached from the side seam.

18 – By the 1820s, stripes start appearing more & more in women’s day dresses, combined with vines and floral work on silk. Expensive. The pleating here really elevates the look. This particular gown is British and dates from 1828. It’s a last gasp before we go full Victoria.

A gown with puffy sleeves in gold silk. It has a narrow waist and a subtle flair. The pattern looks like vines and stripes, with a paler silk belt around the middle. From the Met Museum, public domain.

19 – And once Queen Victoria dressed her young son in Navy stripes, well, all bets were off. The Victorians went wild for stripes in every possible way imaginable.

The bigger & bolder the better. This is a tame gown in comparison to some of the later ones.

Then came sports!

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London - Evening dress made of brocaded silk tobine trimmed with silk satin and lined with cotton. Made from warp striped tobine in yellow cream and green with red warp patterns. The neck is low and oval, and the high waisted bodice is gauged in the centre front. The sleeves are short and full puffed, covered with lobed epaulets. The skirt is gathered to the bodice, and the gauging is slightly tighter at the centre back. Just below knee level is a wide band of gathered trimming, of matching material headed by a pleated band of green satin, and the lobed edges are bound with the same. Green satin is used to bind the neck, edge the epaulets and pipe the bodice seams. The dress fastens at the centre back with a false fastening of small self covered buttons, and the actual fastening was probably hook and eyes. The existing fastenings are replacements.

20 – Pleating and the HI I AM WEARING STRIPES AND SPORTING LOOK AT ME became a big deal for women, I guess. So dresses like these (meant for playing tennis) popped up in high society.

Swimsuits also had big stripes because women might drown just looking at water, right?

 Striped Victorian women's ensemble for playing tennis--pleats at the bottom for movement, cotton for breathability. But still tons of layers and details and in no way comfortable. via LACMA

21 – Pinstripes came later for suits, but men have sported stripes a long time, as well.

This one (1790s, France) is MY FAVE because of the effect the alternating stripes. Makes you dizzy in a good way, you know? Mrrwrow. 😚

This young man’s tailcoat, with its high turned-down collar, narrow back, and wide lapels, exemplifies the exaggerated silhouette fashionable in post-revolutionary France. Striped textiles, modish from the 1760s, were ubiquitous in the dress of both sexes by the end of the century. In menswear, stripes served as a decorative substitute for the ornate, polychrome embroidery of earlier suits. The trend reflects the influence of Orientalism and neoclassical taste; in earlier centuries, stripes had pejorative connotations in the West and were associated with the clothing of socially marginalized groups. Met Museum, public domain.

22 – Kimonos continue to make my heart flutter, and this mid-20th century example takes stripes and the art of lines to the LIMIT (to quote Strongbad).

Wool kimono, ikat dyed with black ground and white horizontal stripes. The stripes aren't all the way around, they are stacked, and the result is high contrast but high art, too. MFA Boston.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on April 26, 2021.