The History of Stripes in Fashion

Ever wondered when and how stripes originally emerged in the fashion world? We delve deep into fashion history to tell you more. Read on...

You’ll be surprised how far back stripes go. Wikipedia reports that the very first stripes were seen on garments in Medieval times. Yes, really.

‘During that era, only prisoners, criminals, clowns, prostitutes, hangmen, etc. were seen wearing a black and white striped garment.’

Oh, how times have changed, eh?

When once servants and outcasts were to be seen sporting a stripe, they've since had quite the high-fashion update and are synonymous with chic French style. It’s such a mainstay in French fashion that it’s also been adopted by French mime artists.

In the 1920s - some time away from the Medieval age - stripes are already making quite the fashion statement. The book Icons of Fashion by Greda Buxbaum says that as the decade began, stripes showed up in newly liberated women’s activewear, as this was one of the first times women were allowed to participate in some sporting activities.'

In the 1940s, the humble stripe had its day yet again, thanks to the gangster uniform, which led to the infamous 'zoot suit' worn to make a political statement by communities that were often ignored. 

Out of the 1940s now and the striped shirt is given a new lease of life.

“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.” says the author over at The Good Trade.

In the swinging ‘60s, however, the stripe became overshadowed by a new wave of mod-style prints. That said, some of society’s subcultures – punks, for example – still wore their stripes with pride – and before too long, designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Missoni began creating their own garments inspired by the humble stripe.

Of course, here at the Breton Shirt Company, we’ve always been huge fans of stripes. In fact, we used to pick up stripy t-shirts on our many family holidays in France as kids. It what sparked the idea for the company, actually, with our fondest memories being the long trips south in our father’s Bedford van, crossing to Calais in the amazing hi-tech hovercraft, whilst not forgetting to put the yellow headlight stickers on and ensuring our GB sticker was proudly positioned.

In 1988, we started selling striped shirts through national newspaper adverts and in selective magazines. We featured in publications as varied as The Times, Private Eye, New Musical Express, Country Life to even Viz – and the stripe is as popular today as it always was.

You only need to head over to our Instagram page to see how people’s daily ‘outfit of the day’ looks have evolved over the last few years, with some pairing their Breton shirt with a simple pair of jeans, and others going ‘classic French chic’ and teaming theirs with chinos or linen Palazzo pants.

So, how do you wear stripes? Let us know by commenting on this blog post, below.

Until next time…