From French chic to iconic British, there's just something about a stripe. They can be fun and joyful, or bring a certain elegance that's simple, understated and classic.
Perhaps we love stripes because of their connection to the coast. Who could see a striped deckchair, a bright wooden beach hut or a gently billowing windbreak without smiling?
Stripes conjure up images of sunny afternoons out on the water – beach hair, freckles or tan lines, the promise of aching muscles to come. Bliss.
There’s an undeniable sense of freedom evoked by nautical stripes. Sea farers travelling the world. The rock ‘n’ roll teenagers of post-WWII Britain. Beatniks. Artists.
But there’s far more to them than holidays been and holidays to come. They’re entwined in the fashions of the last century. Coco Chanel. Audrey Hepburn. Brigitte Bardot. James Dean. Jean Paul Gaultier. Even Pablo Picasso – lover of the weird and wonderful – embraced the humble stripe.
Five facts you might not know about stripes
1. The Breton stripe dates back to 1858 when French sailors were first given a uniform. It’s said that the 21 blue stripes on the woollen jersey represented each of Napoleon’s triumphs over the British.
But more importantly, they made it easier to spot a sailor if he went overboard. Over time, fishermen and other French seafarers adopted the striped tops too.
2. The Breton gets its name from ‘La Bretagne’ (Brittany), which is where the French navy was based. Other names include la marinière (the sailor), le pull marin (the sailor sweater) and les tricot rayé (the striped knit).
3. While stripes were seen as practical workwear, fashion took little notice of them until Coco Chanel. Inspired by the fishermen she saw along the French coast, Coco introduced her own version of the nautical striped top in 1917 – this time aimed at women.
The top embodied everything she was trying to achieve in her designs. It was comfortable, simple, allowed for easy movement and paired beautifully with her wide legged trousers – a far cry from the traditional tight fitting, highly embellished outfits women were used to wearing at the time.
4. Stripes play a supporting role in several classic films from the 50s and 60s. Think Jean Seberg in Breathless and Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Check out the Vogue France article here to see more stripes on screen.
5. And finally…
Dennis the Menace has now been wearing his unmistakeable striped jumper for 70 years. Black and red were the strongest inks the printers could use – guaranteed to stand out on the shelves when the comic moved from black and white to colour.
A stripe doesn't date, it remains elegant and chic no matter the season or the year. An enduring style that just works every time.