The Sophisticate: How to wear stripes now

By Michal McKay

Stripes have an air of authority and have held similar power in the fashion stakes. Michal McKay examines their ranks.

Chloe pre-Fall 2014. Photo / Supplied.
Chloe pre-Fall 2014. Photo / Supplied.

Though I doubt that the flurry of "what next" for the America's Cup has had much to do with a certain nautical influence invading the current glossies, stripes are again making waves.

Given that the fashion focus has been pretty psychedelic of late with lightning shocks and jolts of flowers, spots, rainbow colours, digital images, geometrics and a profusion of loud coloured paint splashes adorning the catwalk, a simple strip of lines could offer cathartic relief. The fresh crispness of a Breton top or striped shirt certainly still holds its own; but such immersion in the techno world is proving hard to shake off.

Stripes today are big and chunky, multi-hued, uneven, head to toe and bold. And it doesn't stop there. Try superimposing a flower print right on top of a strip of stripes. Or a series of stars sprinkled like the Milky Way on top of a band of symmetric lines.

Whoever heard of a spotted shirt, striped full skirt and a floral belt until now? Palettes of indigo, fuchsia, ink, canary and luminous lime pack a power punch placed stripe by stripe. Fashion is, right now, on a millennium ride to the moon away from subtlety.

Look at Prada, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Celine: a clashing cacophony of silent sound-bites and fabulous fun.

Mind you, though they may now well wear an air of respectability (think the pinstriped business suit or shirt) stripes have a chequered past. History relates that in medieval days when superstition ran riot, a certain pope ordered the Carmelites to surrender their stripes because they were a sure sign of the devil. And in the Middle Ages, when it was the uniform of prostitutes and prisoners, heretics and hangmen, anti-stripe sentiment was rife.

But when Napoleon's naval battalion was kitted out with navy blue and white bearing 21 stripes symbolising his victories, they moved up in the ranks. Subsequently across the channel, Queen Victoria dressed the young Prince Albert in a sailor suit - and sales of stripes in the baby stakes soared. You might say they showed their true colours! And regained their honour.

Talking about which, a pinstripe suit - universally worn as the livery of every stock exchange, courtroom and boardroom - may imply honesty, but actually the truth is murkier. Hark back to the 1920s when pinstripes were a sharp symbol of mobsters and the mafia. It took Clark Gable and Fred Astaire to get back the glamour. And the ingenuity of Coco Chanel to make stripes the pinnacle of chic.

Despite this endorsement, treat stripes with zebra-crossing caution. We all know horizontals lengthen and verticals widen, right? Not so, according to a perception expert at York University, who found that science may actually weigh in favour of the linear look. Experiments based on the Helmholtz square illusion suggest that horizontal stripes help slim by creating a 3D effect that introduces depth.

And contrary to belief, fine stripes have a way of accentuating the positive whereas a wider stripe tends to flatten. Forget a stretch of stripes if you are of a softer shape. A fresh pin-striped shirt of whatever length can do no wrong, curves notwithstanding. If that doesn't convince, take the accessory route. A striped bag, scarf, or even a shoe can add an unexpected touch that is unmistakably "now", for the nervous.

An instant update no matter the weather is a striped double breasted blazer. Yes, it may well remind you of school days, but with a shapely waist, brass buttons and a turned-back cuff, the look is anything but institutional. And of course, the ubiquitous striped tee can be worn with everything.


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