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The term "striped fabric" describes any fabric, whether knitted or printed, in such a way that bands of different colours appear on the fabric at even or uneven spacing, horizontally, vertically or diagonally.


Striped fabric is usually created by crossing the warp threads (lengthwise) and the weft threads (widthwise). On looms, spools of thread are unravelled on a large cylinder (the warp beam) to assemble the warp threads respecting the tension and their being parallel: the warping.

The loom introduces the weft thread between the warp threads, depending on the weave chosen for the fabric (i.e. the way the threads intertwine); the latter is produced as the weft thread runs through the warp threads, in one direction and then the other.



Striped fabrics - Ratti Weaving


The first evidence of widespread use of striped fabrics dates back to the Middle Ages, in the 14th century: as the French historian Michel Pastoureau pointed out in his work "The Devil's Cloth. A history of stripes and striped fabrics' (1993), in the European Middle Ages striped fabric took on a strong connotation of deviation and abjection.


Servants and court jesters wore clothes with bold, broad stripes and contrasting colours as if their clothes seemed to represent ambivalence and ambiguity: a realm of unclear and violated boundaries.

The jester in fact played the part of the subject against the tide, his word was that of the madman, the abnormal: a reversal of common sense.

The jester's dress therefore had to be multifaceted and colourful, so as to be easily recognised by the crowd.


The polychromy of the dress and the use of alternating vertical bands are often considered a devilish symbol, a manifestation of disorder, an externalization of the madness and abnormality of this strange character, who thus impersonates one of the many forms of the 'madman' in European culture,


Jugglers - "The Devil's Burial" (detail), Verona Cathedral


This extremely negative connotation of striped fabric led to the imposition of suits or combined uniforms of tunics and trousers with wide stripes, horizontally or vertically on executioners, lepers and prisoners with a clear discriminatory intent. And it was with this meaning in mind that the Nazi regime chose the uniform for concentration camp inmates.


A light, loose, pyjama-like jumpsuit of brightly striped fabric with a wide collar and cuffs is the iconic garment of the clown, a figure whose humour derives from his licence to transgress the boundaries of ordered society.



Original deportee uniform in the Mauthausen concentration camp - Clown clothes           


The brightly coloured striped fabric can also be found in playful guise: during tournaments between knights festoons and banners of coloured stripes could be used to display the colours of the knights in simulated tournament combat.


The heraldic use of striped fabric survives today in the practice of hanging medals for civil or military honours with a vertically striped grosgrain ribbon.


Painting of a playful battle between knights - Typical grosgrain ribbon for medals           


In the Italian Renaissance the negative use of stripes as a symbol of social deviance was toned down andthe stripes acquired a connotation of boldness and courage, a willingness to test the boundaries of social tolerance.


The young men wore tights and striped blouses to give themselves an air of bravado and distinguish themselves from the older, more soberly dressed men.


Typical Italian Renaissance clothing         


During the French Revolution, red, white and blue tricolour ribbon was widely used in headbands and hat decorations.

The daring look, introduced during the Italian Renaissance, was revisited by the French patriots, known as Sanculots , who wore tricolour trousers with thin stripes as a sign of not wanting to submit to the social rules of the time.


Sans Culottes clothes, France


The association of stripes with the nautical style became established in the second half of the 19th century, mainly in France and Russia.


Already at the beginning of the 19th century French sailors in France had begun to wear a long-sleeved cotton shirt with horizontal white and blue stripes, called a 'marinière', to distinguish themselves from other maritime nations. Questo è confermato da delle litografie del 1810 in cui si notano dei pescatori di Boulogne, sulla Manica, e della Bretagna indossare questo caratteristico capo di vestiario.

This shirt was also called a Breton shirt because many sailors in the northern French navy were from Brittany.

ll disegno delle strisce presenti sulla maglia era legato a motivi di visibilità. In the dark, in the fog typical of the Atlantic, a sailor in a striped shirt was clearly more visible than one in a plain shirt. It is said that this was also to better identify the unlucky ones who fell into the cold waters. 


The "tricot rayé bleu indigo et blanc", better known as the marinière, was introduced into the official list of sailor's outfits of the French Navy by an official decree of 27 March 1858: sailors of the navy received a uniform with 21 horizontal stripes (one for each of Napoleon's victories) which took the name 'matelot' or 'marinière'..


In Russia, a few years later, Tsar Alexander II's decision in 1874 to make the "rayeurs" shirt the standard uniform of the navy was decisive in this respect. 

The telnyashka, as this shirt was called from the word 'telo' (body) being in fact the garment closest to the body, was woven of 50% cotton and 50% wool and had wide blue stripes <(strong>(about 11 cm wide and white stripes 44.45 cm wide), colours that recalled the flag of St Andrew, the main Russian naval banner since the time of Peter the Great.

In 1912, the Russian Navy's telnyashka acquired its current design with blue and white stripes of identical width, or 11.11 centimetres.


Russian sailors of the late 19th century - Russian sailors of the Black Sea fleet parade in Sevastopol


During the Victorian era, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the association between stripes and seafaring life was also reinforced in civilian dress, particularly in the early bathing suits or long summer dresses of black and white or white and blue striped fabric..


Striped clothing acquired sporting and leisure connotations: woollen jumpers knitted with blue and white horizontal stripes became standard equipment for sailors, from Venetian gondoliers to the crew members of private yachts.



Victorian-era beachwear - late 19th-century gondolier


We have to wait until the 20s to find stripes again. The book Icons of Fashion by Greda Buxbaum tells us that stripes appeared in women's clothing at the beginning of the decade. By the end of the First World War, women had acquired a new self-awareness and were determined to show the world their new achievements: the woman of the 1920s worked in an office, played sports, drove a car and wanted to achieve equality with men.


Coco Chanel was the first designer to grasp these transformations and to imprint them on her clothes and her style (such as the short cut à la garconne).


Coco Chanel, years '20 - Audrey Tautou plays Coco Chanel in "Coco Avant Chanel - Love before mith"


Prohibition in later years gave rise to all kinds of under-the-table activities and the dark suit with thin white stripes, the pinstripe, became the uniform of dangerous men and gangsters, such as Al Capone (who also liked to wear wide vertically striped dressing gowns).



Al Capone in a pinstripe suit - Al Capone in a striped dressing gown          


In the mid-1940s the gangster uniform evolved into the infamous "zoot suit": low-slung, baggy trousers and a long coat that flares out at the hips.

Originating in the clubs of Harlem, this uniform quickly spread among the youth of the time as a political statement and sign of rebellion. 

Riots broke out in 1943 with US soldiers and sailors seeking out groups of African American, Latino and Italian American men who wore the oversized pinstripe suits because they considered them 'unpatriotic' at a time when much of America was rationing fabric.


The zoot suit became popular among minorities and sub cultures          


The geometric and rigorous nature of striped dresses was turned upside down in the 1960s with the "swinging sixties" which brought a more eccentric look to the fore where stripes were transformed to create optical illusions and optical effects.

Those who wore these styles were part of the counterculture of the time that broke with old traditions.


60s fashion: striped and optical dresses          


The search for ever new effects through stripes was also brought to the fore in later years by designers such as Missoni, Dior and Mary Quant. e the stripes, which came in various sizes and colours, became the symbol of various subcultures for their respective causes, including hippie, punk and anti-establishment grunge.


60s fashion, black and white suit - Models by Christian Dior


David Bowie in a striped jacket - 70s hippie look


Mary Quant - Missoni        


Today stripes are everywhere when it comes to clothing, but the main use of this fabric is for men and escapes immediate attention: striped fabric is mainly used for office wear. Pinstripe suits, ties and shirts have vertical stripes in the hope, in part, that the vertical stripes will produce the illusion of a slimmer, taller body.


Alexander McQueen SS 2020 - Giorgio Armani SS 2020 - Asos - Lacoste - Mango



Fortunately, women's fashion never forgets them and every year resorts to new striped designs to brighten up spring-summer looks.


Michael Kors 2015 - Ralph Lauren 2016 - Reinaldo Lourenco 2017 - Stella McCartney 2020 - Chloe 2021


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