Suiting The Stripe

The pinstripe suit, a hallmark of professionalism, has had an interesting journey. EXEC follows its evolution through the years and looks at current trends.

History is indecisive about the origins of the pinstripe suit. Some feel that the modern pinstripe was derived from the boating suits worn in the Victorian era, which had thin, dark stripes on a cream background. Others look towards the realm of professional wear in the early 20th century, when bankers donned black coats with striped trousers that echoed the columns in an accountant’s ledgers.

By the time the 1920s came around, pinstripe suits were perceived with a wary eye. The staid aesthetics of the time frowned upon the flashiness of the style. This was bolstered by the fact that the Al Capones of the time favoured it as their uniform of choice, in an attempt to cover their questionable businesses with the relative respectability lent by the suit. In fact, this image has lasted to this day, albeit as a caricature.

Things began to look up for the pinstripe suit Hollywood’s Golden Age, when Clark Gable, the twinkle-toed Fred Astaire and their fellow thespians wore these stripes in the grandiose movies of the time. By now, stripes had become thinner and more professional.

In the decades that followed, pinstripe suits remained relatively unchanged, modified only by the reigning trends of each decade, like the flared legs of the 60s and 70s, and the power shoulders of the 80s. Today, the pinstripe suit is lean, cut to fit the body.

The pinstripe is made up of dots roughly the size of pinheads, usually of silk, cotton and man-made materials. It usually measures at 1/30 of an inch, and not wider than 1/18 of an inch. Another stripe closely related to it is the chalk stripe, which is thicker and usually on flannel. Tailors often make suits with the lace-line stripe as well, which has two or more pinheads side by side. In the same family is the rope stripe, which is usually featured on woollen fabrics, and is bolder in style.

The pinstripe suit is a uniform of professionalism and respectability, but leaves room for the wearer to express his personality. At present, design houses like Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Roberto Cavalli, Ermenegildo Zegna, Giorgio Armani and the like offer pinstripe suits in a variety of colours and fabrics. Traditional hues of navy blue, black and brown remain popular, but more adventurous pairings of dove grey with lavender stripes and tan with ochre stripes have plenty of takers.

A shirt in a neutral colour, like white, black or light blue, looks best with a pinstripe suit in a professional setting. Ties in colours complimentary to that of the pinstripe add to the overall look. One needn’t shy away from teaming the suit with a striped tie, if the tie is the right colour, and the stripes are broader than those of the suit. If the suit is worn outside the boardroom, for example, at a business dinner, it can be paired with a bright shirt. The tie can be done away with in these situations too.

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