A chequered history from capital crime to Riviera chic.

Few patterns or styles can boast such timeless and versatile appeal as stripes but the rise to fashionable prominence was not without its difficulties… In Michel Pastoureau’s book The Devil’s Cloth he discusses the bizarre beginnings of this iconic pattern.

Dubbed the devil’s clothing, stripes were once perceived to be the choice of rebels and outcasts including serfs, the condemned, jugglers, clowns, bohemians, and heretics. Such was the strength of opinion towards such garments that in 1310 a cobbler was arrested in northern France. His crime? Being caught in striped clothes. In a similar vein black and white striped garments were widely adopted in the US during the 1800s as the uniform of choice for detainees to ensure they were identifiable in the event of escape.

Stripes started their long sashay from function to fashion in 1858 when an act passed in France decreed that the navy in Brittany would all be required to don a new striped uniform.

A woven top known as a matelot or marinière with 21 horizontal stripes—one for each of Napoleon’s victories— was created from cotton and wool. Its wider boat neckline meant the sailors could dress quickly and the distinct colour pairing meant they were easily identifiable in the ocean.

Fashion designer Gabrielle Coco Chanel later visited the coast and chanced upon the uniforms. Inspired by their design, she released a nautical-themed collection in 1917 with the Breton stripe as a standout feature. Stocked in the wealthy Deauville resort in Normandy the collection was well received and members of the upper class were soon seen wearing these striped tops under blazers and with flared trousers.

By this point stripes had long since shrugged off the connotations of danger and deviance and had emerged as an emblem of haute-bourgeois lifestyle in the pre-war Riviera years. The growing list of advocated included Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot and Andy Warhol plus the Breton was introduced to Hollywood as worn by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and in Funny Face (1956) where Audrey Hepburn was seen wearing a Breton top with a black turtleneck sweater and ski pants. Striped pieces had become a key staple in fashionable wardrobes of both men and women and their wide-ranging appeal continues to grow.

At Orlebar Brown stripes are a key part of any collection. We’re always experimenting with new patterns and creating fresh reworks of familiar styles through fabric, weight, colour and contrast. No matter your personality you can easily find a style that works for you no matter if you want to embrace bright, bold and clashing styles or opt for softer contrasts and tonal combinations.