“Oh yea, pinstripe suits are the best!” grinned the giggly girl in the café as her male companion reluctantly twirled around in a shiny two-piece. Notched lapels, two buttons, wide white stripes – more chalk than pin – and a garishly blue sheen, it was a spectacle suit; not exactly to my taste but still challenging and rather outrageous. My companion, a fellow eavesdropper, remarked with approval and asked for my opinion, which was, I informed him, that the stripes were a little too wide and white for my taste and that the distance between them too great.
On our wander around the neighbourhood, we passed a mannequined window displaying more than one example of striped suits. One was a double breasted example, classically chalked creamy stripe on a dark grey background, medium gauge – the sort of thing Jay Gatsby might have worn. The other was a very narrow gauge grey pinstripe on a navy background. Single breasted with ubiquitous notched lapels it looked decidedly modern. My companion remarked that a ‘blind buy’ of a striped suit was evidently impossible; you’ll never be quite sure of what you are getting.
Rather reactionary and hasty fashion writers have written off striped suits as twentieth century relics. The followers of such folly have agreed to the reasoning that they are only appropriate for the now terribly unfashionable City banker or the East End-born Capone wannabe, neither of which are characters sufficiently savoury for fashion leadership.
I myself scoff at such myopic analysis; the stripe is foremost an expression of style, not position or social class. The stripe knows no century or decade in which it must be imprisoned. The manacled confinement in which it finds itself, loathed for its associations and ignored for its aesthetic, is entirely the fault of fashion-centric witch hunters; out to sound the death knell for as many of the 57 varieties as possible. As the gushing young female in the café proved, there are too many admirers of stripes for them to be truly buried and forgotten.
However, the stripe gang has definite leaders. And, though stripes certainly cross social and professional boundaries, there are strong associations with certain types that simply cannot be ignored.
Pins and chalks of a half-inch gauge are the classic. Fabulous in double breasted format, or perhaps single breasted with peaked lapels and a waistcoat, this style of stripe is understated and timeless. A standard tailoring stripe, this is seen on many proponents of the classic English suit. This is the stripe I would prefer.
Stripes of three-quarter inch or full inch gauge are rather more brash and garish; retro gangsters, rappers and wide boys enjoy the punch and the arresting drama of this rather unsubtle choice. They are often worn thickly on black cloth rather than blue or grey which accentuates, somewhat uncomfortably in my view, the dazzling effect.
Stripes that are of a quarter-inch gauge or less are odd but certainly less outrageous and make the suit appear, due to the compression of colour – a result of the narrow gauge – ‘unstriped’ from a distance. This is a style of stripe that is becoming ever more popular.
When selecting striped suits off the rack, make sure the stripes match at the seams. There is something rather saddening about a bright chalk stripe that fails to do so. In terms of shirt and tie choice, plains are the best background for loud stripes – in other words, let your suit do the talking. A little paisley pocket square would always be welcome. Bright colours work very well with striped suits, particularly pink and lilac. As popular as the aggressively contrasting stripe suits are – black with white stripes – I think the most stylish option is light grey stripes on a dark grey background. A sky blue shirt with a burgundy tie, and possibly a white pocket square, completes this traditional look.