The History of Striped Fabric - The Rebellious Pattern That Makes Us All Feel Just a Little Bit French

There is a story that speaks of a French cobbler that was sentenced to death for wearing striped clothing in the early 1300s. You see, during the Middle Ages, striped fabric was used to identify social outcasts. Prostitutes, criminals, jugglers, clowns, and hangmen were ordered to wear striped clothing so that they could easily be identified.  In the mid-1800s, blue and white striped shirts became the official uniform for sailors in the French Navy. This was an appropriate pattern since sailors were considered to be the lowest level of the Navy. Not just any old blue-and-white-striped shirt would do. No, the French Navy had very specific requirements for these shirts. 

History of Striped Fabric I Cloth & Stitch

The shirts had to have 21 white stripes (each 20mm wide) and 20 or 21 indigo blue stripes (each 10mm wide) on the front and back. They also had to have 15 white stripes and either 14 or 15 blue stripes on the sleeves – which had to be three-quarters in length to avoid them peeping out from jacket sleeves. These sailor stripes became known as marinière – a term still used to describe stripey pieces in fashion today. 


Half a century later, Coco Chanel visited the northern coast of France, where she was seduced by the marinière worn by the local sailors. She was photographed wearing a blue and white striped shirt in 1913. The photograph made waves because, up until then, these shirts were only ever worn by men. Soon after, in 1917, she created a nautical-themed collection. The Breton top, favored by celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, is one of the iconic shirts designed by Coco Chanel. 

History of Striped Fabric I Cloth & Stitch

In the 1920s, striped fabric became a popular pattern for women’s activewear. This was around the time when women were given permission to participate in some sports. Throughout the Prohibition era, gangsters like Al Capone were often seen sporting striped suits. In the mid-20th century, striped beachwear became a popular trend for men, women, and beach tents. Hippies, Punks, and Grunge anti-establishment subcultures favored the design in the 60s.


In the 1980s, Jean-Paul Gaultier first started using a striped pattern on the torso-shaped bottles of his ‘Toy Boy’ male fragrance collection. Since then, Gaultier has integrated marinière stripes into his collections.  Today stipes can be seen on everything from Adidas branded socks to pinstripe suits. They still, to some degree, portray a sense of rebelliousness. A subtle boldness and daringness. A tad bit of Je Ne Sais Quoi, if you will.

History of Striped Fabric I Cloth & Stitch