Stripe patterns have always been a favourite of mine. You will see stripes all over the place in my life: in my clothing, my décor and especially in the hats I design for my cartoon horse Hattingdon®.

The Genevieve hat designed by ©Vivian Grant Farrell for Hattingdon®.
The Genevieve tri colour stripe hat design by ©Vivian Grant Farrell for Hattingdon®.

The Betsy stars and stripes hat design created by ©Vivian Grant Farrell for Hattingdon®.
The Betsy stars and stripes hat design created by ©Vivian Grant Farrell for Hattingdon®.

Hannah multi stripe winter cap. Created by ©Vivian Grant Farrell exclusively for Hattingdon Horses®.
Hannah multi stripe winter cap. Created by ©Vivian Grant Farrell exclusively for Hattingdon Horses®.

It is only recently however I became even more aware of how often I use stripes.

This led me to wonder about the origin of stripes and how they ended up in our homes and in our wardrobes; how they came to be so popular and so widely used. Does it go back to caveman days? Medieval times? Or are stripes much more recent?

Stripes do have a long, long history — such a long history that a man called Michel Pastoureau wrote a book about it, interestingly called, “The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes”. [1]  You can tell by the book’s title that stripes have come a long way baby.  For our purposes here concerning my hat designs for Hattingdon, let’s look at stripes in fashion.

Stripes in Fashion

Unmade writes:

In Michel Pastoureau’s comprehensive book, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes, the author details how in the Middle Ages, wearing stripes was a perilous act.

At that time, striped clothing was considered ‘demeaning, pejorative, or clearly diabolic’ and was worn by social outcasts, such as prostitutes, jugglers, clowns and cripples.

Pastoureau traces back to a group of Carmelite monks, who donned brown and white striped cloaks. Their dress was thought to be inspired by the prophet Eiljah, who supposedly vanished into the sky on a chariot of fire, leaving behind a habit singed with brown stripes.

When the monks arrived in Paris from Palestine, their uniform saw them nicknamed les frères barrés or barred brothers, and they were assaulted wherever they went. They resisted 25 years of orders from eleven successive popes to give up their cloaks, but were forced to find an alternative when Pope Boniface VIII banned striped clothing from all religious orders in 1295.

Pastoureau was not able to prove a link, but bold stripes went on to become inmates’ prison uniform in the US in the 1800s. Horizontal stripes in black and white were adopted to signify the enclosure of the prison cell, and made its wearer easily identifiable should he (women prisoners were not given striped clothing) succeed in escaping. Many states in America began to abolish the graphic uniform early in the 20th century as its use as a badge of shame was considered undesirable. [2]

Unmade continues:

Ahoy there! All hail the Breton, via Coco Chanel

The classic navy blue and white striped tees that we know today originate from the French coastal region of Brittany. The 1958 Act of France saw navy seamen in the area given a striped woven top bearing 21 horizontal stripes (one for each of Napoleon’s victories) as a uniform, known as a matelot or marinière.

The garment was born out of functionality: the boat neckline allowed sailors to dress quickly and to spot an overboard shipmate (and firmly blew any prison-like connotations out of the water).

Coco Chanel (left) and Audrey Hepburn (right) in stripes. Via Jadorais.
Coco Chanel (left) and Audrey Hepburn (right) in stripes. Via Jadorais. Chanel was the iconic figure who first introduced striped shirts to women’s fashion in 1917 after being inspired by the outfits worn by French sailors. 

The official Breton top, manufactured locally in wool and in cotton, was eventually adopted by many sailors across the region of northern France, and it was upon a visit to the coast that fashion designer Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel came across it. The seamen’s attire inspired her to create a nautical-themed collection in 1917, which was stocked in her boutique in the wealthy holiday resort of Deauville in Normandy.

Chanel favoured masculine silhouettes to empower her female clientele, and was pictured sporting one of her lose-fitting Breton tops tucked into a pair of wide-leg trousers. High society soon cottoned on and members of the upper class adopted these stripy tops under blazers. [3]

The rest, as they say is history.

Look at this super chic dress from Carolina Herrera’s 2018 Resort Collection. I am mad crazy in love with it.

Striped dress from the From the 2018 Carolina Herrera Resort Collection. Source: Fashionisers online.
Striped dress from the from the 2018 Carolina Herrera Resort Collection. Source: Fashionisers online.

Unmade further tells us:

Stripes on Screen

By the mid-century, the Breton top became the uniform of the hipster, a sort of signifier of countercultural cool. Young creatives congregating around the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood in Paris owned one, as did Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Their attire influenced the beatniks over in the United States – doubtless an easy way to tap into that French je ne sais quoi. The Breton then landed in Hollywood by way of motorcycle hooligan Marlon Brando in the 1953 film, The Wild One. A photograph of actress Jean Seberg, sporting a classic striped top and her famous pixie haircut on the set of The Mouse That Roared, made for an iconic image.

Style muses Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot both bolstered the appeal of stripes and by the 1960s, they were de rigueur for artist Andy Warhol and his Factory entourage. Punk rock band The Ramones wore theirs under leather biker jackets in the 1970s. The Breton was never exclusive, but appealed to those who chose to make a subtle statement with their attire. [4]

And lastly for us, Unmade writes:

High Fashion

Half a century after Coco Chanel put nautical stripes at the forefront of fashion, a handful of emerging designers added their own spin to the distinctive pattern. Italian fashion house Missoni is best known for its bold knitted pieces, with stripes and chevron patterns as its signature. [5]

Alexa Hattingdon®hat. Created by ©Vivian Grant Farrell.
Alexa Hattingdon®hat. Created by ©Vivian Grant Farrell.

So you see, Hattingdon is in very good company. And therefore so am I!

Examples of stripes used in high fashion by top brands around the world continues, much to my delight and millions of others.


[1]  “The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes”, by Michel Pastoureau,

[2], [3], [4] and [5], “A History of Stripes in Fashion“,

If you are a striped textile freak like me check out the Unmade website cited in this post. There’s loads of other material out there too. So fun!

Related Reading

Find out more about Hattingdon® at our Hat-Story »



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s