A brief history of pinstripes

11 December 2017

"Pinstripes started with trend; their origins the subject of much debate in menswear circles."

With all menswear standards, it’s hard to fathom that during their creation they could be considered radical, controversial even. It was Roman Emperor, Claudius who said, “Everything we now believe to be the essence of tradition, was a novelty once.” Pinstripes are no exception. Now a menswear staple, pinstripes started with trend; their origins the subject of much debate in menswear circles. Step back in time as we share with you the pinstripe suit's history and how it evolved from rebel to menswear mainstay.

We’ve told you before how to wear them, but when were pinstripe suits popular? Their veritable history began in the Nineteenth Century when London City boys weren’t the rough-rousing, buy low, sell high types of today. Banking was a gentleman’s trade and each wore morning dress with a tailcoat with striped trousers to match—a sophisticated uniform rather than a daggy cardigan and clip-on tie. Each bank had its own distinctive stripes, which became the catalyst for the two and three-piece versions we know today. Others suggest boaters of the 1890s invented the pinstripe suit. Think Henley Regatta with striped blazers and matching straw hats transitioning from the river into a gentleman’s classic attire.

Pinstripe suits gained popularity in America in the 1920s and ‘30s, but largely with the less salubrious types of the Prohibition Era. Favoured by gangsters and musicians alike, Al Capone and Dizzy Gillespie made flashy strides in their pinstriped zoot suits, sipping bathtub gin in smoky speakeasies. Films like "Gone with the Wind" popularised the look in the mainstream thanks to actors, Cary Grant and Clark Gable, but it was Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister and World War II stalwart who became their most famous wearer. Accustomed to morning dress from his days at Blenheim Palace, he was never without his pinstriped trousers and trusty cigar. Cut to 1987 and Sir Winston’s fervour could only be eclipsed by the fictional character, Gordon Gecko played by Michael Douglas in the film “Wall Street”. Another trend began with wide lapels, fast cash and high flash.

These days pinstripes are more subdued and come in a range of colours rather than the traditional black and white, or navy and white. The silhouette is redefined and a pinstripe is far less likely to suggest Eighties tycoon than style maven. Explore the full range of pinstriped cloths at Oscar Hunt at your next appointment and see how they can step up your style game.

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