Of the Moment

Everything You Need to Know About Stripes

Reminiscent of the French Riviera, the cabana stripe recalls memories of sun-kissed skin and beachy waves. But where did this connotation come from — and has that always been the case? Read on to find out.

Photo: Slim Aarons

The Devil's Cloth

Horizontal stripes are historically associated with incarceration.

Photo: Wikipedia

According to a legend from 1310, a cobbler in the French town of Rouen was condemned to death because he ''had been caught in striped clothes." His harsh fate probably owed something to the fact that he was also a member of the local clergy. But even for Europe's unordained citizenry, the Middle Ages were a time when wearing stripes of any kind was punishable by death.

"Stripes were the devil's clothing," says Michel Pastoureau, author of The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes. "The dress of prostitutes, of hangmen. They were considered transgressive.''

Revived By Royalty 

Napoleon Bonaparte had a striped tented room added to the Château de Malmaison, which is located a few miles west of Paris. The beautiful palace was once home to Josephine and Napoléon Bonaparte and briefly served the seat of the French government.

Courtesy of Architectural Digest

Around the time of the American and French Revolutions, stripes took off and appeared on walls, drapes, sheets and furniture. Under the rule of Napoléon Bonaparte, it was considered chic to receive your guests in a striped Egyptian-inspired tent set up in the living room.

While the diabolic stripes of the Middle Ages were mostly horizontal, these status-enhancing modern stripes tended to be vertical, the difference between ostracism and acceptance.

Modern Origins

Edward VII and Coco Chanel embracing the nautical and making the stripe a fashion staple

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Though stripes were originally worn by those outside of the social order — prostitutes, servants, and criminals — this connotation did not last forever. Near the end of the 1800s, Queen Victoria dressed her son in a sailor suit during a royal event. This marine motif slowly took off, and the navy striped sailor outfit was born. While on holiday in the French Riviera, Coco Chanel was inspired by these sailor uniforms and created her 1917 nautical collection — bringing the cabana stripe to the forefront of fashion.

Today, a Timeless Classic

Photo: The Inside

Today, cabana stripes are known for their relatively wide pattern. They bring playful pattern and color into a space in a way that's bold but not overpowering.

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