Pinstripes: A suit for all ages

Man wearing dark blue pinstripe suit

The pinstripe is a smart sartorial staple
Image source: Wikimedia

The pinstripe suit really is the quintessential outfit for any discerning gentlemen.

It’s been worn by many style leaders. Film stars like Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart helped to popularise the look. Winston Churchill favoured a pinstripe, even on his siren suit. Now, modern self-made man Alan Sugar and even pop stars like Harry Styles cut a cool pinstripe dash.

Striped suits have been around for a century, and come in two varieties: pinstripe and chalk stripe. The chalk stripe is a broader stroke, akin to a line of chalk dragged down the fabric, while a pinstripe is much thinner, closer to the width of a pin pricked down the suit.

True pinstripe is made with a single warp thread per stripe, creating a series of dots, whereas the chalk stripe is several strands thick, resembling a rope when viewed up close.

But however you wear them, the two very similar styles make for a timeless look that is simultaneously commanding and complementary.

An uncertain history

sepia photo of two men, one wearing striped blazer

One suggested origin of the pinstripe suit was from early boating blazers
Image source: Pinkyogamuffin/Flickr

For such a solid, businesslike fashion, the pinstripe suit has rather murky origins. It seems that no-one’s truly certain how it came into being.

One idea is that it evolved from boating blazers fashionable with socialites and university students at the end of the 19th century, gradually being formalised into the fine stripes we see today.

And those dapper gents at Above the Ankles have an interesting theory:

“Bankers wanted to show who they worked for but didn’t want to ruin their gentlemanly look. Since 99.99% of men wore long overcoats and a hat everywhere they went, tailors came up with a way to show off which firm the bankers worked for by giving each firm its own design in striped trousers.”

At first seen as a bit flash, worn by spivs and gangsters, pinstripe was later picked up by movie stars and men of distinction. By the 1980s it was firmly ensconced as the staple of any power dressers’ wardrobe, possibly in part due to Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street. Pinstripes became inextricably linked with bankers and businessmen.

A timeless classic

Man in dark blue pinstripe suit

If you want to look the business, get a pinstripe suit
Image source: Menswear Style

Whatever its origins, the pinstripe suit has now become a classic, transcending fluctuating fashions and giving the wearer added gravitas.

A formal fashion must-have, it’s worn for business meetings and weddings alike. The versatile stripe is at home pretty much anywhere.

In their run down of key boardroom fashion, the bloggers at Menswear Style say:

“The navy pin stripe is an essential. The key to looking great in pin stripe is to think less Gordon Gecko and more slick London.”

And as well as exuding confidence and acumen, pinstripes have a very practical purpose. It’s commonly known that vertical stripes help to elongate the figure, and have a slimming effect which flatters most forms.

Always in fashion

Man in pinstripe suit with elaborate buttonaire

A suit for all occasions
Image: Elizabeth Irvine/Flickr

The pinstripe suit has come a long way since its flashy and confused beginnings, and has now become a suit for all occasions.

While their popularity may rise and fall, vertical stripes will never truly lose their appeal. Although at the moment, chalk stripes are edging slightly ahead of the older, more staid pins in popularity. But it’s not over for the pinstripe by any means; all stripes are in the ascendancy. Fashion writer Ted Stansfield notes on Fashion Beans:

“Finally free from its negative power dressing banker and Prohibition gangster connotations, this classic motif has never looked more relaxed, contemporary or, frankly, cooler.”

The pinstripe is safely out of the wardrobe and in the forefront of everyone’s mind as a suit for all seasons. But how, and where, do you wear yours? Let us know over at our Facebook page.

Posted in Men's Suits.