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Origins of Style – A Brief History of the Pinstripe Suit

The pinstripe suit came into being around the end of the nineteenth century and has been in fashion pretty much ever since. Originally made famous by stylish Brits, the suit would become increasingly popular throughout the globe as men (and later, women too) wanted to project an image of sophistication and class through their choice of suit.

Where did the pinstripe come from?

As with most sartorial origin stories, there is a degree of controversy over how the pinstripe suit came into existence. In fact, the only thing that everyone is able to agree on is that the pinstripe was definitely an English invention. Beyond that, two schools of thought emerge, one that suggests the iconic suit began life in the world of banking, the other that prefers the notion that it actually became popular after its use in popular sporting activities of the day.

The banking theory has it that the pinstripe was a kind of uniform for English Victorian bankers and that the difference in the thickness and distances between stripes was a way of indentifying employees from different banking institutions. The sporting hypothesis sees the pinstripes as evolving out of the striped uniforms worn by men who liked messing about on water. Boating was an extremely popular pursuit in the 19th century, as was banking, so neither theory is unreasonable.

The rise of the pinstripe

The popularity of pinstripe suits grew rapidly once it had spread across the Atlantic, taking American culture by storm in ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. The suit became the unofficial uniform of the Prohibition era, beloved of the ultra-stylish and anoyone who wanted to stand out from the crowd and make a bold statement. Naturally then it was popular not only with film stars and jazz musicians, but also with gangsters, the most famous of which of course was Al Capone.

After Prohibition the suit became even more mainstream when huge stars such as Clark Gable and Cary Grant continued to popularise it. It is said that the pinstripe suit that Clark Gable’ wore in Gone with the Wind influenced the emergence of the flamboyant, flared-trousers, padded-shouldered zoot suit.

The modern pinstripe

These days the pinstripe is everywhere. It is still a part of mainstream sartorial culture and is one of a myriad of style options available to the modern man, or woman. In fact, the pinstripe has definitely crossed the gender divide and has become a basic component of women’s clothing, particularly in business, where it remains especially popular with both genders.