To Modoo’s mind, “Striped suits are associated with more
creative roles in the arts and antiquities.” Browsing classic
imagery of gentlemen in striped suits from the early
20th century lends credence to Modoo’s claim that the
pinstripe is more the realm of the right-brained imagineer than the
stuffy number-cruncher. Composers Richard Strauss and George
Gershwin, writer Rudyard Kipling, singer Enrique Caruso, actor
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., crooner Bing Crosby — this is the sort of
fellow you’d see stepping out in pinstripes during the first few
decades of the 1900s.
Striped blazers were also often donned at rowing regattas of the
day (a tradition that continues). These are almost certainly the
wellspring of the summery, resort-friendly, lightweight pinstriped
tailoring that was worn on the French Riviera and in Palm Beach,
Florida, during the 1920s and ’30s. In this laidback environment,
pinstripes were frequently worn as separates.
It’s an approach Modoo favours today. “Like many at the moment,
I am avoiding ‘fixed suits’ with no separate intrinsic value,” he
says. “I prefer a chalkstriped suit in flannel over a hard worsted,
as it can be broken up. The jacket looks elegant with cream gabs or
flannels and the trousers should be combined with knitwear.”
In the United States, pinstripes became a craze in baseball
during the 1910s, with pinstriped uniforms worn by the Giants, the
Cubs, and most famously, adopted in reversed-out navy blue by the
New York Yankees. Though legendary baller Babe Ruth joined the team
a little after they’d settled on the stripe, many believe this
styling’s permanent status was cemented thanks to the fact it made
Ruth’s portly frame appear slimmer.
The longstanding association between gangsters and pinstripes
started around the same time as sluggers’. Growing rich and, in
many cases, fat thanks to the vast profits bootlegging brought in
during Prohibition, criminal kingpins took to striped tailoring
that not only lent an illusion of diminished girth, but resembled
the sartorial style of the legitimate businessmen they sought to
emulate. That’s not to say pinstripes were solely favoured by
chunky crooks; slim crims such as handsome psychopath Benjamin
‘Bugsy’ Siegel equally enjoyed a few cheeky lines.
During the Second World War, pinstripes were widely adopted by
the political elite — allies President Franklin D. Roosevelt and
Prime Minister Winston Churchill among them. The great British
wartime leader was famously pictured looking gangster indeed,
wearing pinstripes and wielding a Tommy gun in 1940.
In fact, pinstripes’ connection to gunslingers extended way back
to America’s frontier days. Most known photographs of Sheriff Pat
Garrett, the Old West lawman, show him in upright striped
tailoring. Illustrated accounts suggest Garrett wore pinstripes
when he gunned down the notorious Billy the Kid in 1881. Two
members of The Wild Bunch (including Harry ‘Sundance’ Longabaugh)
sport pinstripes in a 1904 portrait of the outlaw gang, who’d go on
to be portrayed onscreen in the iconic Paul Newman / Robert Redford
film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It’s safe to say that classic movie’s aesthetic wasn’t far from
Ralph Lauren’s mind when he created the RRL line. Stroll into any
of that brand’s wonderfully anachronistic boutiques today and
you’ll see pinstriped garments coupled with everything from denim
cowboy shirts and plaid flannels to Native American motifs and
Scottish tweed. Proof positive, pinstripe is far more versatile and
multifaceted than you might’ve thought. Take that to the bank.