Until the 18th century, the stripe was the mark of infamy, worn by jesters, convicts and even prostitutes. In short, it denoted marginalized people. Striped fabric inspired mistrust. Not only did it suggest the dual nature of the wearer, but, clearly visible and easy to spot, it was imposed on those whom the forces of public order wanted to monitor. Then came the French Revolution, and stripes became fashionable, a symbol of freedom. At the same time, the French navy, the bulk of which was made up of Bretons, adopted stripes alongside the development of the famous sweater called the “marinière” (a Breton sweater in English).

The sailors’ uniform was defined by an official act in 1858: “The body shall have 21 white stripes, each twice as wide as the 20 or 21 navy blue stripes”. Each of the 21 stripes corresponds to a victory won by Napoleon Bonaparte. Initially, white was alternated with indigo for economic reasons, indigo thread, an organic color, was very expensive. But it wasn’t just about appearance: the stripes made it possible to spot a man who had fallen overboard. The notched collar, known as the “boat neck”, makes the garment easy to take off and put on.

From Chanel to Gaultier

At the end of the First World War, at the beginning of the Roaring Twenties, Coco Chanel sensed the potential of the sailor top: its high visibility made it attractive. It evokes the sea, travel, holidays. It adapts to the unisex ideal that, in her desire to liberate women, Chanel wanted to offer her clients. This is how her “Nautical Collection” was launched in 1917, a true exercise in style dominated by marine stripes, but on silk, after all, luxury demands refinement!

Closer to home, given his incorrigible nostalgia for times when women asserted themselves through clothing, Jean-Paul Gaultier in turn made the sailor top part of his creative identity. How could he have resisted the versatility, the masculine-feminine side of these stripes, as well as the hint of the sun and wind? Yves Saint Laurent famously regretted not having invented jeans. The marinière is of the same order as jeans, a universal garment that we ultimately wear like sailors, one in which to be seen and – perhaps – to be fished out of the waters wearing.

Star of the summer

Finally, the stripe is also exotic, especially when on bayadère fabric where the stripes, this time multicolored, are of unequal width. Imported by the Portuguese from their trading posts in the Indies, bayadère (from bailadeira: dancer) was part of the costume of the servants of the Hindu temples who danced and sang in religious processions.

It came to be that with their fresh, Atlantic, marine, equatorial, gender fluid, sensual, spiritual, and above all very flashy flair, stripes are the stars of every summer.

This season, stripes are stylized at Elie Saab, graphic at Bottega Veneta, sexy at Celine, sporty at Prada, thanks to the brand’s collaboration with Adidas, op’art and conceptual at Jean-Paul Gaultier, vintage and pastel at Jill Sander, bohemian at Undercover, quilted at Roni Helou, glittery at Chanel, fluid at Dior.

 Whatever the stripe, dare to show your own, whether they be racing stripes, longitudinal lines, or stripes of irreverence, don’t forget that, since time immemorial, they have always made the difference.