Although some might say they’ve never gone out of fashion, pinstriped suits are definitely enjoying something of a resurgence. Whereas they were once synonymous with the dog-eat-dog world of Wall Street banking – think Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko – or 1920’s gangsters such as Al Capone, over the decades stripes have drifted in and out of fashion. However, thanks to recent collections from Prada and Louis Vuitton, it looks like pinstripes are back.
The history of the pinstripe suit
The pinstripe suit has long been a staple of men’s tailoring, synonymous with classic elegance and professional attire. Its history can be traced back to the early 19th century, where it emerged as a sartorial choice for the British upper class, making pinstripes the suit of choice for those in power.
The origin of the pinstripe pattern itself can be attributed to the banking industry in the City of London’s financial district. In the late 18th century, English clothiers began to experiment with weaving fine lines into their fabrics, resulting in the creation of subtle vertical stripes. These stripes were initially seen as a practical way to identify one’s suit when visiting the tailor for alterations or repairs, whilst the distance between the stripes was also used to differentiate between Victorian banks.
However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the pinstripe suit gained widespread popularity. Stripes became closely associated with the British banking and legal professions, symbolising authority, professionalism, and financial success. The pinstripes were typically thin and evenly spaced, running vertically down the suit trousers and jacket, often in shades of grey or navy blue.
During the interwar period, the pinstripe suit made its way across the Atlantic to the United States, where it was embraced by Wall Street financiers and gangsters alike. It became a symbol of power and status in the world of high finance, worn by executives and brokers in prestigious investment firms. The pinstripe suit became a visual representation of Wall Street’s influence, contributing to the notion of the “power suit.”
Over the decades, the pinstripe suit has evolved – Mick Jagger or Serge Gainsbourg in the 1970s spring to mind – whilst still managing to maintain a classic appeal. Designers have experimented with different stripe widths, colours, and even diagonal pinstripes, offering variations on the traditional style. The pinstripe pattern has also found its way into other garments, such as shirts, ties, and even casual wear, providing a touch of sophistication to a whole host of outfits.
Getting the most out of the stripe
Wearing a pinstripe suit in the modern age is all about cut and balance balance. The key is to let the suit do the talking so keep things simple. Pair it with a crisp white shirt for a classic look, or a pastel-coloured shirt for a more contemporary feel. When it comes to ties, solid colours are best as otherwise you’ll find your tie is fighting the stripes. For after work drinks simply remove the tie and undo the top two buttons of your shirt, or if you’re looking to make it casual, team up the pinstripes with a turtle neck and sneakers.
The summer months don’t have to mean putting away the pinstripes. When the temperatures climb you’ll need to be grave and opt for a white or cream pinstripe but proceed with caution: don’t go for a bold or dark stripe; a pale grey, thin stripe works much better. Fabric is important too when wearing pinstripes in summer and this is something our tailors are happy to offer advice on.
We asked two of members of the Norton & Townsend team how they’d wear pinstripes:
Graham Hall, our London Tailor said he’d go for a blue pinstripe suit, remembering that not all shades of cobalt have to be dark. If it’s summer, a light blue pinstripe can really brighten up a room and to bring depth to the ensemble, pair your suit with a tie in a lighter or deeper shade, consider adding a salmon or hazel tint to the mix for fresh twist. A colour wheel is your friend here if you’re not sure what to match with open colours. According to Graham, this is the perfect option to bring a touch of sophistication to any event and is guaranteed to ensure you look dashing.
According to Richard Jupp, our Travelling Tailor, opting for a grey or charcoal pinstripe gives instant sophistication and complements every skin tone. Choosing grey doesn’t limit your options as there are a myriad of options to choose from, so make the most of it by enhancing the tine with complementary colours such as shades of blue or purple. Pick the shade you like the best and enjoy the feeling as every eye follows you!
Cut is king
Remember that however you wear your pinstripes, a perfect fit is paramount. A pinstripe suit is more than just a piece of clothing. It’s a statement, a piece of history, and a testament to the enduring appeal of classic men’s fashion. If you’re going to wear pinstripes, wear them well. Whether you’re stepping into a boardroom or attending a special event, a pinstripe suit from Norton & Townsend, made to fit you and only you, is sure to make you stand out from the crowd.