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Stripes in Menswear: Different Types and How to Wear Them

Striped Suits - Boardwalk EmpireMatt Letscher (left) as Joe Kennedy and Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in a still from Boardwalk Empire

Plaid and windowpane suits (with a chalk stripe in between) from 1936

 

 

 

Common Types of Stripes in Menswear

Common types of stripes in menswear; we’ll profile each of them below.

Stripes in Suits and Shirts - 1936

Vintage fashion illustration from 1936 – note that stripes are a pleasing pattern for both suits and shirts.

 

Types of Stripes: Balanced

Simple Two-Tone Stripes (Narrowest to Widest)

  • Bengal Stripes

    A two-color vertical pattern, with the background and stripe being of equal width. A Bengal stripe is broader than a chalk stripe and narrower than a candy stripe. Commonly done in white and one other color. An example of a balanced stripe. The fabric was originally shipped to world markets from Bengal (Calcutta), India. The term is used to describe shirt fabrics, but never suit fabrics.

 

  • Candy Stripes

    Equal-width stripes of a color and white on fabrics used for shirts and sportswear. A candy stripe is broader than a Bengal stripe, is usually done in white and one other color, and reminds many people of a candy cane.

    An example of candy stripes in blue.

    An example of candy stripes in blue.

  • Sandwich Stripes

    A nickname for a style of bold vertical stripes, usually about 0.5″ wide. Used to describe sports jackets, pants, and outerwear, but never shirts.

Sandwich Striped Jacket

Vintage fashion illustration from Esquire, April 1942 – This jacket featured sandwich stripes in alternating brown and natural (off-white) and was paired with flannel slacks in “brownstone” (a mixed weave of brown and grey).

  • Regency Stripes

    Vertical Stripes of equal width, most often associated in a historical context with Regency England. Like Bengal stripes, Regency stripes are often white alternating with another color, run vertically rather than horizontally, and can usually be classified as a balanced stripe. Unlike contemporary shirt stripes, however, Regency stripes are often rather oversized and can be as thick as an inch (or more).

    An example of regency stripes in light yellow.

    An example of regency stripes in light yellow.

  • Awning Stripes or Cabana Stripes

    Bold, vertical, balanced stripes that look like the material used for awnings and outdoor furniture, and are also commonly found in sportswear. Never used to describe shirt stripes.

    An example of awning stripes in forest green.

    An example of awning stripes in forest green.

  • Convict Stripes or Prison Stripes

    Extra-wide, black and white, horizontal stripes. The pattern was originally designed in the mid-18th century, with the idea of making escaped prisoners easily identifiable. Its use waned by the mid-20th century, by which point it was largely replaced by solid-color garments in orange or similar colors.

    A group of convicts in the Utah Penitentiary, 1880s.

    A group of convicts in the Utah Penitentiary, 1880s.

    Multicolored and/or Textured Stripes

    Rugby Stripes

    Horizontal stripes, similar in width to awning or prison stripes. Typically found on more informal shirts, especially those traditionally worn by rugby players (in which cases team colors would often be displayed). Common in either one color and white, or in two alternating colors. Also found as a pattern on knit ties (still in a horizontal orientation).

    An example of a rugby stripe in navy and white.

    An example of a rugby stripe in navy and white.

    • Track Stripes, Alternating Stripes, or Variegated Stripes

      A pattern in which the background color stays the same, but the color of the stripes does not. Frequently used in shirts.

      • Sometimes accented with single threads of another color (e.g. black) as a sort of outline, thus technically making them unbalanced in such cases.
    An example of alternating stripes in blue and orange (with black outline).

    An example of alternating stripes in blue and orange (with black outline).

    Seersucker (fabric)

    A vertically striped fabric in which some of the stripes pucker, an effect created in the weaving process. In construction, selected warp (vertical) yarns are pulled tight, while others are left loose, creating seersucker’s distinctive texture. Most often made of cotton, it launders easily, needs no ironing, and masks wrinkles, making it ideal for summer garments. Another fabric, plissé, achieves a similar wrinkled texture through a chemical coating.

    • Seersucker

      Seersucker fabric in green, illustrating its characteristic weave.

      • Hickory Stripe or Railroad Stripe (fabric)

        In the late 19th century, a type of heavyweight dark blue seersucker known as “hickory stripe” was used to make the overalls, jackets, and caps of train engineers and railroad workers. This cotton fabric was durable like denim and breathable like standard seersucker. Even today, some railroad companies incorporate this stripe into their uniforms.

    Railroad stripe fabric, with penny included to show the size of the weave.

    Railroad stripe fabric, with a penny included to show the size of the weave.

    The two-color versions are sometimes accented with a slimmer white stripe as a sort of outline, thus technically making them unbalanced in such cases.

    How Do You Wear Stripes?

    In the world of tailored clothing, stripes can be worn in many ways, but the choice depends on your personality and how much you like loud, bold patterns in your wardrobe.

    Shirts

    Striped shirts are usually a safe choice. If you want something restrained that pairs easily with a tie, a standard two-tone stripe, such as a Bengal stripe, is a good option. Even safer would be a pencil stripe or hairline stripe, in that these stripes of a very small scale can read as solids from a distance. Moving toward smart casual or business casual, try a candy stripe with a more muted, solid tie. For totally casual, tieless looks, choose candy stripes or Regency stripes in warm weather and multitrack stripes for winter.

    Bernhard Roetzel wearing a striped shirt, muted knit tie, and grey windowpane suit

    Bernhard Roetzel wearing a Bengal striped shirt, muted knit tie, and grey windowpane suit

    On the other hand, if you want to forget about playing it safe, go for a striped shirt with a striped jacket. It’s important to remember in this case that the sizes of the stripes on each garment should differ greatly (for example, a pencil-striped shirt with a sandwich-striped jacket). If the “density” of the patterns is too similar, they will not appear harmonious to the eye. Similarly, consider how prominent the pattern of your shirt is when choosing a tie. Solid color ties are a safe choice, but you could also try a tie that has a stripe of a different scale (regimental stripes, for example), or features a different type of pattern altogether.

    Esquire May 1938 - Multiple Paired Stripes

    Vintage fashion illustration from Esquire, May 1938 – Note the striped patterns in the tie, shirt, and suit.

    Jackets

    Stripes on a jacket can sometimes be a bold statement, though not always; generally, the broader the stripe, the bolder the effect. For example, if a jacket features brightly colored sandwich, awning, or blazer stripes, it will come across much more aggressively than one made up of muted pinstripes. Keep this in mind when choosing a jacket, and remember: try on a few options to compare their effects on your frame. For instance, a fine white pinstripe on a navy suit jacket remains conservative, but a cabana-striped summer sports coat or one with Roman stripes would be quite loud.  If there are bright colors or many colors, the jacket obviously becomes bolder. A navy hairline stripe on a grey jacket is easy to wear, but a pencil stripe would require more careful consideration.

    full canvas vintage rowing blazer made in England with red knit tie by Fort Belvedere

    Full-canvas vintage rowing blazer (made in England) with red knit tie by Fort Belvedere

    Whatever you choose, one thing you will notice with a striped jacket is how it creates the impression of a longer torso. Tailored menswear has always sought to flatter the male form through added visual suggestion; vertical lines over the chest draw the gaze upward. As a general practice, pair your patterned jacket (if it is not part of a suit) with solid trousers, to avoid clashing patterns. Regarding your choice of tie, you can follow two options of layering and either wear a solid tie or go pattern-on-pattern, which requires more skill.

     

    Rowing Blazers at Henley Royal Regatta, England

    Rowing blazers (with blazer stripes) worn with plain trousers – Henley Royal Regatta, England

    Suits

    Stripes are not as inherently bold as checks, and can be worn with slightly greater latitude in suits (as evidenced by the rich history of pinstripes and chalk stripes in white-collar professions). Therefore, their acceptability depends on the dress code of your office and how much you want to be noticed. Suits with broader chalk stripes (or “rope stripes”) are more risky, as the loud pattern can easily make your outfit look more like a costume. Italian style tends to be bolder in making use of striped suits, especially ones with regularly spaced patterns, but they are still difficult to carry off.

    Chalk stripe suit with navy tie and White Irish Linen Embroidered Contrast Framing Pocket square

    Chalk stripe suit with navy tie and White Irish Linen Embroidered Contrast Framing Pocket square

     

    Overcoats

    It is said that things you can’t get away with in a jacket, like large peak lapels and aggressive textures, are acceptable with an overcoat. The same goes for stripes. Even so, however, bold, wide stripes on an overcoat should be avoided, as when combined with a long, buttoned overcoat, you will appear to onlookers as one giant mass of large stripes. Instead, opt for a more reserved stripe, similar to one found on a well-made suit. Though always a statement, a subtly striped overcoat, worn with an otherwise reserved outfit, is likely to garner more style compliments than other garments that would be considered loud.

    Double Breasted Overcoat without scarf and popped collar - a very common trend at Pitti

    A striped, double-breasted overcoat, collar popped, worn only with a shirt – a very common trend at Pitti Uomo.

    Pants

    As mentioned above, striped pants worn with a plain jacket (either a cutaway coat or lounge coat) are a staple of proper morning dress. Outside of formal daywear, however, striped pants are somewhat less common as a standalone garment than their checked (or differently patterned) brethren. As such, those pairs that do exist often feature wider patterns in bright colors, and would best be characterized in such cases as a type of “go-to-hell pants” and worn in the same way, as a statement.

    Duke & Duchess of Windsor on their wedding day in morning dress

    The Duke of Windsor in formal trousers with morning stripes on his wedding day, 1937.

     

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