As synonymous with summer as sunshine and cocktails, fresh striped fabrics and designs never fall out of style.
Take a moment to look around you and down at what you’re wearing. Chances are, you’ll spy a striped pattern somewhere in view. Stripes certainly claim to be one of the most chameleonic and enduring patterns, adaptable to almost every aspect of our homes and clothing.
Here we explore the history of summer stripes, unearthing its humble origins in 18th century France, and trace this iconic pattern’s evolution over the last 100 years.
A Brief History of Summer Stripes
Although striped fabrics can trace their origins back to the 13th century (when it was the scandalous marker of prostitutes and musicians), it was only during the Industrial Revolution that stripes really started to make their mark in daily life.
Historically, striped fabrics were simple and cheap to manufacture, a result of either strips of cloth sewn together or woven as warp stripes into a durable fabric ideally suited to upholstery, mattresses, and utilitarian fabrics for the nautical industry. The latter’s most famous incarnation is ticking, which originated during the 18th century in the French city of Nîmes.
While striped fabric might have had a functional origin, stripes quickly became politicized through their association with French and American revolutionaries, who favored visually-dramatic and easily-assembled striped designs for flags and frock coats.
French revolutionaries are depicted wearing striped clothing while beating their drums and surrounding a guillotine in the late 1700s. Image courtesy of Historia/Shutterstock.
Perhaps as far from revolutionary stripes as can be achieved, one of the most enduring of stripes’ myriad personalities is that associated with the glamor of travel, and in particular, the French Riviera. Tracing its origins to the ticking fabrics long-produced in France, in the early 20th century, stripes became the backdrop to beach-set vacations, being used near-ubiquitously for deckchairs, umbrellas, and swimwear.
Classic summer stripes on the beaches of the French Riviera in Nice, France. Image by contributor Kirk Fisher.
Today, stripes’ twin affiliations with domesticity and revolution, vacations and social rebellion, have perhaps contributed to its adaptability and enduring appeal in fashion and interior design. At once both classic and punkish, there’s a style of stripe to suit every whim and personality.
Read on to discover more about the fascinating history of summer stripes over the last century, from the glamor of Riviera-set movies to its adoption by punk rockers.
1900-1930: Day at the Beach
In the early decades of the 20th century, the wealthy flocked to the European Riviera for the summer season. The novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald capture the excessive lifestyle and mood of the jet set crowd during the Jazz Age, who spent their days at the beach and nights at parties in nearby villas.
In the 1920s, the glamor of the Riviera enticed wealthy visitors from Europe and America. Cheerful stripes were the backdrop to French-set summer vacations. Image courtesy of George Hoyningen-Huene/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
Stripes, which had been an enduring feature of French textiles and fashion, were used on awnings, towels, deck chairs, and swimsuits, becoming a symbol of aspiration and jet set glamor in the process. Crisp red, green, or blue stripes were paired with white, making a nod to the pattern’s nautical associations. And, stripes made consistent appearances on the pages of high-end fashion publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair, either as a feature of couture clothing or in the hotel backdrops of atmospheric illustrations.
Red-and-white stripes feature on a beach umbrella in the backdrop of Vogue‘s illustrated August 1913 cover. Image courtesy of Will Hammell/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
1930-1950: The French Connection
In the pre-war years, the aspirational reputation of French fashion continued to grow in Europe and America, and stripes—as an intrinsic aspect of the country’s textile history—with it. During the 1930s, fashion designers experimented with different combinations of colors in striped fabrics, and brought classic French garments like the Breton (which had been the uniform of French seamen in the 19th century) to international, fashion-forward consumers.
Hollywood actor Madge Evans wears a striped top in the Breton fashion in a portrait for Vanity Fair in July 1933. Image courtesy of George Hurrell/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
While the 1940s saw stripes take on a nationalistic and utilitarian spirit, by the end of the decade, a renewed interest in nautical-themed designs for fashion and interiors signaled stripes’ return to the pattern of choice for vacations and family fun.
Vacation-ready stripes ushered in the optimistic mood of the post-war years. In 1947, Glamour Magazine featured cheerful red-and-white stripes and beach-ready swimsuits. Image courtesy of Constantin Joffe/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
1950-1960: Hollywood Adopts Stripes
By the start of the 1950s, France’s influence in the fashion world catapulted stripes into the realm of film, with homegrown stars like Brigitte Bardot and American movie icons like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn wearing stripes in the Hollywood titles that glamorized European travel.
A model wearing a glamorous, full-skirted red-and-white striped dress in California in 1955. Image courtesy of Clifford Coffin/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
This was the decade of the Americanization of stripes, with clean, patriotic tones of red, blue, and white being used to furnish houses and American prep culture (the name “prep” deriving from old, private, Northeastern college preparatory schools), adopting nautical stripes as the uniform of college students and wealthy weekend vacationers.
1960-1970: Pucci and Pop Art
The 60s were revisionist and rebellious in every way, and even the classic summer stripe was reimagined to cater for changing tastes. Stripes’ association with jet set glamor escalated during the 60s—a decade of increasingly affordable air travel—with designers seeking style influences from now-accessible locations like India and North Africa.
Emilio Pucci, Ottavio, and Rosita Missoni forged a new style of flamboyant, pattern-centric fashion that emerged in the textile-producing cities of Milan and Florence in Italy. Erratic, ultra-colorful stripes replaced the clean, nautical styles favored in the 1950s, with flowing tunics and palazzo trousers giving stripes a more louche and psychedelic personality.
Over in New York, bold stripes were used by pop artists, including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, to achieve a graphic, cartoon-strip effect in their work. The decade’s obsession with monochrome resulted in fluid-striped patterns that gave a mind-bending, optical illusion effect to editorial layouts and advertising.
1970-1980: Stripes in Punk Rock
Stripes had developed an intrinsic association with fashion over the 20th century and, in turn, increasingly with music, which developed its own spin-off fashion followings. The fashion and interior styles of the 1970s were largely defined by its music, with a huge variety of music genres and connected design styles emerging over the decade.
Used in the artwork for the Punk and, later, New Wave music movements, stripes found a new role in independent and alternative culture, albeit in unconventional color palettes of bright neons and high-contrast black-and-white. For many music artists of the time, stripes were a rebellious, eye-catching uniform for gigs. Stripes made for visually impactful stage costumes, which referenced the pattern’s historic connections with rebellion and revolution.
Musician Iggy Pop wearing a striped jacket in the pages of GQ in 1971. Image courtesy of Peter Hujar/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
1980-1990: Stripes as Currency
In the decade where everything was bling and brash, stripes shed their quaint vacation-village image, with fashion designers experimenting with bold, graphic color combinations and, of course, lashings of gold.
The modernist primary colors of previous decades were out, and bright neons, inky blacks, purples, and pinks were determinedly in. Candy hues were offset by black and gold in creations from fashion designers like Helmut Newton and Gianni Versace. What didn’t change? Stripes’ association with summer vacations still remained a strong theme of 1980s fashion, but this time its connections to wealth and excess were further exaggerated. And, the style of stripes mimicked the geometric, eye-popping style favored by the Memphis Group, a design style which originated in Italy in the early 1980s.
Supermodel Cindy Crawford models a Jean Paul Gaultier striped dress in a 1989 shoot for Vogue. Image courtesy of Wayne Maser/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
By the start of the 1990s, the Supers stormed the runways wearing striped creations by Jean Paul Gaultier (who was heavily influenced by French nautical fashion), and a nautical, sun-drenched approach to styling stripes was back on the agenda at high-fashion titles like Vogue.
The long-held association of stripes with vacations and European getaways was revisited at the start of the 1990s, as this 1992 Portofino-set photoshoot with Christie Turlington demonstrates. Image courtesy of Arthur Elgort/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
1990-2000: Grunge and Fashion Theater
Stripes revisited their revolutionary past during the 1990s, with a range of designers using striped patterns to create a hybrid fashion style that combined baroque elements with the emerging grunge style in music and fashion. Spearheading this style were maverick designers Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, who used stripes in a punk-influenced, anarchic way.
In the early 1990s, John Galliano used stripes to play up the revolutionary and rebellious spirit of his grunge-meets-historic fashion designs. This portrait is taken from Galliano’s “Olivia the Filibuster” Spring/Summer 1993 collection. Image courtesy of Guy Marineau/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
The antithesis to Calvin Klein and Jil Sander’s ultra-minimalism, these striped designs were the uniform of cool and anti-corporate metropolitans who listened to grunge and indie music.
Janine Giddings and Patricia Hartmann wear grunge-influenced striped Comme des Garcons dresses in Miami, May 1993. Image courtesy of Arthur Elgort/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
2000-2010: Stripes Go Global
After grunge deconstructed the preppy personality of summer stripes, the 2000s weren’t ready to welcome back classical stripes just yet. Stripe patterns went micro and multi-colored, inspired by the modish style promoted by British designer Paul Smith. Simultaneously, global travel sparked interest in indigenous striped patterns and fabrics.
Micro-minis and micro-stripes were big news in the the early 2000s. Model Karolina Kurkova wears a bandeau top and mini skirt by Emilio Pucci in June 2002. Image courtesy of Arthur Elgort/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
The resulting Boho style that dominated fashion over this decade used many of these historic patterns for commercial gains—a form of appropriation that would, perhaps, not go unquestioned today. But, this relaxed approach to stripes was widely influential across fashion, interiors, and products in this decade.
The Boho boom in fashion resulted in a softer take on summer stripes, with designers seeking influences from a variety of cultures worldwide. This fashion shoot from 2006 captures the wanderlust mood of the later part of the decade. Image courtesy of Arthur Elgort/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
Towards the end of the 2000s, sportswear became more dominant as a fashion style. Stripes, with their association with sports teams and outdoor pursuits, were a natural fit for summer collections.
Tennis superstar Serena Williams wearing a striped shirt in 2005. Image courtesy of Arthur Elgort/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
2010-Today: The Return of Preppy Summer Stripes
As we have discovered in our century-long timeline, stripes hold a remarkably enduring appeal for designers. In recent years, we’ve seen designers look back on stripes’ early 20th century role as a visual symbol of vacations and summertime.
In particular, designers have returned to preppy stripes across fashion, design, and music. Taylor Swift, a longtime fan of stripes, uses nautical-inspired patterns to make a nod to a nostalgic and nautical mood in her music videos. Fashion houses like Gucci, led by Alessandro Michele, used stripes to playful and eclectic effect in recent collections, combining this iconic pattern with other nostalgic prints.
A model walks the runway at the Spring/Summer 2016 Gucci show. Image by contributor FashionStock.com.
Alongside this, the growth of the LGBTQ+ community and Pride events worldwide has ensured that rainbow palettes are a widespread feature across fashion, branding, and social media, as well as music and events.
Cardi B performing at the Made In America Festival, Philadelphia, in 2019. Image courtesy of Daniel DeSlover/ZUMA Wire/Shutterstock.
With summer just around the corner, it’s time to give your designs a seasonal refresh. Find inspiration for your summer marketing campaigns, photography projects, and graphic design work:
How to Put Joy in a Photo: Summer Glamour CoversCreating Diverse Summer Stock Photos with Photographer Carlos David6 Summer Marketing Ideas for Fresh Seasonal Campaigns10 Fresh, FREE, Fantastic Rainbow Color PalettesWhat Will Be the Song of Summer 2021?
Cover image courtesy of Horst P Horst/Condé Nast/Shutterstock.
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