The SSENSE Editors’ Alphabetical Taxonomy of Stripes
From A to Z, via Conor McGregor, Thom Browne, and Lil Uzi Vert
- Text: SSENSE Editors
Off-White’s diagonal street-sign stripes. Issey Miyake's dimensional stripes. Fassbinder’s Querelle. Stars and stripes. Earning your stripes. A tiger who can’t change its stripes. Nautical stripes. Flattering stripes, unflattering stripes. A fine line, a bold band. A streamlined racing stripe, a slow-melting optical illusion. A stripe to obscure, a stripe to emphasize. The SSENSE editors go overboard, and put together an alphabetical taxonomy of all things striped.
The suffix “ette” usually denotes a comparatively smaller size (like kitchenette or cigarette) or is used to undermine the female version (like Smurfette) or conversely reclaim it (like Suffragette). Oddly, the Adidas Adilette, which made its debut in 1972 at the Munich Olympics, seems to live outside the limits of its suffix origin—it’s just a comfortable, wonderfully contoured, fast-drying slide. It’s perfect for running to the store for Gatorade and Advil, for showering in a locker room, for kicking-off poolside. Still, one could argue the suffix implies another use: “ette” signifying a term of endearment. As though the Adilette is Adidas’ kid sibling. The brand’s scrappy and rascally totally susceptible, and too-impatient-to-lace little brother or sister.
Giving the impression of great depth and movement with something as unremarkable as lines of ink is, coincidentally, really quite remarkable. It’s sick—literally—a state of being that the work of Bridget Riley inadvertently elicits. Nausea, vertigo, motion-sickness, the bends—all from some tastefully manipulated stripes.
Before digital editing allowed for pixilation, the go-to method of hiding something illicit was to simply slap a black stripe over it. In the era of nude selfies and Instagram guidelines, this post-production addition has become something of an outfit in itself.
Diagonals cut corners. They splice a square into two shapes with three sides rather than two boring rectangles. Diagonals are efficient. They’re the pathway at fancy crosswalks that lead you to the kitty corner without having to wait for two lights. They’ve yet to lend their merits, however, to a garment—popping up sporadically every decade serving more to enhance trompe l’oeil, rather than flatter.
Eleanor Mustang Racing Stripe
Eleanor is a 1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof, and she is also a movie star, one of the most famous automobile actors there is, known for her supporting role in 1974’s Gone in 60 Seconds. Eleanor is a car that is about speed, yellow with a thick black stripe down the middle, another stripe running along her side. And the casting of Eleanor as a Mustang is apt, given that the American manufacturer was the first to take racing stripes off of the track and onto city cars.
F*ck You Pinstripe Suit, Conor McGregor
Last summer, MMA fighter Conor McGregor appeared at the first McGregor vs. Mayweather media event wearing a custom-fitted pinstripe suit and a pink tie. On closer inspection, the stripes weren’t solid lines, but micro-font spelling out “Fuck You” over and over in a vertical pattern. And so, somehow, stripes aided in the firing of shots—although the stint may have backfired, as Mayweather (of course) beat McGregor in a TKO during the 10th round, maintaining his undefeated title, breaking world records, and collecting potentially the biggest paycheck in sports history (an estimated 300 million dollars in approximately 36 minutes) before retiring (again), once and for all.
Giorgio Beverly Hills Boutique on Rodeo Drive
Founded in 1961, the Giorgio Beverly Hills was, as the name proposes, pure luxury. Total ritz! Beaded Halston! DVF wraps! The boutique was located on Rodeo Drive and housed an oak bar, a pool room, and a reading room, expressly for the husbands; the idea being that the men needed entertainment (of the manly kind), while the women played and paid with plastic. Women like Princess Grace. Diana Ross. Greta Garbo. Elizabeth Taylor. Women, who, we imagine, were shopping solo anyways—enjoying the oak bar and the reading room for themselves. The boutique’s iconic yellow-and-white-striped awning was used to brand everything from the boutique’s custom perfume to its beach towels, t-shirts, and gym bags—situating its impact as not merely nostalgic but prophetic, and way ahead of the merch-curve.
In the early aughts, a trend that came to be referred to as “hesh” leaked gently into the mainstream. Tied closely to skateboarding in the Pacific Northwest, it was recognized by a few key aesthetic distinctions: straightened dyed (and dirty) black hair, errant threads or leather cords tied around the wrist as bracelets, jeans tailored too-tight, sporadic occurrences of vintage military gear or studded vests, and almost always, red and white striped tops. Be it inspiration of the sailing ilk, 80s thrash metal, French New Wave, or the Ramones, the concept of the subversive maverick is tied rather peculiarly to stripes.
Issey Miyake Pleats Please
Pleats are just 3D stripes. You can touch and manipulate them and somehow they always bounce back. Issey Miyake is the undisputed king of pleats. A monochromatic, relaxed Homme Plissé Issey Miyake suit offers its wearer the ability to be covered in stripes without wearing a pattern at all. That’s what we call a low-key stripe concept.
Jean Paul Gaultier
The classic striped boatneck was invented as a uniform for seamen so they might be easily spotted in the ocean if they fell overboard. Two centimeters of white, one centimeter of navy. Jean Paul Gaultier grabbed onto this look like a lifesaver and never looked back. Stripes and sexy-nautica are inextricable from Gaultier’s brand, perhaps single-handedly responsible for sustaining the kink in the Breton bateau.
Kanye’s College Dropout Era Rugbys
“Ralph Lauren was boring before I wore him,” once quipped Kanye West. Although this statement is not true, and hip-hop had been wearing Ralph and Polo with pizazz for at minimum a decade, Kanye did take back-to-school style and make it a visual synonym for his name throughout his scholarly years, from The College Dropout to Graduation. The era was all pastels and primary colors, backpacks and frat-boy attire. And always with the striped rugby. Although Kanye is now dressing more like he’s in Pre-K, with scribbly t-shirts and baby shoes, preppy stripes remain an essential feature of the WASPy collegiate look that hip-hop continues to turn on its head.
Lil Uzi Vert “Controversial” Striped Shirt
In May of 2017 Lil Uzi Vert was documented wearing a striped long-sleeve, buttons on one side left open to reveal one shoulder, clutching a Goyard bag like a rooster. Demure! A fan yelled out to him that she thought the shirt was “cute”—in opposition to the many people criticizing his unique sense of style online—to which he responded with the shirt’s price: $2,400. Except, Lil Uzi Vert lied. The bleach-stained, pre-holed number is sold by the brand Faith Connexion, and retails for $300, but is now on sale for $65.
Missoni Zig Zags
“Look! Who said that only colors exist? There are also tones.” — Diana Vreeland, the then-editor of American Vogue, on first seeing Missoni’s beautiful knitwear in 1969. That’s the optical marvel of a zig zag; of many zig zags, but especially Missoni’s. They warp color. Dilute color. Merge, serrate, and switch the pitch of colors. Missoni’s dizzying color pattern is strangely seductive, like an aerial view of flower field patterns, but skewed. Correction: more than simply a color pattern, the zig zag is Missoni’s tartan.
King George V may have declared red and white to be Canada's national colors, but others would consider chocolate brown and custard yellow a better suited pair. Sandwiched between block stripes of coconut graham, cream filling, and chocolate ganache, lives a good chunk of patriotic pride. And it makes sense. As the birthplace of the world-famous treat with its own 39-stop tourist trail—so long as Trudeau refrains from exploiting it with yet another shirtless jog—Canada's truly got it made.
Orlando Magic Throwback Jersey
At one point in history basketball was fun to watch, the underdog stood a chance, and the outcome of a season wasn’t totally predictable. The 1994-95 Orlando Magic NBA season has a lot to be nostalgic for. With Michael Jordan off running bases, the NBA was experiencing something of a GOAT shortage. That season they found their superstar unexpectedly in the young Penny Hardaway, a versatile, multi-position player (before everyone was a multi-position player) who would lead the team to the finals alongside Shaq. Penny’s ability and overt charm would score him a deal with Nike that year: Penny was given his own mascot, Lil Penny (voiced by Chris Rock), and his own shoe, the Air Penny, which would become the prototype for the now-historic Uptempo line.
The striped bateau Picasso liked to wear.
A bird might see it as a stripe, but a queue is technically a sequence of people awaiting their turn to be attended to, which is kind of a “queuet” (I mean cute) idea. What’s not so cute is that the average person will spend about five years of their life waiting in a line or queue, probably while also on their phone. And that wait time doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. In fact, it seems to be getting worse—sneaker drops, traffic lights, self-checkout lines. The stripes of people are going nowhere fast.
When good beer becomes gentrified.
The look of sports is defined by stripes. Striped socks, striped shorts, striped jerseys, stripes on the shoes, usually in sets of three. Consider Thom Browne dressing the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2018 NBA Playoffs in his signature shrunken suits complete with three stripe grosgrain ribbon detailing and striped trouser socks. Or last month, when Browne signed a contract to be the official outfitter of FC Barcelona, agreeing to provide the team’s off-field formalwear for the next three years, for when they need to step up their stripe. In May, Ivanka Trump was captured holding a football at the White House Sports and Fitness day (lol) in a black Gucci shift with the brand’s tri-stripe detailing, no doubt thinking, “This is sporty” before putting on the $2,200 dress to throw the ball around. You just cannot strip the stripe from sport.
Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up” T-shirt
In the video for 1993’s “Keep Ya Head Up,” Tupac, with his orange-and-white striped t-shirt, baseball hat askew, rapping about respecting women, constitutes a very clear, early memory of being profoundly attracted to a man, and from there he has become the absolute gold standard by which the intensity of any crush is measured.
Stripes are born out of geometric perfection. Straight lines measured to scale forming a perfect pattern. Jun Takahashi’s Undercover utilizes a stripe in its logo under the capital “U” and a stripe to cover the eyes of its teddy bear mascot, but he didn’t choose this stripe for its exactness. “We’re human beings—perfection is not cool,” said Takahashi in a 2015 interview with BoF. “In my work I want to express not something merely pretty or cute, but to find something behind it,” explains Takahashi. “I think it’s very human. I take that cute teddy bear and I give it a bit of a shock—that bit of violence. The combination is something that gives it real beauty. I am not denying beauty, but presenting it in a different light.” Takahashi taught us that a stripe isn’t always perfect and benign, it can be forceful too.
Vivienne Westwood Pinstripe Suit in Season 4 Episode 17 of Sex and the City
This is the episode where Carrie takes a freelance writing job at Vogue. You will probably remember the Vivienne Westwood skirt suit she wore, the peek into the Vogue accessories closet the episode delivers, and her perverted editor, Julian. From this vantage, it’s hard to tell what’s more timeless, men abusing positions of power or well-tailored pinstripe.
In an industry and generation where everyone always has something to say, Grace Wales Bonner's designs are never emblazoned with words—no branding, no cultural commentary, no witty remarks placed within quotation marks. Still, she sends a message through the stories of identity she explores with each collection. Researched, thoughtful, gentle offerings are rare to come by in fashion today, and Bonner's mastered the lasting effect of subtle details—like a crocheted stripe—by creating clothing that speaks for itself.
Xtina’s “Dirrty” Striped Bikini Top
Stripped was the title of Christina Aguilera's 2002 Grammy-winning album, but given the styling of the music video for its hit single "Dirrty," it could have been called Striped. With her tight hip huggers—low for sure—and candy stripe bra top, Xtina served us a look for the ages. Ask Kylie Jenner, who recreated the outfit for a Halloween costume over a decade later, sending it viral all over again. Imitations can still be found on Etsy today (some selling for upwards of $400) so, unless you ain't here to party, it's not too late to get dirrty.
YEEZY Boost 350 New Colorway ft. “Transparent Stripe”
Late last month Kim Kardashian teased her husband’s new YEEZY 350 colorway on Instagram in a video—her own brand of ASMR—of her softly whispering. “Wait a minute, I didn’t know these existed...the cream, transparent knit,” she says, probably lying, lip gloss audible. The new buttery, glow-in-the-dark edition of the sneaker features a single, see-through stripe.
Ziggy Stardust Striped Blazer
Kansai Yamamoto, a graduate of Tokyo’s Bunka College of Fashion (alongside Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe, and Jun Takahashi) was just 22 when he was introduced to David Bowie. Yamamoto would go on to costume much of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour, teaching him hikinuki, the kabuki art of a quick costume change, and upping Bowie’s live performance a hundred-fold. Yamamoto designed many of the stripe-heavy costumes Bowie is immortalized in, including, but not at all limited to, the Ziggy Stardust black-and-white striped blazer.
- Text: SSENSE Editors