Earn Your Stripes: Shirting 101
Growing up the son of a career IBMer father, I knew not of interesting dress shirts. "Big Blue" as it was known in its 70s/80s heyday had a rather famously structured and stringent dress code, consisting of a decidedly Trad approach to its corporate uniform: solid shirts in either White, Blue, or Yellow, understated suits (read: navy, charcoal, or perhaps the odd SUBTLE pinstripe, depending on your position within Management hierarchy), black or brown lace-ups, "appropriate" tie.
My dad's professional wardrobe was a study in minute variations on a well established, if aesthetically monotone, theme. But truth be told, every day he left the house, and strode out to whichever late 70s model diesel Mercedes sedan he was driving throughout the course of his career (themselves following a color palette established in his wardrobe: pale yellow, navy, battleship gray), he looked like a million bucks. Like he meant what he made: business. My father has always had particular and rather narrow tastes, but he has always had an eye for classics.
The benefit of such constraints, as I later learned upon matriculating from public middle school to private Catholic (and thus, uniformed) high school, is that it takes the vagaries and variation out of the sartorial equation, and in doing so allows underlings to focus on other more pressing matters, eg WORK. In professional settings, it also solidifies the idea that you are a cog in the wheel, a uniform, eminently replaceable component in a machine that was highly functioning before your arrival, and one that would certainly thrive in your absence. The resultant focus it facilitated was, according to various case studies, measurable in terms of worker productivity, if not morale. Although surprisingly, it actually helped in that regard as well, as it leveled the playing field and allowed every worker to feel on somewhat equal footing, precluding showy sartorial displays from making workingmen feel less than for reasons related to their fashion choices.
The movement away from the unintentionally dapper drip of corporate wardrobes to the rather tragically blah "business casual" certainly hampered the tailored clothing business, whilst relegating corporate drones to the ever more painful realm of pleated khakis and polo shirts of various degrees of ill fit and mercerization. But it also unwittingly helped lay the foundation for the recent renaissance in which we find ourselves relative to menswear. In freeing many men in industries outside the strongholds of corporate law and finance from the tyranny of a confining tailored clothing dress standard, stylish men of all vocations are now discovering the impact of stepping up one's game relative to tailored looks. And the resultant expansion of the market for interesting, well-made menswear has helped add a splash of stylishness to menswear that may not have been possible were men still force fed such a structured sartorial set up from Monday through Friday.
And aside from the beautiful sport coats and suits increasingly adorning men's closets, in no category has this renaissance seen more of an awakening than shirting. In particular stripes. Much like pasta, where the width of a particular strand of golden goodness defines not only the taste of a given dish, but also the types (and scales) of sauces and accompaniments that best pair with it, stripes offer men a varied, endlessly interesting foundation upon which to build many aesthetic entrees.
Below is a field guide to navigating the many elegant stripe options, many on offer in our Spring/Summer collection (and beyond): an introduction to the terminology and in some cases etymology of what are truly transformative garments in many modern men's wardrobes (presented in ascending order of thickness).
The thinnest of stripes, the Hairline Stripe is essentially the width of a single thread, and creates a pattern that is meant to be subtle and reads from afar as a lighter solid color than it actually is (due to it being made up of alternating stripes of the color - blue, red, etc. - and white). Always uniformly spaced and equal thickness by color (thus blue/white reads like baby blue, red/white reads as pink, etc.). It is more of a dynamic iteration of a solid dress shirt than a true stripe, similar to End-On-End, but a stripe classification nonetheless. Tie options are just about endless, except for tonal stripes, which end up clashing with the subtlety of the thread-thin stripes.
Pencil Stripes (also known as Dress Stripes, and sometimes Banker Stripes) are the most variable stripe in terms of definition, and are usually identified less by the thickness of the stripes (though they are usually less than 1/16 of a inch thick) themselves (they are thicker than Hairline Stripes, but slightly less than Candy Stripes), but instead by the increased amount of white space between the stripes. Categorized as an Unbalanced stripe pattern, Pencil Stripe shirts, unlike nearly all other stripe patterns, are generally more white than stripe, with the width between each color stripe varying by garment (think pinstripes on a suit or sport coat). The subtlety of the color makes these a versatile dress-up/dress-down option, and actually more of a variation on a plain solid white shirt as opposed to a solid colored shirt, and are thusly more often appropriate for dressier wear. Mix striped, patterned or solid neckwear pretty much at will.
Candy Stripes are thinner than the standard University/Oxford Stripe, but thicker than Pencil Stripes, usually, but not always, with uniform, equal spacing with the alternating white stripes. The narrow (approximately 1/16 of an inch) proportions of the Candy Stripes mean it pairs best with a sharply tailored, trim cut, non-wide lapel jacket, but can vary in cases with a wider space of white between the colored stripes. Since Candy stripes often read more solid, the variety of striped teis one can pair with them is greater than thicker stripes like University or Bengal, but as with all mixing of stripes and stripes or stripes and patterns, scale should be noticeably different from shirt to tie.
University Stripes are the most common stripe pattern and scale, given their preponderance in the popular Oxford cloth format, which is the most popular/typical shirting fabric in America. University Stripes (or Oxford Stripes, often), are approximately 1/8 of an inch wide or less, and most often rendered in lighter colors so as to soften the color, with a Balanced pattern (uniform width of color and white). This is the most Trad of the Stripes and easily the most easily dressed up or down. It can thusly be matched with any number of striped or patterned neckwear, as the pop of the stripes themselves is generally toned down as compared to Bengals and others.
Similar to Dobby, Seersucker is actually a fabric type, but it also happens to be a specific type of stripe that is endemic to the tropical fabric for which it is named. A moniker derived from the Indian terms for milk (shîr) and sugar (shakar), it is a nod to the original appearance and coloration of the alternating white and (at the time) golden tan stripes of the fabric. This alternating coloring actually serves more than an aesthetic purpose - by creating alternating panels of absorption (color) and deflection (white) of the sun's rays, it helps move heat energy away from the body.
The variegated textures of the stripes, which is purposefully exacerbated by the fabric's tendency to pucker after washing (never iron seersucker!), helps in this matter, creating channels that lift heat up and outward away from the body (think the shape of a radiator and its ability to cast heat outward from the source), as well as cooling channels within which air can move between the garment and the body, helping keep the wearer cool in even the hottest sun. A must-have material in any warm weather arsenal, we offer a white on white seersucker shirt with tiny brown polka dots, as well as a truly stunning wide channel Seersucker suit (sold as jacket and pant separates) that takes the summer standard and ups the style game to 11, with 1/4 inch wide stripes that gives this old-timey suit a decidedly modern bit of flavor (coming later this spring!).
Dobby is not technically a type of stripe, but a type of fabric, denoted by the unique granular pattern of the warp and weft, and the textured feel it generates. But we offer it as a unique stripe Dobby is identified by its somewhat heftier weight and hand feel, though it is not necessarily a heavyweight fabric, and by its alternating, almost dotted pattern that gives the color (in our case, of the stripes) a depth and character similar to oxford cloth, but on a larger scale. Our Dobby Stripe shirts are roughly 3/8 of an inch wide, and offer a slightly bolder, wider take on the more traditional University stripe layout, thus modernizing a Trad look with a bit of subtle, modern flair; in many ways our signature touch.
At approximately 1/4 of an inch wide, Bengal Stripes are broader and somewhat more pronounced than the University Stripe, and the stripe pattern that is normally seen in brighter, bolder colors. Always uniform in width with their normally white counters, the Bengal is a bold stripe for the fashion forward who want to stick to the more traditional vernacular, and provide a terrific backdrop for any number of bold pattern and print ties, as well as solid or stripes of varying widths. Stylish and modern but with a nod to the traditional and attractive in any setting, and done with particular panache in a Wide Bengal Stripe by us this spring.
Not as much a specific thickness as it is a general format, Madras Stripes are defined by their Unbalanced presentation, with the colored stripes being wider than the alternating white stripes. This pattern also has a variety of measurements, and given its relative rarity, most are lumped into a more general parent category encompassing any color/white stripe where the color portion is thicker than the white, this pattern nonetheless offers a rather sharp, modern alternative to a solid shirt while still presenting as the color itself. Functional as either dressy or casual, this pattern also matches well with a number of stripes and patterns of neckties, as the color all but dominates the more narrow white in the stripe pattern. And is particularly stylish in our linen version of it this spring.
A stripe pattern whose boldness is actually a throwback to a decidedly older era, and the canvas overhangs that dotted city streets in that time, the Awning Stripe is the most general designation, given how many variations exist of it. Technically any stripe 3/4 of an inch or wider, Awning Stripes are always presented in Balanced (uniform) layout, but can come in a variety of thicknesses and colors. A recent rebirth in bold, fashion-forward shirting, stemming in part from the Instagram-ready peacocks who dominate Pitti Uomo, has seen an expanded offering of this type of shirt by brands with a firm hold on their (often European) style POV...like us.
Really just a horizontal stripe of varying thickness, Rugby Stripes are more common in casual knitwear and a rare element in dress shirts...making our stunning execution of it (which is, admittedly, more of a horizontal Awning Stripe), all the more strikingly stylish. Not for the faint of heart, but if you have the style and stance to pull it off (horizontal stripes tend to visually broaden the look of the wearer, in the same manner that vertical stripes lengthen it), it is quite literally the finest execution of this variety of stripe on this type of garment we have ever seen. Standout in every sense.