If it’s spring (or nearly spring), it must be time for stripes. Blame it on the urge to go to the beach as soon as the weather turns warmer, which leads to thoughts of water, swimming and boating, and of Breton sailor’s outfits (admittedly, not for everyone, but for a surprising number). As reliably as daffodils start to emerge at the first thaw, so, too, do stripes appear in wardrobes as puffa coats come off.
“Designers love stripes and people love stripes,” says Los Angeles-based stylist Estee Stanley. “There’s something about them that’s casual but classy and elegant. Designers keep reinventing them and bringing them back in a different way.”
“We’ve been doing stripes since I started 27 years ago,” says designer Tommy Hilfiger. “They can be worn by women for any occasion, any season.” See his spring collection, which includes a pair of breezy leather mini-dresses with horizontal stripes in bright blue, red, black and white (£745 and £865); Dolce and Gabbana’s eye-catching stripes on skirts, boxy tops, and feminine dresses; Lanvin’s sleeveless short shift dress with broad vertical bands (£2,125); as well as Derek Lam’s stretch linen sleeveless shift (£995), complete with a hodgepodge of striped panels that somehow looks elegant instead of cacophonous above the dress’s (striped) bottom half.
Still, the king of stripes at the moment is Marc Jacobs, on whose spring/summer 2013 runway stripes adorned, among other things, a beige-and-white tank dress (€1,550), a mod-inspired collarless lambskin black-and-white coat (€3,400), and a matching jacket and skirt in chunky red-and-white stripes (€1,160 and €610).
“Marc Jacobs was interesting because he elevated the stripes to a sophisticated level, and the impact of that is powerful,” says Selfridges’ designerwear buying manager Bosse Myhr, who is carrying Jacobs’ main line for the first time (the store has sold his diffusion Marc by Marc Jacobs collection for years).
Indeed, as Jacobs makes clear, stripes aren’t just for daywear; see his series of floor-length evening gowns with sequined stripes (€3,400-€5,720), not to mention pieces from Oscar de la Renta and L’Wren Scott. “If you’re going to a big black-tie event, stripes are incredible to wear,” says Stanley, who has styled celebrities such as Jessica Biel and Penélope Cruz for the red carpet. “It is really based on the person and if they’re feeling feisty enough to wear something like that.”
Donning emphatic stripes may seem, as she puts it, a bit feisty, but translating this trend into the everyday is simple. “A great striped knit or trouser worn with something solid is easy to translate into a wardrobe,” says Ken Downing, fashion director at American retailer Neiman Marcus.
Even given the fact that many of the season’s stripes are horizontal? Does general wisdom not dictate that stripes must be vertical to avoid emphasising those areas of the body not particularly beloved of many women: the hips and waist?
“These clothes are boxier and more ‘fashion’, so they don’t compete with your body,” says Stanley. “Because designers are doing stripes that are both chunky and broadly spaced, it’s more of a statement. This is not a series of horizontal strips on a super-tight Lycra dress.” She advises looking for fabrics that are either fluid or quite stiff, since either accentuates the stripes on the clothes themselves instead of any figure flaws.
Indeed, the effort to find a flattering stripe may be more time-consuming but, says Downing, it’s worth it. “They really don’t ever go out of style,” he notes. That floats our boat.
Top of the range
The humble uniform of Brittany seafarers – prized for being easy to spot overboard in choppy waters, apparently – has come a long way since becoming standard French issue in 1858.
Thanks to Coco Chanel, who adopted the Breton top as her own Riviera “uniform” in the 1920s, via the Beatniks (with a notable sighting on a hipster Audrey Hepburn in the movie Funny Face) and reimagined by Jean Paul Gaultier in the 1980s, the stripy, slash neck tee has attained almost iconic style status.
“The Breton-style top is a Petit Bateau classic and has been in the range since the 1970s,” says Carole Caufman, the French brand’s style director. “It’s a timeless staple that simply transcends fashion.” This summer’s version of the label’s classic “marinière” costs a neat £50.
And like many wardrobe essentials, the Breton top also comes with a luxury twist; look to designers such as Tory Burch (cotton sweater, £245), Chinti & Parker (cashmere sweater, £270), Valentino Red (tulle-striped cotton top, £295) and Michael Kors (cashmere sweater, £755) for the ultimate in nautical but nice.