A Fine LineEarning (and wearing) one’s stripes has not always been black and white.

A Fine LineEarning (and wearing) one’s stripes has not always been black and white.

Issue 24

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Arts & Culture, Fashion

The humble stripe has something of a checkered past. In his colorful and illuminating history of stripes, The Devil’s Cloth, Michel Pastoureau reveals the hidden history of this simple pattern.

Stripes on clothing can be seen in mural paintings and various other creative works as early as the year 1000. Historically, they were a pejorative symbol that was used to mark out any and all characters who transgressed the social order in some way. This has, over time, included those who had been condemned (criminals), the infirm (lepers), the inferior (servants), the dishonorable (prostitutes) and the damned (non-Christians).

The medieval belief that stripes were inherently evil spread from the realm of symbolism into reality. When the Carmelite order of Christianity arrived in Paris in 1254...

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