Formal pinstripe gets casual

Once a suit pattern that conveyed power, the pinstripe is now back but takes on a more relaxed vibe.
Once a suit pattern that conveyed power, the pinstripe is now back but takes on a more relaxed vibe.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

"Debonair em, /em that was the word."

"There was something charming - no, brave - about his style," Tom Wolfe continues in his novel of 1980s New York, The Bonfire Of The Vanities, describing a lawyer who wears a navy blue, double-breasted pinstripe suit.

Wolfe, who has paid more attention to clothing than any novelist since Balzac, also dresses his New York bankers, such as the novel's protagonist Sherman McCoy, in pinstripe suits.

It is a common enough trope - the Wall Street guy who favours sartorial armour, usually worn with a starched white shirt and Windsor-knot tie - and for good reason.

One theory has it that the first pinstripe suits originated as bank uniforms, with different striping to identity employees of different firms.

Pinstripes have long been a symbol of power dressing. Years before Wolfe's Masters Of The Universe, gangsters such as Al Capone wore the pattern to convey bravado and a sense of orderliness.


Once a suit pattern that conveyed power, the pinstripe is now back but takes on a more relaxed vibe. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Now it is back, but with a difference. Gone are the stiff- shouldered trappings of the traditional power suit.

You can still pair it with a collared shirt and loafers for the office, but you can also wear it with sandals and a henley.

DESIGNER MICHAEL KORS on the new look for pinstripe suits

These days, men who are drawn to the sharp look can have it with a softer, almost pyjama-like feel.

"When you take the stuffing and structure out of a navy pinstripe suit, it suddenly becomes something you can wear on the weekend," designer Michael Kors said.

"You can still pair it with a collared shirt and loafers for the office, but you can also wear it with sandals and a henley."

Referring to the crushed linen pinstripe suit he included in his spring 2016 collection, Kors added: "It's the antithesis of something that feels stiff and overly polished."

The Hermes wool and silk seersucker suit and Salvatore Ferragamo's pinstripe jumpsuit - reminiscent of the "siren suit" former British prime minister Winston Churchill wore during World War II - are all about ease rather than stiff boardroom attire.

"The suit becomes more versatile," Kors said, "which I think is what men today want."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2016, with the headline 'Formal pinstripe gets casual'. Print Edition | Subscribe