Some readers of this piece may remember City dress of the 60s and 70s. When employees of the companies in London’s financial districts would be expected to show up for work in a bowler hat, a well-tailored grey or navy suit, a stiff collar with a white shirt and a plain tie (except for Fridays where a regimental or club tie was permitted). Many of the men who worked in the City had done their national service, so being well turned out wasn’t much to ask.
While the association with City gents of yesteryear remains strong, there are those who will more readily associate pinstripe suits with East End Dell Boys or 1920s Chicago gangsters, not to mention the awful business suits that came out of the 80s and 90s (see Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street for evidence). During this latter period, the pattern came to be associated with the least sexy word in the dictionary, ‘corporate’.
Consequently the pinstripe – much like its cousin, the chalkstripe – became a bit of a pariah for British suit-wearers. At the bespoke end, orders have in recent years tended toward either the risk-free navy suit or brasher checked fabrics.
However, according to master tailor Terry Haste, pinstripe has in the last 12 months or so, been enjoying a bit of a comeback. ‘A couple of years ago virtually no pinstripe suits were being made but in the last year we have seen more people ordering them,’ he tells me. ‘From both a tailoring and a customer point of view, pinstripe is rather nice to work with as it is easy to distinguish whether it has been made properly or not because either the lines meet up through the suit or they don’t. It’s a bit black and white in that sense.’
Perhaps part of the explanation for the resurrection of the pinstripe is down to the fact that it has emerged in continental Europe as part of summer dress. Technical advances, which have allowed tailors to halve the weight of the average warm-weather suit, have led to French and Italian designers, including Dolce and Gabbana and Brunello Cucinelli, incorporating pinstripe into their summer collections. These designs merge European aesthetic flair with the hallmark pattern of a ‘classic’ suit.
Exactly why they’ve decided to go with pinstripe or why, as Terry Haste has noticed, British customers are returning to it isn’t exactly clear. My guess is that it is purely a question of timing. After the 2008 financial crash, suit choices were cautious (navy and grey being particularly popular), which reflected the uncertain times we were living in. Now, these same suit-wearers are venturing to the next sartorial stage, trying something a bit more risqué, more sophisticated and that cuts a dash. If you are also looking to add a new suit to your wardrobe, pinstripe could well be the answer.
Tom Chamberlin is the editor of The Rake