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5 ways to wear stripes

Admit it – at some point in your life, someone has told you that horizontal stripes add several pounds to you, and that vertical stripes make you look tall and lean. 

This pearl of wisdom has been accepted as truth for generations, but when it was actually studied early in the millennium, it was shown not only to be false but actually the wrong way around. 

In fact, it’s horizontal stripes (also known as hoops) that trick the eye into believing that the wearer is taller, and therefore leaner, especially when they’re high contrast.

It’s all to do with the illusion of stacking, rather like the floors of a skyscraper, making the observer think the sum total height of all the stripes adds up to more than they do in reality. And for the same reason, vertical stripes give the illusion of a sideways stretch, which might make them look wider.

Of course, something else that has changed since that little “rule” was prevalent is that people have become more comfortable in the body they’re in, a body that can change over the years. Thankfully, whether something is slimming, accentuating or neutral is playing less of a part in people’s minds when they’re clothes shopping. If they like it, they’ll buy it. And anyway, the fabled observations were only ever marginal at best. It’s incredibly rare for someone to be dressed head to toe in stripes of any orientation – there’s almost always something else to break up the lines.

So with all those myths thoroughly dispelled, we can hopefully look at wearing stripes with a new outlook. Because let’s face it, stripes are everywhere, and they can be a striking and beautiful way to add interest and focus to any outfit, whether it’s splashes of colour or sheer monochrome.

1. Vertical

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When it comes to stripes, horizontal is pretty much the default orientation, for reasons we’ll cover in a moment. But because of the ubiquity of the horizontal in the stripe world, going vertical gives you an instant head start when it comes to interesting looks.

Vertical stripes down a dress can look playful and creative, and if the eye is drawn in any direction, it will almost inevitably be towards your face.

It will work to a lesser extent with a vertical striped top, but always remember, you’re only a baseball cap away from the umpire look, so make sure you accessorise to your heart’s content (unless of course, you’re planning on a spot of umpiring).

Vivid vertical stripes are always going to attract the most attention, so remember you can dial it up and down by choosing less contrasting shades – two primary or two secondary colours for example, or two shades of a dominant colour. You’ll still reap the benefit of verticality, but it’ll be a more subtle look.

2. Horizontal

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When most people think of striped clothing, they’ll probably be imagining horizontal, or hooped designs. The classic Breton T-shirt is a fine example of the look, and it’s frankly about as timeless as it’s possible to be. We’re pretty confident you already have a hooped top in your wardrobe. One reason hooped clothing is more popular than vertical stripes is that it’s much easier to tailor.

The human body curves in and out as you trace the silhouette from shoulder to ankle, so it’s pretty tricky getting those stripes to align in anything but straight, pillar-box-like clothing. Horizontal stripes, on the other hand, don’t have that drawback as they’re working at 90 degrees to the vertical, meaning that fabric can be cut to all sorts of contours and the hoops align all the way around.

The style doesn’t owe all its popularity to its ease of production, of course. Stripes bring a new dimension to an underlayer such as a T-shirt worn under a blazer, compared to a plain colour or white tee. It just looks more interesting, and that’s what fashion is all about.

A long sleeve hooped top paired with jeans is also a classic, timeless look that has a continental edge while being a functional and fun way to dress for your daily business. Hoops work with almost anything except, perhaps, vertical stripes, which can clash and look more unplanned than quirky.

And don’t forget, hoops don’t have to be all over the top, either. You can achieve some beautiful effects by having horizontal stripes on just certain parts, such as a hooped torso with plain arms, or for some extra fun, a plain torso with hooped arms. It breaks down the wash of colour in a dynamic way and just looks great. Alternatively, stripes can become a feature of a small part of a top, such as our Sorbet Stripe jumper. We think you’ll agree, it’s a fun and pretty design that brings a new dimension to any top.

3. Diagonals

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Between the vertical and the horizontal are 90 whole degrees of diagonals to play with. These unusual orientations have become distinctly more popular over the past decade, especially in a bold, dazzle dress with multiple colours, or with a bunch of different diagonal stripes interacting and clashing with each other over the various panels of the dress.

If you love this style, it necessarily has to be quite big and bold, as the clashing stripes will just look like some sort of printing accident if the design itself isn’t big and brassy.

Alternatively, a simple top with diagonal stripes all over, all pointing in the same direction, can also be an effective look, simply because it breaks the stranglehold of the two cardinal directions and so immediately stands out as something different.

A shirt with diagonal stripes combined with jeans for leisure or a skirt or pants for business is bound to make you the centre of attention, so bear it in mind when you’re building your wardrobe. Just make sure you stick to quality manufacturers as the joins have to be spot on.

4. Subtle

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Stripes don’t always have to be in high contrast to each other, despite black and white being perennial favourites. They can be about as close to each other as it’s possible to detect, for example, a cyan alongside aquamarine, mustard yellow with a pale brown, or hot pink with coral, in any orientation. The stripes’ job is simply to break down the monotony of a single-colour top, but with a beautifully simple subtlety that brings a sensitive definition to the garment.

A subtly contrasting striped or hooped top will always give an air of high quality to your clothing too. After all, why go to all the trouble of incorporating two colours when hardly anyone will notice? But therein lies the beauty.

Like an exquisitely lined jacket or a pair of expensive shoes, it’s all about you knowing that you’ve invested effort and thought into your choice of clothing. So when you’re wearing a subtly contrasting top, try hiding it away under a jacket or cardigan in complementary colours rather than wearing it as an outer layer. Only you – and anyone else paying attention – will notice. And that’s perfect.

Another way of having subtleness in your striped clothing is to have widely differing stripe widths. The ultimate expression of this is the pinstripe, where there are perhaps one or two runs of yarn between thirty or more runs of the dominant colour. Again, quality and opulence are at play here – why would a fabric maker go to all the trouble of incorporating a single strand of a different colour when it’s barely noticeable?

The clue is in the “barely” but – it’s there to add a tinge of contrast to the main colour, and immediately breaks up the fabric on close inspection. Pinstripes are beautiful in any kind of clothing, whether it’s a single row in knitwear or a barely discernible line in a cotton weave. Just wear it as you would any single colour garment, and let stripes do their work when you’re close to others.

5. Abstract

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Finally, we need to mention abstract striped designs. With all of the above families of stripes, we’ve assumed the stripes themselves are made of solid colours, and that would be the dictionary definition of the pattern, too.

But stripes can also be more complex in design, but would still have an overall stripy effect. Take the Palma Animal Print Maxi Dress, for example – zoom in and you’ll see the blocks of colour are actually made up of hundreds of small print designs but pull out and the effect is that of a beautiful hooped dress, albeit with delightfully merged edges and a pastel effect.

It’s just a reminder that when you’re dealing with stripes, there’s a whole world of possibility. If you feel your wardrobe is a bit monochromatic and conventional, but don’t feel comfortable in full florals or vivid patterns, stripes, in all their exciting diversity, could be the way to go.