Pinstripes might seem to be the sartorial expression of “I mean business”, but new fabrics and cuts are evolving their reputation. There’s now a raft of sophisticated new tailoring, and even outerwear and casual attire, that encompasses pinstripe or chalkstripe, where the stripe is comprised of dashes of thread rather than a line of pinhead-like beads.
“Chalkstripes are for the sophisticated man-about-town, but that harsh ‘sock it to ’em’ Wall Street look can be overpowering,” says Savile Row tailoring legend Edward Sexton, adding, “For a more contemporary look they work best in soft, worsted flannels.” Fabric woven by Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC), the venerable mill in Biella, northern Italy, drapes beautifully, has a slight sheen and a gorgeous handle. Witness Sexton’s new Long, Low & Leafy VBC chalkstripe flannel suit (made to measure, £2,000; bespoke, £5,400) with its double-breasted, low-buttoned, strong-shouldered, peak-lapelled jacket.
Worsted flannel chalkstripe suits (£2,550) worth seeking out can also be found at Cifonelli, which has just refurbished its HQ in Paris to better showcase its ready-to-wear. Stripes vary from those that stand out on navy or charcoal to more subtle ones on dove grey, and the slim‑cut suit (£2,550) is a particularly fine choice for either look. One man who cuts a particular dash in the brand’s suits is Alexander Kraft, chairman and CEO of Sotheby’s Realty France/Monaco. “A dark-blue, two-piece suit with an open-necked white shirt seems to be considered the height of sartorial sophistication in London and New York, but frankly I find that look rather unimaginative,” he says. “I’d rather wear a three-piece chalkstripe suit in light grey or dark blue.” He wears his suits with bespoke Bremer suede loafers, finely striped shirts and a vintage pocket watch and chain.
Turning to British tailors, at Anderson & Sheppard, newly refined (yet almost vintage-in-feel) chalkstripe suits use an exclusive Fox Brothers double-stripe flannel (bespoke, from £5,064), while at and Ede & Ravenscroft, a ready-to-wear charcoal chalkstripe suit (£795) with a strong shoulder and an inky-navy suit (£795) with a faint silver stripe use cloth milled by Fratelli Ormezzano. (Both look super with a dark rollneck.)
Wool milled in Italy – this time by Fratelli Tallia di Delfino Biella – is the choice for Savile Row tailor Richard James too. A blue mélange pinstripe is used for the Sheshin suit (£855), specially created for Mr Porter. The cut is flatteringly elongating and the stripes fade in and out, emulating tailors’ chalk marks. Hugo Boss uses a similar effect for its unusual dark-brown slim-fit pinstripe suit (£550). I’m also a fan of the brand’s charcoal pinstripe suit (£550) with acute peak lapels, which has serious attitude.
Other men’s labels picking up on relaxed takes on chalkstripe tailoring include Boglioli, whose Mod-inspired, over-dyed charcoal chalkstripe suit (£1,100) looks good worn with a camel merino knit (£203); and Joseph, whose narrow-cut, single-button unstructured chalkstripe suit (£775) works well with both denim and the brand’s Jumbo Pinstripe rugby shirt (£265). The Jumbo Pinstripe wide trousers (£345) further push the trend in a more casual direction.
Hermès, too, has interpreted the trend for chalkstripe casualwear: witness the charcoal-grey chalkstripe V-neck zipped sweatshirt (£1,458); and the stylish, almost beatnik chalkstripe blouson (£1,782).
Fashion houses using chalk- and pinstripes creatively include Dior, which has widened the stripe – calling it “pencil” rather than chalk – on a sheeny navy wool suit (£2,600) and slim-cut trousers (£570) and a thigh-length narrow jacket (£2,400). Alexander McQueen has a navy suit (jacket, £1,165, trousers, £515) with burgundy stripe that, upon closer inspection, is formed from letters spelling “Alexander McQueen” – a kind of “fontstripe”.
McQueen is not the first to play with fontstripe this year, however. January saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet President Barack Obama in a bespoke Bandhgala Nehru suit in Holland & Sherry navy wool with his name in gold fontstripe. Modi was criticised for narcissism (and his expensive suit went down badly with many voters), but the following month the Indian premier was praised for auctioning it for Rs43.1m (about £450,000), which he donated to the Clean Ganga Fund. Not a bad charitable donation to chalk up.