Few items of clothing have been so villainised as the pinstripe suit. In fiction, those characters best known for donning the traditional cloth tend to be the most malevolent, guilty of greed, corruption, venality – even violence. American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman wears one; Gordon Gekko and Jordan “The Wolf of Wall Street” Belfort don navy and white versions; Scarface’s Tony Montana commands a vast drug empire buttoned into a charcoal-and-white three-piece. At best, pinstripes – once used by London banks to identify their employees – symbolise assertiveness and business nous. At worst, they represent types who conceivably cause financial crises.
The runways this year, however, have put this most conservative of cloths into a wholly different context. Across men’s and women’s collections, pinstripes (along with their thicker and coarser variation, chalkstripes) have been realised in unconventional ways. At Alexander McQueen’s autumn/winter 2019 womenswear show – a homage to the British manufacturing towns, such as Macclesfield, near where the designer Sarah Burton grew up – navy-and-white pinstripes were patchworked together to make a double-breasted suit jacket with right-angle shoulders and a nipped-in waist. In Loewe’s menswear, a navy-and-white suit (as seen on Gala González, pictured top far right) featured a white peaked lapel sharp enough to put an eye out. Even Dries Van Noten, a designer renowned for his liberal use of florals and graphic patterns, filled his men’s and women’s a/w 2019 collections with sober grey-and-white tailoring. He also used the fabric for secretary pumps and padded top-handle bags.
This recontextualisation of pinstripes – from financial-district uniform to fashion statement – is perhaps no better illustrated than by Rihanna. In September, the singer and entrepreneur was spotted walking through JFK in a navy-and-white two-piece from her own Fenty fashion line. While theoretically buttoned-up, the suit was anything but conventional: the oversized, padded jacket slipped off her shoulders; the arms gathered at her wrists; and the trousers – wide-legged and baggy – featured a flash of orange on the underside of the turnups. With it, she wore matching heels, a black Balenciaga fanny pack, dark shades and no small amount of confidence.
The fabric was also key in the Louis Vuitton cruise 2020 show, staged at JFK, in which creative director Nicolas Ghesquière riffed on the Wall Street uniform with a grey-and-white stripe. While the idea was rooted in tailoring, the pattern featured on a round of mini dresses fit for a cocktail party: the most daring version had voluminous draped sleeves that exposed the shoulders, and was styled with a choker dripping with crystals.
“I’ve always said that classic doesn’t have to be conservative,” says MaxMara creative director Ian Griffiths, whose resort collection features the cloth in all manner of iterations, from a tan-and-white double-breasted suit with fringing to a charcoal-and-white strapless mini dress. “This collection’s inspirations – Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie – showed how a well-tailored suit could have radical undertones.”
These new interpretations of pinstripes put a more modern spin on the traditionally old-fashioned pattern, says Net-a-Porter’s global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz, who namechecks Van Noten. “These designers are taking the classic pinstripe and reimagining it on new workwear like the sleeveless vest, the boxy blazer and even Bermuda shorts.”
It’s not all about interpretations, though. Saint Laurent and Salvatore Ferragamo’s men’s pre-collections erred on the more traditional side. And next season, the trend continues: Maison Margiela, Paul Smith, Armani and Berluti all nod to the finance industry’s uniform.
One could argue the sudden interest is a way of asserting that you mean business, no matter what industry you tread. Or, perhaps, now that the finance sector has adopted the fleece gilet, the pinstripe suit – with its refined cut and esteemed air – is ripe for the picking.