Search products & content

Now an iconic part of coastal style, stripes have been on a wild ride through history, giving 'Show your Stripes' a deeper meaning...

dangerous moves

In 1310, a cobbler in France was sentenced to death for the simple crime of wearing a striped tunic. In the Middle Ages, striped clothing was only worn by outcasts. Reserved for troubadours, jesters, and the undignified, stripes were even associated with devilish activity. For centuries, wearing them was a mark of rebellion or a badge of dishonor (think prison uniforms).

Yet by the 1600s, sailors started appearing in English and Dutch paintings wearing striped shirts. It’s still a mystery when and how, but the transition from evil stripes to nautical stripes had taken place. Maybe some free-thinking mariner wanted to make a cool, provocative statement?

14th Century Italian man. Illustration: De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana


Scrub The Decks
off to sea

Stripes went mainstream in 1846 when Queen Victoria dressed her four-year-old son, Albert in a sailor suit to board the Royal Yacht. The public went nuts. Then in 1858, the Breton Striped Shirt became the official uniform of the French Navy. Featuring 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories, the shirt took stripes to the next level.

Built for practicality, the Breton shirt featured navy and white stripes that made it easier to spot sailors when they’d fall overboard.

Sailors scrubbing the Deck. Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive

birth of a trend

In the early 1900s young designer Coco Chanel sailed into the harbor at Brest, and saw dockworkers wearing these navy and white striped shirts. She was so inspired by the easy minimalism of stripes that they became the backbone of her 1917 collection. Moving from mainsail to mainstream, the marinière (mariner) shirt took the fashion world by storm.

Photo: John Gay//Hulton Archive

An boatman wearing a stripey T-shirt and a straw boater, Greater London, c1946-c1959. Artist: John Gay

full circle

Stripes came home to their roots in counterculture in the 1950s and ‘60s. Worn prominently by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Jean Seberg in Breathless, and by artists like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Ernest Hemingway, stripes again became a symbol of individuality and self-expression.

Ernest Hemingway. Photo: Ullstein Bild

a deeper stripe

With surfing's origins outside the mainstream, it was inevitable that stripes would find a fresh interpretation in surf gear. From striped tee shirts, board shorts, and bathing suits, stripes rippled into the surf world with a new sense of stylistic freedom.

Today they’re somewhere in between nautical and rebel, a good place for Outerknown as a brand and a state of mind. Built with organic, recycled, and natural fibers like incredibly durable hemp, our easygoing striped shirts have been one of our staples since day one. We take inspiration from stripes across nature and history, and add our own twists like yarn-dyeing for one-of-a-kind patterns. From the desert to the coast, our striped tees are designed to feel good wherever your journeys take you.

Duke Kahanamoku. Photo: Hulton Archive


shop stripes