The pinstripe suit has been fashionable, on and off, since the turn of the 20th century. Pinstripe suits were originally worn by style-conscious Brits and made iconic by men such as actor Cary Grant and U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Wearing pinstripes became increasingly popular around the globe as men became more interested in expressing themselves and projecting a sophisticated image through the types of suits they wore.
The only aspect of the origin of the pinstripe suit that historians agree upon is its British roots. Beyond that, there are generally two different stories about the origin -- one in banking and one in sporting. Some hold that the first pinstripe suits were worn as bank uniforms with slightly different striping to identify employees of different banks. Others say that pinstripes came into formal menswear from the sporting world, particularly striped boating uniforms of the 19th century.
The 1920s to the 1940s
Pinstripe suits surged in American popularity in the 1920s and '30s. They were the unofficial uniform of speakeasies during the Prohibition era with gangsters and jazz musicians such as Al Capone and Dizzy Gillespie making pinstripe suits the choice for flashy dressers across the U.S. Popular movie stars such as Cary Grant and Clark Gable helped the pinstripe suit move into the mainstream as the Prohibition era ended. Gable's pinstripes in Gone With the Wind are rumored to have inspired the extravagant, wide-legged, padded-shouldered style known as the zoot suit.
The Most Famous Pinstripe Suit
Perhaps the most famous wearer of pinstripe suits was the legendary British Prime Sir Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill wore pinstripes as a matter of habit and comfort throughout his tenure as prime minister. One pinstripe suit in particular was his famous "siren suit", designed by Churchill himself and worn throughout his long working nights during the air raids of World War II. This suit was immortalized in iconic portraits and in 2002 fetched nearly $50,000 when it was sold at auction.
The pinstripe has become an integral part of western fashion. Today it is neither unusual nor particularly iconic. Similar to other cuts and styles of suits, pinstripe is only one of many options available to the modern man. Additionally, pinstripes have become a staple of women's wardrobe, featured in business suits, dresses, and pants. The appeal of pinstripes has lingered throughout many trends and decades and a pinstripe suit remains a popular choice for people across the Western world.