The Charm of the Chalkstripe

The Charm of the Chalkstripe

 

Aleks Cvetkovic charts the checkered history of the chalkstripe. 

This article was originally published in November 2018.

 

The chalkstripe, rather unfairly, has a reputation for corporate conformity. True, it’s synonymous with city suiting and the legal profession, but its roots precede the uniforms of middle-class professionals, stretching back into the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In fact, stripes in their earliest form were seen as quite informal. Dress trousers, similar to today’s ‘spongebag’ grey striped morning trousers, were worn with black frockcoats or tailcoats for what was known as ‘day dress,’ or ‘half dress’ – that is to say, for the less formal situations in a gentleman’s day-to-day. It was only really the rise of the 20th century businessman that put paid to the stripe’s apparent casualness, with the plain worsted cloths of formal ‘full dress’ relegated to lounge suit territory, in the stripe’s place.

Named after its soft, mottled appearance, the chalk stripe was subsequently adopted by modern city slickers in the 1910s, firstly as the uniform of corporate big wigs (in many British and American finance firms, only the top ranks of bankers were permitted to wear inch-apart stripes – an unofficial marker of their status), and later by mafiosos looking to give a powerful but above-board impression to society at large. ‘Oh, Mr. Rothstein, what do you do?’, ‘Why, I’m a philanthropist, madam’.

Today, chalkstripes are still primarily worn for business, but that doesn’t mean they need to be bland. One of the great powers of Drake’s is to take stiff, formal clothes and somehow relax them –making them both understated and cool in the process.

Here, they’ve done this by cutting a sober grey alpaca-wool flannel in the Drake’s house style. Robust winter cloths (particularly dense flannels like this) suit an unstructured silhouette: there’s no internal structure or shoulder pads to fight against the heft of the cloth, so it settles into the wearer’s figure, moulding comfortably to his body. The Drake’s three-roll-two button stance, patch pockets, and single-pleat trousers with side buckles reinforce this easy-wearing impression.

However you choose to wear it, a chalkstripe suit’s strength is in its classicism. It’s nice, occasionally, to revel in the sense of security that a stripe brings to the table. You’ll feel prim and proper when you need to look the business, but it’s also a suit with which to bend the rules, too.

And, as we all know, bending the rules is half the fun.

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