Historic Patterns: Stripes

background patterns classic pattern styles historic pattern styles stripes Feb 27, 2024

You may think that stripe patterns are simple, pose little challenge to design and perhaps you even consider stripes a bit basic or uninteresting? Well think again!

Stripes should actually be a staple in a pattern designers repertoire as they are both functional and decorative, especially from a product company’s point of view. Stripes are classic, very marketable and always in demand.

In this article in the series about Historical and Classic pattern styles and types you'll learn all about stripes, their history and some iconic stripe styles every surface pattern designer needs to know about.

The History of Stripe Patterns

Stripes are one of the oldest patterns used for woven fabric and have been in use since ancient times around the world. Whilst creating striped textiles must have been a fairly natural process - by alternating yarn colors across the weave - the fact remains that despite this stripes have not been a dominant pattern in any of the ancient cultures. In fact it’s been considered vulgar and with a bad reputation.


In medieval Europe stripes marked and represented people who were excluded from society, for example people with leprecy, prostitutes, hangmen, clowns and people considered heretics.

One of the reasons why stripes became a symbol of these outcasts and reprobates was because of a bible scripture that says: ”You will not wear upon yourself a garment that is made of two”. At this time its meaning was interpreted into not wearing anything with two contrasting colors.

Another reason why stripes was so disliked was because of its flatness, it has no depth, which felt weird and suspicious to the medieval person who preferred imagery with a clear background and foreground.


During the enlightenment era in Europe the attitude towards stripes changed. At the end of the 18th century people started to get pretty fed up with the highly ornate and cluttered rococo and chinoiserie styles and the Neo classical style emerged as a counter movement. This style is characterized with a much more strict and pure expression and now stripes became a refreshing insert on textiles like curtains and drapes, furnishing fabric and other interior decor like wallpaper, but also in fashion. 

 However the negative associations with stripes lived on for a long time parallel to this. And in the 18th century penal colonies in North America stripes were used for prisoners uniforms. The high visibility of stripes was perfect for discouraging escape attempts, but broad horizontal black and white stripes were also considered vulgar and therefore also aiming to humiliate the wearers.


In the 1920s striped ties became part of the male fashion and worn as school uniforms, first at public schools, then at universities and there it started to be associated with a privileged life. University students continued to wear striped ties and suites in their professional and personal lives - making stripe styles such as pinstripe and candy stripe associated with luxury and high fashion.

A Classic Pattern That Can Be Endlessly Varied

A stripe pattern consists of seamless, continual lines or bands in either a horizontal, vertical or diagonal direction. There are many different styles of striped patterns which are characterized by the width of the stripes, how they are arranged and composed with distribution, space, scale and color and combination of colors. 

Some pattern styles including stripes have vertical and horizontal stripes that cross over one another and are then called check or plaid patterns. 

Even chevron patterns with its zig zag bands are versions of stripe patterns.


Want to learn more about Historical and Classical pattern styles, types and motifs?


10 Stripe Styles To Inspire

There are so many different ways to vary stripes, some combinations have become traditional and iconic, and here are some examples of some classic stripe styles:


An awning stripe pattern is a bright and bold pattern with equally-sized, fairly wide and vertical stripes of solid color. They’re typically made with a darker color against a white or light color. Awning stripes are often used for coastal, beach and nautical decors. Another common name for this stripe is Block Stripe.

Awning stripes and Balanced stripes


Balanced stripe patterns consist of several vertical, colored stripes of different sizes, arranged in a symmetrical layout with a wide stripe in the center, with some narrow stripes layered inside it and then surrounded by bands and narrow stripes.


Barcode stripes is characterized by stripes in various width and seemingly random composition. It’s a pattern based on the Universal Product Code, that was invented and patented by a guy named Woodland in 1951, to be used for coding products, where the 95 black and white vertical stripes represent combinations of 0s and 1s and can be read by a computer through a scanner. In the world of patterns a barcode stripe doesn’t have to have 95 stripes and they can have other colors, monochrome or even in multiple colors. 

Barcode stripes and Bayadere stripes


The Bayadere stripe style derives from India and has brightly colored and horizontal stripes of various widths. The name comes from the Bayadere dancing girl of India, who are dedicated to a dancing life from birth.


A candy stripe is a thin vertical stripe in two contrasting colors, usually white and a pastel pink, blue or yellow. Candy stripes are for example the characteristic pattern used for seersucker fabric.

Candy stripe and Candy Cane stripe


A candy cane stripe is traditionally a red and white stripe pattern in a diagonal direction, just like candy canes. They can consist of only two altering stripes in the same width, or of one wider red surrounded by two narrower red stripes on both sides on a white background. The first mentioned candy cane was according to the Oxford English Dictionary in the late 19th century.


The hickory stripe derives from the pattern of Hickory cloth, traditionally with thin vertical white stripes against an indigo blue ground and where the white stripes are slightly narrower than the indigo spaces in-between.

Hickory stripe and Navy stripe


A navy stripe pattern has horizontal stripes of navy blue and white, where the blue stripes are typically slightly narrower than the white. Navy stripes originated from the French coast in beginning of the 19th century, when navy seamen were given a striped woven top bearing 21 horizontal stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories - as a uniform, that later turned into the official Breton shirt, and that later on was turned into a fashion icon by Coco Chanel.


A pinstripe pattern is a pattern of thin dashed lines, often used for clothing such as suits, jackets, pants and skirts. Some say that the first pinstripe suits were worn as bank uniforms with slightly different striping to identify employees for different banks. Pinstripe patterns can have one single or two colors alternating, classically white and red pinstripes on a dark blue background.

Pin stripe and Regency stripe


Regency stripe patterns is a pattern style with origins in India and that became popular in Britain in the late 18th century. Its characteristics is a symmetric combination of a wide stripe in one color, surrounded by two or more narrower stripes in a second color. This style became popular in Europe with the Neo classic style emerging in late 18th century. Regency stripes are often used for wallpaper, upholstery and shirts.

How To Use Stripe Patterns

Striped patterns lend themselves to being either the star of the show and making a bold statement or as more subtle, blender patterns - just like that other classic pattern style – The Polka Dot, where both are often found supporting more ornate pattern styles, like Toile de Jouy or Chinoiserie.

Striped patterns have so many applications from textiles for fashion and soft furnishings to wallpaper and stationery and who can ignore striped beach umbrellas and deckchairs?

So now you know more about the history and different types of stripes, you’ll see them all the time and realize they are just about everywhere!


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Image references: Stack of fabrics, Stripe man, Jester from British Library manuscripts, French revolution woman and man from Pinterest, Prisoners, Neo Classic dress, 1920s fashion from Pinterest.