There’s a theory about stripes. It involves sex workers, street entertainers and Satan, and was advanced by Michel Pastoureau, a French historian and heraldic symbologist, in “The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric” in 2001. Stripes, he asserts, have always been transgressive. The key players in his story are the 13th-century Carmelites who arrived in Paris from Palestine in two-tone cloaks, so offending decorum that Pope Boniface VIII banned all religious orders from slipping into anything stripy. Pastoureau is the chief – ok, possibly only – proponent of this theory. But as you examine these pages, and find yourself thinking about how stripes enhance the contours of the human form, and daydreaming, perhaps, of bathing costumes and tailored suits and those T-shirts worn by dockers and tarts in Jean Genet novels, then be assured that nobody will damn you for concluding that there is something to these speculations about their sexiness.
The uniform Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1865
Franz Joseph I of Austria, dressing visibly to the right, was visible everywhere during his 68-year reign – all official institutions carried his martial portrait. As the years passed, his Habsburg features changed, the hairline receded and the mutton-chops embarked on their Winterreise. But the sash of the Military Order of Maria Theresa, its crimson-white-crimson stripes commuted from the national flag of Austria, stayed the same: lines of duty inscribed across his chest, blood red on the snowfield of his tunic.