Straight Stripes, Round Body?
Sometimes it’s hard to find a cover for this magazine where the models aren’t wearing blue and white striped shirts. Women, men, kids, and even a dog or two all seem to wear stripes on boats.
I wondered, why do stripes convey a nautical feel to so many photographers? It turns out there’s fashion history.
The long-sleeved shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes, known as a marinière or Breton shirt, is based on the cotton shirts worn in the 1800s by seamen in the French Navy (many sailors were from Brittany). Fashion history says Coco Chanel would take seaside holidays and be inspired by the nautical uniforms, and the rest of the couture world followed suit.
As I couldn’t recall the last time I wore a striped shirt on my boat, I spent a recent afternoon perusing hundreds and hundreds of snapshots in our photo gallery of people on boats. I found six people wearing stripes — six out of hundreds! If stripes were such a nautical thing why weren’t all boaters bobbing around in shirts bursting with horizontal bands?
My research continued as I asked boaters in some of those photos if they ever wore stripes (on or off the water). Identical answers: Stripes don’t flatter me. Some elaborated on the underlying reason — the respondents feared that stripes would make them appear plumper. I’d heard that logic for years, but was it true?
Back in the 1800s, an observation by a German physician found that filled space seemed larger than unfilled space. Known as the Helmholtz illusion, there was a takeaway lesson for the fashion industry, but instead, style lore warned that horizontal stripes make you look wider while vertical stripes make you appear taller and thinner.
Turns out, fashionistas should have followed Helmholtz instead of trends, as modern-day researchers discovered that someone wearing narrow and dark horizontal stripes against a wide background appears slimmer to an onlooker. There is, of course, an if — the clothes must still be cut right and the overall style needs to be flattering. In other words, a voluminous striped shirt worn over baggy pants won’t make a stranger think you’re svelte.
When you’re shopping, don’t shy away from striped shirts or shifts. Look for a fabric, style, and neckline that flatter you with or without stripes. Try on a striped version and pay attention to the mirror. If you have a bulgy spot, avoid stripes that accentuate it. Same with an ample bust line — stripes that hug under the collarbones look contorted and destroy the tapering illusion.
Chevron stripes and zigzags look great at times when figure-hugging horizontals just don’t cut it. And if you really love the jaunty look of nautical stripes but can’t find a figure-flattering style in the store, why not layer it under a solid color tee or sweater, wear a striped scarf as a belt, or buy a clutch boasting bold or narrow strips?
While striped skirts are not generally flattering, a block of color accented by stripes may willow your shape. When it comes to pants, most fashion pros would advise against horizontal stripes, but if you like how you look in the pants, wear them. That goes for fashion guidance of every stripe — strike up the band if you feel comfortable and confident in the clothes you wear!
By Lita Smith-Mines