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The season for; Stripes

When it comes to sheer graphic punch, nothing beats a strong stripe. And as it happens, eye-popping stripes - the kind you can't miss - are turning out to be the knockouts of the season.

The biggest hits are stripes so broad you can see them a mile away, so to speak, and they are not limited to the sports scene. They are as likely to come in the form of a silk crepe de Chine caftan (which is one of the ways Oscar de la Renta is using stripes) as in the guise of a cotton broadcloth blouson by Sasson. There are stripes for all occasions, and stripes at every price point.

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The most visually memorable are the wide-barred black and white silks that Bill Blass and de la Renta made into everything from abbreviated chemise dresses to flowing off-the-shoulder evening gowns. Viewed from afar en masse, their lineups of black and white stripings might be mistaken for a covey of elegant jailbirds.

The championship honors for the broadest stripes of all would be awarded to Perry Ellis. In linen, his croquet stripes are usually low-profile, medium-wide combinations of pastels - pink, blue, or beige - with ivory. Tunic sweaters and matching pedal pushers are another story. They are broken up into two or three big bands of bright or dark color that alternate with bands of white or cream.

While no one has wider stripes than that, nearly every designer has his or her rugby, awning, multi-color, yachting, pin, peppermint, or shadow.

Some stripes are irregular; others are wavy. Some are worked on the bias; some straight. Pearl and Albert Nipon have made effective use of plain- and pattern-striped silks, deploying their famous tucks so that the yokes and the hipbands of their dresses are solid colors and only the pleated sleeves and skirts reveal the print.

This year, commendably, there are more vertical stripes than horizontal ones. When stripes go round and round, they can make a person look like a barrel.

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