Stripes: When to wear and not wear

Stripes: When to wear and not wear

Q. Is there any truth to the concept of not wearing horizontal stripes? I have always worn rugby shirts, but I also always hear they make you look fat. I’m not way overweight but I don’t want to accent my slight paunch. If so, are there any other patterns I need to avoid? 

A. I don’t believe in the concept of not wearing horizontal stripes as a general fashion rule. It certainly is sometimes wise to avoid them, especially if you are very heavy and if the stripes are also very large, but this is often not the case. 

Stripes can be horizontal or vertical, thin or wide, part of a large plaid or a small glen plaid, part of a texture as in ribbing or a cable-stitch, in outerwear or normal wear. Horizontal stripes appear in men’s clothing across the board: on everything from small, discreet stripes on knit polos and Tee shirts to wide, bold stripes on rugby shirts, and on sweaters of all weights. If you were to decide arbitrarily to eliminate all these stripes as well as stripes on neckties, sport jackets, belts, and even socks, you would be narrowing down your options unnecessarily. 

The stripes you choose can help you project your individual style. Smart, restrained pattern-mixing is what elevates dress to the next level. The stripes a man wears can be the simplest, most formal (two-colors and evenly-spaced), or they can be more complicated and more casual (three-or-more-colors and varyingly-spaced). They may be subtle or bright, business-casual wear or more sophisticated dressy attire, and often super-casual streetwear.     

Here are a few style concepts to keep in mind.

  • Horizontal stripes tend to work better with casual styling. You’ll often see them in a blue-and-white color combination, giving them a  nautical look.
  • Try to match the stripe colors to give some connection between the stripe and the rest of your outfit. Repeating a color from the stripe in another item you’re wearing works well.   
  • The thinner the stripe pattern, the more formal it is. If your garment has very wide or very bold stripes, it is not going to work in business-casual settings.
  • I’m not a fan of horizontal stripes in trousers, dress shirts, or a topcoat, but on most other styles of clothing, they could work nicely. 

You can also use horizontal stripes to work for you as a fool-the-eye visual device. The horizontal lines of a striped top can optically “broaden your shoulders.” And a dark belt can make your middle look smaller. Even so, remember that a bright or contrasting-colored belt can do the opposite, accenting your waist and your “slight paunch.” 

Learn to trust your mirror. If your striped garment looks good, and makes you feel good, wear it!

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