The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric

The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric

by Michel Pastoureau
     
 

Michel Pastoureau's lively study of stripes offers a unique and engaging perspective on the evolution of fashion, taste, and visual codes in Western culture.

The Devil's Cloth begins with a medieval scandal. When the first Carmelites arrived in France from the Holy Land, the religious order required its members to wear striped habits, prompting turmoil

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Overview

Michel Pastoureau's lively study of stripes offers a unique and engaging perspective on the evolution of fashion, taste, and visual codes in Western culture.

The Devil's Cloth begins with a medieval scandal. When the first Carmelites arrived in France from the Holy Land, the religious order required its members to wear striped habits, prompting turmoil and denunciations in the West that lasted fifty years until the order was forced to accept a quiet, solid color. The medieval eye found any surface in which a background could not be distinguished from a foreground disturbing. Thus, striped clothing was relegated to those on the margins or outside the social order—jugglers and prostitutes, for example—and in medieval paintings the devil himself is often depicted wearing stripes. The West has long continued to dress its slaves and servants, its crewmen and convicts in stripes.

But in the last two centuries, stripes have also taken on new, positive meanings, connoting freedom, youth, playfulness, and pleasure. Witness the revolutionary stripes on the French and United States flags. In a wide-ranging discussion that touches on zebras, awnings, and pajamas, augmented by illustrative plates, the author shows us how stripes have become chic, and even, in the case of bankers' pin stripes, a symbol of taste and status. However, make the stripes too wide, and you have a gangster's suit—the devil's cloth indeed!

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Pastoureau... is eminently qualified to explore the stripe's peculiar historical trajectory.... The Devil's Cloth gets to the heart of matters like the way we perceive color and pattern, and speculates interestingly on whether these perceptions derive from nature or nurture.... this playful but learned book will doubtless have an influence.

— Angeline Goreau

New York Times (National edition)

Reading about the epic implications of stripes... you feel like a child gleefully taking apart a toy, examining its small components one by one, then putting it back together. You've figured out how it works, how its parts relate to the whole. Only that toy is the entire history of the universe. What could be more empowering?

Esquire

An oddball and charming little biography of a very devious pattern. Who knew that striped fabrics, now a kind of a shorthand for Class, were, from medieval times onward, so fraught with dangerous meaning?

Seattle Times
The Devil's Cloth kept this reader at the edge of her seat.

Forbes FYI
[A] unique little book.

The New York Times
Thinking of wearing that pinstriped suit for lunch with the boss? Or that fancy silk tie? Just be thankful that you didn't live a few hundred years ago, when a getup like that would not only have blown any chance for a raise but could very well have gotten you killed.... It was this unlikely observation that prompted Mr. Pastoureau's book.

— Emily Eakin

New York Times
Reading about the epic implications of stripes... you feel like a child gleefully taking apart a toy, examining its small components one by one, then putting it back together. You've figured out how it works, how its parts relate to the whole. Only that toy is the entire history of the universe. What could be more empowering?

The New York Times Book Review - Angeline Goreau
Pastoureau... is eminently qualified to explore the stripe's peculiar historical trajectory....The Devil's Cloth gets to the heart of matters like the way we perceive color and pattern, and speculates interestingly on whether these perceptions derive from nature or nurture.... this playful but learned book will doubtless have an influence.

FYI - Forbes
[A] unique little book.
The New York Times - Emily Eakin
Thinking of wearing that pinstriped suit for lunch with the boss? Or that fancy silk tie? Just be thankful that you didn't live a few hundred years ago, when a getup like that would not only have blown any chance for a raise but could very well have gotten you killed.... It was this unlikely observation that prompted Mr. Pastoureau's book.

Angeline Goreau
The Devil's Cloth gets to the heart of matters like the way we perceive color and pattern, and speculates interestingly on whether these perceptions derive from nature or nurture. As with other histories that sift the past to confirm an observation or theory, there is much to debate here.
New York Times Book Review
Forbes
Stripes have always been a bold fashion statement. During the Middle Ages, the mere sight of them inspired fear and confusion, which is why striped fabric was reserved for clowns, bastards, prostitutes, jugglers, cripples, mad-men, magazine editors and other social pariahs. In the 18th century, stripes evolved to symbolize the rebelliousness of the American and French revolutions (our flag attests to that, as did Robespierre's striped frock coat). Yet at the same time, they became the standard uniform of the incarcerated. Sailors wore them too, as did 19th-century beachgoers. And let us not forget the menacing striped suits of 1930s American gangsters, or Picasso's horizontally striped shirt. In this unique little book, French historian Michel Pastoureau explains what all those stripe-wearers had in common: Whether as outcasts, rebels or reprobates, each of them resided on the edges of society. "The stripe," writes Pastoureau, "is an instrument of social taxonomy." Remember that the next time you're picking out a tie.
—Thomas Jackson
Library Journal
Convinced that "clothing is always the bearer of important meanings," Sorbonne paleographer/archivist Pastoureau here explores hitherto uncharted territory. In this intriguing little book, he traces the negative connotation related to stripes in cloth and clothing in Western societies as evidenced by documents and illustrations from the Middle Ages until today. He begins with the Carmelites' scandalous use later banned of striped monks' habits in the 13th century and gives numerous examples of striped clothing "marking" marginalized members of society: prostitutes, mimes, domestic servants, bankers, criminals, and, sadly, concentration camp inmates. He admits that the use of stripes on coats of arms is not pejorative and that stripes have been used successfully in modern fashions. The book raises as many questions as it answers and points to further research. The examples given are from French history and culture and may be unfamiliar to most American readers, making this book suitable for academic collections only. Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
A specialist in medieval heraldry, Pastoureau (history of western symbols, Ecole Pratique des Hautes <'E>tudes, Sorbonne) began noticing a long time ago that in medieval documents, figures wearing striped clothes were, in one way or another, negative figures. He starts his account with the 13th century, chronicles the shift from horizontal to vertical and back between the 16th and 19th, and brings the story up through the 20th. was published in 1991 by Editions du Seuil. The translation is by poet and author Jody Gladding Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231123662
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
07/10/2001
Series:
European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 7.36(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Michel Pastoureau is a leading authority on medieval heraldry. He is the coauthor of The Bible and the Saints and Heraldry: An Introduction to a Noble Tradition.

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