From the Rectory – July

There was once a common held perception among the fashion conscious that of all the sartorial sins, the greatest was mixing stripes and spots.

Although the term ‘a crime against fashion’ is often used to point out ‘interesting’ clothes choices or designs in a lighthearted way, there was a time that stripes were considered, quite literally, criminal.

In the middle ages, adorning yourself with stripes was a dangerous choice. In 1310, a cobbler in one part of Northern France was condemned to death because, according to local archives researched by author Michael Pastoureau, ‘he had been caught in striped clothes’. A rather extreme reaction, but the prevailing opinion at the time was that striped clothing was only worn by social outcasts, such as ‘prostitutes, jugglers and clowns’, and was considered ‘demeaning, pejorative or clearly diabolic’. The same underlying belief about stripes was still felt centuries later as bold stripes adorned the prison uniform of American inmates from the 1800s.

A markedly different approach was taken back in the Brittany costal area of France, where the classic blue and white striped tops became a popular choice. Fashion designer Coco Chanel even based a collection on it in the at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the French Navy some forty years later gave all of their seamen a woven top with twenty-one stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s victories.

Not content with the big hair that was a staple part of glam metal acts of the 1980s, rock band Stryper wore yellow and black striped outfits as part of their image. The band took their name from a verse in the book of Isaiah in the bible, ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’.

Christians have understood this verse to be a prophetic description of Jesus, the stripes being the marks of the beatings and floggings he received before his crucifixion.

It’s quite a turn around for stripes, from being an object of derision and scorn, to being the mark of redemption. But then that’s exactly what the Christian faith is all about.

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