Book Review: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Stripes

Stripes are a simple, yet dramatic design statement.

Stripes: Design Between the Lines By Linda O’Keefe

The Monacelli Press, 224 pages, $50.00

Stripes, with their smooth and clean flow, may be the most straightforward of all decorative markings. Yet, for all their simplicity, stripes continuously create drama, both aesthetically and in societal terms. Dramatically illustrated with photographs of the fashion, art, architecture, and furnishings that stripes have adorned over the centuries, Linda O’Keefe’s book tells a story that began thousands of years ago in ancient caves. The social context of stripes can be found as far back as biblical times when Matthew speaks of the privileged children of great men who “oft had their garments striped with divers colors.” Since then the markings have never ceased to cause controversy. In Europe during the Middle Ages striped hoods and cloaks were assigned to prostitutes, so the arrival of a small group of Carmelite monks wearing vertically striped mantles caused a huge uproar. Centuries later Elsa Schiaparelli’s 1938 lighthearted circus-themed fashion show filled with stripes created another ruckus for its insensitivity as the world prepared for war. Of course the history and political strife that can be associated with stripes are only a part of the story. Their dramatic beauty is what has brought continued fascination with them. Over 250 bright photographs presented in eight chapters—focusing on themes that range from jovial to tribal to structural—provide a colorful, appealing look at the many ways stripes have played a role in design. In this showcase of artistic risks, O’Keefe demonstrates how, in everything from modern furniture to classical architecture, stripes endure as a bold symbol in every aspect of life.

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