Traditionally, the chalk stripe is any fabric that boasts a solid or roped, white (or pastel-colored) line against a dark background. Nowadays, it’s known as that “weird suit” that grandpa would wear to damn-near everything. From its humble beginnings as the preferred, formal alternative to heavy flannel in the early 1900s, to its resurgence as the power suit fabric of choice for downtown bankers and rakish dandies in the 1980s and 90s, the chalk stripe is ready for its comeback year. Today’s chalk stripes are leaner, meaner, but no less stylish than their predecessors; they’re less mob boss and more young dandy.
So, read on as we delve briefly into the pattern’s backstory, learn more about its close-knit cousin, the pinstripe, and see how you can modernize the look to fit a more contemporary wardrobe.
The term “chalk stripe” was derived from the way the sewn lines resembled the tailor’s chalk professionals would use when creating a custom or bespoke suit. Although there are plenty of other stripes available, like pencil, shadow and self stripes, the chalk variety has long been a go-to for tailors trying to capture a more relaxed and organic look for their clients, compared to pinstripes. Because chalk stripes are generally seen as less formal, they’re usually paired with finer suit fabrics, like flannels and worsted wools to offset the warped stitching of the stripes, but the general rule of thumb is to wear chalk stripes with a complete suit, never separate.
Chalk vs. Pin Stripe
Considered the structured, more angular cousin of the chalk stripe, pinstripes differ in that they’re woven separately from the background fabric to establish a more deliberate and set look when building a suit. Generally speaking, the chalk stripe is like the pinstripe’s cooler younger brother. It’s got a little bit more swagger and can be worn as such. It can rock that meeting just as well as a pinstripe but in a way that’s a bit more brash and stylish. Plus, it’s got serious chops after dark.
Get the Look, Three Ways
We don’t want to bore you with too many more historic details, so here are a few ways to put this dynamite suit to work for you:
The Full Dandy
Go full British tilt with the darkest variation you can find. A deep, inky blue or charcoal, with a solid, white stripe will amp up the color contrast. Pair it with a crisp shirt, bold tie and a whole lot of attitude. This is definitely the suit to wear when you’re looking to make a powerful statement. If you’re ready to take it to full-on next level, add a waistcoat for that extra 10%.
Become a Breast Man
Although two-button, single-breasted suit jackets are still the preferred outfit of choice, double-breasted variations have been making a comeback in the U.S. for the last two years or so. Subsequently, older Italian men have been wearing them for decades, and probably still get more women than you, so you may want to follow suit.
Ditch The Tie
Because chalk stripes are the laidback cousin to the pin, you can take far more liberties when dressing down. Swap your shirt-and-tie combo for everything from a trim-fitting sweater to a worn-in band t-shirt and feel your cool factor increase exponentially.
As you can see, the heralded chalk stripe has had something of a sordid past, but with a little, well-placed creativity, and the help of our aforementioned tips, you’ll be able to rock these slick verticals without looking like a frumpy extra in The Wolf of Wall Street.