The Baseball Desert

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The pinstripe: a non-illustrated history

I am now signing off, before sticking the keys to The Baseball Desert back in Iain’s letterbox. He’ll be returning with his informative posts about the Summer Game before too long. Before logging off though, I promised an authoritative guide to the pinstripe, which is such an integral part of the whole Baseball Thang. But I now wish I hadn’t because it’s a bit of a tough subject to, a-hem, “pin” down.

Wikipedia defines the pinstripe as “a very thin line of paint or other material, often used in automotive decorating. It can also describe a pattern in cloth, of very thin stripes running in the same direction”. So now you know. Anyway, from what I can make out from the past five minutes spent on Google, the first pinstripe designs made their way into late-19th century sporting and leisure costumes in England, providing a fine contrast to the dark formalwear of the era. Boating suits are the best example of this: the blazers worn by gentlemen were generally striped, the pinstripe forming a variation on this theme (usually black pinstripes on a white or cream background).

It wasn’t until the 1920s that the pinstripe broke its way into everyday attire, and it was regarded at the time as somewhat unorthodox. To quote Susan North, the deputy curator of textiles and dress in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, “When the striped suit arrived on the scene, it wasn't staid or respectable at all—it was flashy!"*

Of course in the meantime, back in the sporting pinstripe world, on April 11th 1912, to be pedantic (it was a Thursday, to be even more pedantic), pinstripes made their first appearance on the uniforms of an up-and-coming Manhattan baseball team, the Highlanders. In 1913, the Highlanders were to become the Yankees, and you probably already know the rest of that particular tale.

So there you have it. The pinstripe. It must however be pointed out that there are plenty of other types of stripes in the world, such as the White Stripes, go faster stripes, stars’n’stripes, Bill Murray’s 1981 film ‘Stripes’, and of course, the REM vocalist Michael Stripes (well, Stipe, but that’s close enough for me). I digress.

Anyway, it’s been a pleasure talking to someone else’s audience (and not unlike being the support act at a concert). Back to you Iain… Oh, and go A’s!