The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes

Michel Pastoreau

Between the ages of 3 and 5, I used to have nightmares in which an androgynous pair of clowns dressed in horizontal red and white stripes would extinguish my hopeful little life. I later traced this unfortunate series of nightmares to the introduction into our household of a “jack-in-the-box” toy, whose striped, idiot-grinning clown popped up scarily to “Pop! Goes the Weasel!” Since then, I’ve avoided stripes. Imagine my feeling of validation when I encountered a short little book called The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes by Michel Pastoreau, which reveals that until recently in Western culture, stripes in clothing and emblems were anathema, associated with the devil, prisoners, prostitutes, sailors, heretics, riffraff and clowns (see Perhaps that’s why I don’t eat at Ronald McDonald’s or Jack-in-the-Box … that’s another story. Stripes are now seen on uniforms, referees, flags, underwear, dress shirts, candy and crosswalks. They’re everywhere. Is that why I avoid them?