Stripes are one of the most noticeable patterns in existence, standing out because of their immediate and repetitive change from one color to another. The human eye and mind are unable to distinguish the foreground from the background, making the pattern hypnotic and visually confusing. 

There is even an evolutionary theory that zebras wear stripes to confuse predators about their number and distance, a tactic used by the U.S. military in WWII for battleships. 

Stripes have proven themselves to be powerful symbols, so why is it significant for characters to be wearing them? What a character wears often reveals a lot about their character traits and foreshadows what could happen later in the film. Now You See It explains how stripes in cinema must mean something, since the pattern is used to draw the viewer in closer and closer to the screen. 

Check out the full video below.

In art, those who wear striped clothing are often the deviants of society like the jesters, sex workers, executioners, or traders. The flashiness of the stripes made these characters stand out amongst a crowd of people, highlighting those people as "other."

In cinema, people who are viewed as “other” are typically villainous characters. Think about the Wicked Witch of the East from The Wizard of Oz and how she is distinguished only by her striped stockings, or Beetlejuice’s striped suit. 

But the villainous interpretation of stripes isn’t the only way the pattern can be analyzed. In the 16th century, stripes shifted from being strictly diabolic into a tamer, positive meaning. One of the most important turns for stripes was the American Revolution, which introduced the striped flag as a symbol of rebellion. Americans took a pattern used for the prisoners and made it their battle cry for freedom. 

The_red_and_grey_sweater_in_get_outRose Ar­mitage (Al­li­son Williams) striped sweater in 'Get Out'Credit: Universal Pictures

Stripes were still a sign of the outsider or a deviant, but the pattern is no longer exclusively negative. The Breton stripe in the 1950s was worn by A-list actors who were playing characters who didn’t follow the status quo in movies directed at teens and young adults.

Gangsters are also notorious for wearing pinstripes, their suits used in cinema as a way to show the character’s wealth and status.

The size of the stripe also matters. Thick stripes often look tacky and are reserved for wackier characters with poor taste, while thin sleek stripes look more fashionable and put together. 

Filmmakers have taken advantage of the disorienting nature of the pattern. The complicated nature of stripes unconsciously connects those wearing stripes to the naive and harmless deviance of children. Since jesters and clowns often wear the pattern, we immediately note how childish and funny stripes can look, mistaking the pattern for a sense of innocence at first before a character’s true nature is revealed. 

Do you have a favorite striped costume design from film or TV? Let us know what it is and why you love it in the comments below! 

Source: Now You See It