The Devil's Cloth

A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric

Michel Pastoureau. Translated by Jody Gladding

Columbia University Press

The Devil's Cloth

Pub Date: July 2001

ISBN: 9780231123662

160 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $37.00£32.00

The Devil's Cloth

A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric

Michel Pastoureau. Translated by Jody Gladding

Columbia University Press

Michel Pastoureau's lively study of stripes offers a unique and engaging perspective on the evolution of fashion, taste, and visual codes in Western culture.

The Devil's Cloth begins with a medieval scandal. When the first Carmelites arrived in France from the Holy Land, the religious order required its members to wear striped habits, prompting turmoil and denunciations in the West that lasted fifty years until the order was forced to accept a quiet, solid color. The medieval eye found any surface in which a background could not be distinguished from a foreground disturbing. Thus, striped clothing was relegated to those on the margins or outside the social order—jugglers and prostitutes, for example—and in medieval paintings the devil himself is often depicted wearing stripes. The West has long continued to dress its slaves and servants, its crewmen and convicts in stripes.

But in the last two centuries, stripes have also taken on new, positive meanings, connoting freedom, youth, playfulness, and pleasure. Witness the revolutionary stripes on the French and United States flags. In a wide-ranging discussion that touches on zebras, awnings, and pajamas, augmented by illustrative plates, the author shows us how stripes have become chic, and even, in the case of bankers' pin stripes, a symbol of taste and status. However, make the stripes too wide, and you have a gangster's suit—the devil's cloth indeed!
Pastoureau... is eminently qualified to explore the stripe's peculiar historical trajectory....The Devil's Cloth gets to the heart of matters like the way we perceive color and pattern, and speculates interestingly on whether these perceptions derive from nature or nurture.... this playful but learned book will doubtless have an influence. Angeline Goreau, The New York Times Book Review
Reading about the epic implications of stripes... you feel like a child gleefully taking apart a toy, examining its small components one by one, then putting it back together. You've figured out how it works, how its parts relate to the whole. Only that toy is the entire history of the universe. What could be more empowering? New York Times (National edition)
An oddball and charming little biography of a very devious pattern. Who knew that striped fabrics, now a kind of a shorthand for Class, were, from medieval times onward, so fraught with dangerous meaning? Esquire
[An] intriguing little book. Library Journal
The Devil's Cloth kept this reader at the edge of her seat. Seattle Times
[A] unique little book. Forbes FYI
Thinking of wearing that pinstriped suit for lunch with the boss? Or that fancy silk tie? Just be thankful that you didn't live a few hundred years ago, when a getup like that would not only have blown any chance for a raise but could very well have gotten you killed.... It was this unlikely observation that prompted Mr. Pastoureau's book. Emily Eakin, The New York Times
Preface
Order and Disorder of the Stripe
The Devil and His Striped Clothes (13th-16th Centuries)
The Carmel Scandal
Striped Fabric, Bad Fabric
Saint Joseph's Breeches
Plain, Striped, Patterned, Spotted
The Figure and the Background: Heraldry and the Stripe
From the Horizontal to the Vertical and Back (16th-19th Centuries)
From the Diabolic to the Domestic
From the Domestic to the Romantic
The Revolutionary Stripe
To Stripe and to Punish
Stripes for the Present Time (19th-20th Centuries)
Hygiene of the Stripe
A World in Navy Blue and White
Oddball Zebras
Striped Surface, Dangerous Surface
From the Trace to the Mark
Bibliographic Orientation
List of Illustrations
About the Author
Notes
Index

About the Author

Michel Pastoureau is a leading authority on medieval heraldry. He is the coauthor of The Bible and the Saints and Heraldry: An Introduction to a Noble Tradition.