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The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes Paperback – June 4, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Convinced that "clothing is always the bearer of important meanings," Sorbonne paleographer/archivist Pastoureau here explores hitherto uncharted territory. In this intriguing little book, he traces the negative connotation related to stripes in cloth and clothing in Western societies as evidenced by documents and illustrations from the Middle Ages until today. He begins with the Carmelites' scandalous use later banned of striped monks' habits in the 13th century and gives numerous examples of striped clothing "marking" marginalized members of society: prostitutes, mimes, domestic servants, bankers, criminals, and, sadly, concentration camp inmates. He admits that the use of stripes on coats of arms is not pejorative and that stripes have been used successfully in modern fashions. The book raises as many questions as it answers and points to further research. The examples given are from French history and culture and may be unfamiliar to most American readers, making this book suitable for academic collections only. Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Why our continued fascination with clothes? Simply the aesthetics? Perhaps just the frivolity of human nature? Pastoureau, an archivist at the Sorbonne, seizes on stripes as his subject. According to his research, stripes are a little good and a little bad. He answers many fascinating questions about stripes. Why did two vertically--or horizontally--placed colors assume a romantic and revolutionary tone at the time of the American and French revolutions? Why do the French and German words for stripes have other connotations, mostly pejorative? Barbara Jacobs
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition (June 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743453263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743453264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #191,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Imagine a convict. What sort of clothes is he wearing? Everyone knows, but how is it that this universal sign came to be? That is one of the surprising questions answered in an odd little book about, of all things, stripes. _The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes & Striped Fabric_ (Columbia University Press) by Michel Pastoureau (translated from the French by Jody Gladding) shows stripes all over the place and gives a wide-ranging account of just why they have the clothing functions we seem almost instinctively to know about them. The pejorative nature of stripes was founded on a legend sparked in the Bible's pages, and the Carmelite order figured that stripes would be a good uniform for its members, while the members of other orders wore sober solid colors. The Carmelites arrived in Paris in 1254, and were immediate victims of abuse and mockery, with people making jests about how they were just the type to be "behind bars," and so on. The cloaks were a scandal, and Pope Alexander IV expressly ordered unstriped ones for the Carmelites. It didn't do; ten successive popes were required to put the demonic garment down, and even then the Carmelites out in the sticks probably kept it.
Stripes were thereby authoritatively banned from religious garb, and they became assigned to nasties: "Treacherous knights, usurping seneschals, adulterous wives, rebel sons, disloyal brothers, cruel dwarfs, greedy servants, they may all be endowed with stripes on heraldry or clothes." Cain and Judas don't always have stripes in their pictures, but they get them more than any other biblical figures. As time went on, the stripe was associated not so much with badness as lowness. Servants wore stripes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Eileen G. on August 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You may not have given much thought to stripes before. Zebras, awnings, prisoners in old movies: stripes may have seemed either unusual (the zebra), somehow functional (traffic crossings) or banal (tee shirts) but in all cases, not particularly meaningful. This book will change all that. It is several things: a scholarly semiology of stripes, a thoughtful and thought-provoking investigation into the variety of historic social meanings of striped surfaces and, best of all, an irresistible initiation to the reader to ponder (under wonderfully playful and able guidance) not only stripes but their significance - both unconscious and deliberate - to the varieties of historic and contemporary human social discourse. It turns out that stripes mean a lot.
Michel Pastoureau is an accomplished French paleographer and archivist and an expert on heraldry and other symbology. This book, he informs the reader in his introduction, is the one among the thirty-five he has written that most "truly corresponds to what I had hoped to write at the outset." His idea for the book, as well as his burgeoning interest in, and curiosity about, the stripe derived from his interest in Medievalism. "In medieval dress, everything means something," and therefore he knew he was onto something big ' regarding stripes. Asserting that the stripe is "not a form but a structure," Pastoureau organizes this exposition chronologically, beginning with the 13th century. He explores the history and the meanings of pattern and structure from a social point of view; his knowledge of production methods will please textile historians, and his playful and open-minded approach (he asks a lot of questions, to which there may or may not be answers) incites both awe and curiosity in the reader.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Terre Spencer on October 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Prostitutes, bastards, traitors, Beelzebub, Cain, jugglers, clowns, hangmen, lepers, heretics, adulterous wives and non-Christians were all depicted as wearing and sometimes actually required to wear stripes in the Medieval era. A Middle Ages black hat designation as it were, striped clothing served as a visual shorthand judgement of the person donning such garb. Before eyes could discern more subtle notations, stripes announced a lack of cherished virtue(s), marking the wearer as a person at best on the fringes of the mainstream social mores. Such were stripes-barres.
What did striped cloth and clothing mean? Why, indeed, would it mean anything?
In the first chapter, Pastoureau muses `The problem of the stripe does indeed lead to pondering the relationship between the visual and the social within a society. He then poses the questions `Why does the West, over the very long term, have the majority of social taxonomies expressed through visual codes? Does the eye classify better than the ear or sense of touch? Is to see to classify? Why is the derogatory sign system-the one that draws attention to outcast individuals, dangerous places or negative virtues, more heavily stressed than the status-enhancing systems?' The questions are disquieting, staccato, sometimes painful.
About 225 years ago, the American Revolution's use of stripes was adopted in Europe's changing fashion and social mores. But the pejorative striped garment remained alongside the playful and fashionable stripe as a mark of the social outcast, the inmate, the madman, the thief. What does that say about Western culture? Did we, and do we continue, to use stripes to hold at a safe distance the questionable?
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