The Devil's Cloth

The Devil's Cloth : A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric

By (author) Michel Pastoureau , Translated by Jody Gladding

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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!

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  • Hardback | 160 pages
  • 148 x 182 x 18mm | 258.55g
  • 17 Jul 2001
  • Columbia University Press
  • New York
  • English
  • 14 black & white halftones
  • 0231123663
  • 9780231123662
  • 355,087

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Author Information

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.

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Review quote

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

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Back cover copy

Discover why most national flags have stripes, the difference between the "aristocratic stripe" and the "peasant stripe", the connection between the stripe and music, and why prisoners wear black and white stripes."The stripe doesn't wait, doesn't stand still. It is in perpetual motion (that's why it has always fascinated artists: painters, photographers, filmmakers), animates all it touches, endlessly forges ahead, as though driven by the wind".-- from The Devil's Cloth

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Flap copy

What do prostitutes, referees, and Renaissance clowns have in common? They all wear stripes, and Michel Pastoureau tells us why.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 crew members 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, gangsters, awnings, and pajamas, augmented by illustrative plates, the author shows us how stripes have become chic, and even, in the case of bankers' pinstripes, a symbol of taste and status.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.

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