Fright stripes
FORTyFIED - Cecile Lopez Lilles () - November 4, 2009 - 12:00am

I have always had something against men’s striped and checkered shirts. Second to men’s Bermuda shorts, I think they could just about be the most hideous articles of clothing that have ever descended upon mankind. When I spot striped and checked shirts on display in stores, the split second mental processing of that visual instantly induces a migraine. When I see it on a man, even worse: all hell breaks loose and Armageddon commences inside my noodle. 

Why? I really couldn’t say. It is a strictly personal preference; I’m a huge fan of solids. I’m the no-print, no-frills kind of person. I come from the “keep it simple, stupid” school of thought when it comes to menswear. I am of a mind that, if you’re not in prison, you should lose the stripes. If you don’t belong to a certified true Scottish clan, ditch the checks. Stay solid; you can’t lose.

 A good friend who has long been irritated by my way of thinking attributes it to some deep childhood trauma I might have had involving stripes and checks. “You may have had a yaya who spanked you in private and scared you with the mumu, who wore stripes.” I thought long and hard about it. I did have a yaya, Manang Lita, who scared me with that mumu bit, but she was forever and a day dressed in her white uniform, so it wasn’t that at all.

That same friend then said, “It could be a major hang-up over an ex-boyfriend who dumped you real bad.” I contemplated that too. I did have one boyfriend back in college who took to wearing plaid long-sleeved shirts over crew neck T-shirts, which was his idea of “cool,” but I broke up with him, so that couldn’t have been it either. “It must be something in your subconscious,” she insisted. “Something so painful, if not vile and unspeakable that has given you so much rage against stripes and checks. It’s a type of print on a piece of fabric for hopia’s sake, why does it get your goat all the freakin’ time?”

 I really don’t know; wish I did. It would give me peace of mind.

 “How come polka dots on men’s shirts make you smile? Those are downright sickening! They’re cartoonish but you can tolerate them on grown men!” She was obviously exasperated with me at this point. “I don’t know,” I answered her. “It must be because I associate polka dots with lots of money. My mom used to make us wear them every New Year’s Eve so that we attracted big bucks for the coming year.”  “Bah! You’re hopeless!” she barked at me.

 She lost patience for a while there. She just couldn’t deal with my stripes and checks issues. She said I was a bitch for judging men based on their choice of shirts. “And how else should I judge them?” I asked her. “By their shoes, stupid! Just like all other normal women do!” she screamed, her tonsils flaring at me. So we stopped hanging out for a while, until a college professor of hers, who only ever wore plaid shirts to class, flunked her in his Asian Civilizations course. Then we became friends again and she simply let me go on hating stripes.

 It’s not fun, this thing I have against stripes. I suffer. I can’t enjoy an otherwise engaging conversation just because the man I’m speaking with is wearing a tablecloth or an Ilocano blanket. I can’t get past the shirt even if the guy I am face to face with has the looks of Brad Pitt, the body of Daniel Craig, the smarts of Alan Greenspan, the musical talent of Justin Timberlake, the wallet of Bill Gates, and the athletic prowess of Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, and David Beckham combined. The shirt becomes a deal breaker — no two s***s about it. It’s pathetic, I know.

 Stripes and checks have been called by many names: pinstripes, chalk stripes, ribbon stripes, ajax diagonal stripes, windowpane checks, basket weave checks, patchwork checks, houndstooth, gingham, plaid, black watch, tartan, etc. Their lines and squares are lifted from geometry and loomed into fabric, which are cut and sewn into shirts to distract and annoy people you come in contact with when you wear them — that’s all they are.

 The first thought that comes automatically to mind when I bump into a man wearing stripes is this: If I added piping all around the edges of your distracting garment and if I threw in matching striped pants with an elastic waistband and if I draped a fluffy a security blanket on your arm, you would have been appropriately dressed for bed and I then wouldn’t mind cozying up to you. But definitely not until then.

 And for a man wearing the dreaded checkered shirt, this dialogue plays in my mind: Dude, where’s the lasso and the bolo tie, them chaps, and that unbroken horse? If not that then this: Hey, Robert Roy MacGregor, if you could just push down that shirt and wrap it around your waist, put on some knee socks, and play some bagpipes, then you’d be in business. Otherwise, it’s checkmate.

 We already know menswear can be boring; it is composed of shirts (long-sleeved, short-sleeved) and trousers (long and short — the stuff of nightmares, yikes!). But introducing stripes and checks into the repertoire of prints to make men’s clothing more interesting is as bad an idea as men’s elevator shoes. It’s pure and simple deception.  Stripes say, “I’m fat so I’m going to try to deceive someone into thinking otherwise with this optical illusion of vertical lines.” Checks simply say, “I’m square!”

 If someone were to put a gun to my head and make me choose between stripes and checks, I would choose the former, hands down. They are less busy, with a clear focus on direction — either up and down or sideways. At least they serve a purpose: they elongate short, stocky men and they broaden the stick-thin ones. Checks are downright confusing; they muddle the entire torso area so that the beholder never knows what sort of body lurks in there. It shortens the already short and it widens the already stocky and lengthens the way too towering. 

 Checks are infinite: one never knows where they begin and end. They are like labyrinths without the Minotaur, so there’s neither a nugget of wisdom nor an ounce of treat at the end of it. It’s thankless. It’s just a coma-inducing dizziness one gets at the end of the exercise. Plus, checks just scream: “Howdy,” “Skip to my Lou,” “Achy-breaky heart” or “Timber!”

 Nothing says, “sleek, polished and sophisticated,” as loudly and clearly as solid shirts. They say of the wearer: “I’m an upstanding citizen with a singularity of purpose, a keen sense of fashion, and a solid character.”

 So please, lose the stripes and the checks. Go for solids, I beg of you. But if you are way too attached to them, that’s fine — no big deal.  Just accept my loathing; I’m okay with that.

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Thank you for your letters. You may reach me at

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