Stripes Strip Humanity

Prison uniforms are graphically designed so an inmate can be immediately recognized as such. Originally a horizontal white and black “bee-striped” uniform was the most popular (and stereotypical) prison garb in the U.S.. Striped prison uniforms commonly used in the 19th and twentieth centuries were abolished in the United States during the mid century because “their continued use as a badge of shame was considered undesirable.

The fair treatment of prisoners and the era of prisoners’ rights prompted changes in clothing, in accordance with modern concepts of rehabilitation instead of punishment. Work clothes were introduced. And now jumpsuits are the norm.

The graphic and symbolic power of stripes—which were used to iconic and evil effect in the Nazi concentration camps— continue to be recognized as the convicts’ brand. So much so that striped uniforms have made a comeback into the U.S. prison system.

11 thoughts on “Stripes Strip Humanity

  1. susan

    Dear Steve, I’m surprised that no one mentioned another instance in which striped uniforms were used to dehumanize and “brand” people as sub-human, ie. those who were incarcerated in concentration camps during WWII. 

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  3. marc

    always reminded me of the ancient hopi koshare katchinas – clowns, or tricksters – who’s role was to enforce tradition and note taboos. here’s a painting of them providing “commentary” no doubt at the white sands missile site.

  4. James Curtis

    God knows how Paul Rand got the striped IBM logo through. The CEO’s response in front of the committee was that the blue stripes reminded him of seeing the Georgia road chain gangs as he went to school everyday. Apparently they were the same colour stripe as the logo being presented. Can anyone enlighten me or was it just being Paul Rand?

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  6. Melanie

    Wow– the stripes are truly jarring and despite being a brand for bad, the photos are quite interesting
    <a href=””>Melanie@Unravelled Threads</a>Follow <a href=””>@UnraveldThreads</a> on twitter!