The subject of prison clothing never really enters my mind, the image of a man in a black and white striped suit and some screenshots of A Man Escaped being the only images it conjures. Dress Behind Bars made me question why I had never given the subject a second thought. Juliet Ash discusses its development in detail, framing the subject in contemporary thought, political and social reforms and financial restraints, making the subject compelling by putting it in context.
Apparently, my lack of knowledge on prison clothing is understandable, given that the image of the striped prison uniform is in itself misleading. The black and white striped uniform was abolished by 1914 in most American prisons. Regardless, early American films adopted this notorious uniform into the cinematic vocabulary as a shorthand to depict criminals. Some examples are Charlie Chaplin’s The Adventurer (1917) and Buster Keaton’s Convict 13 (1920). The resultant fictional stereotype was that of the “heroic underdog humiliated by clothing.”