How Prison Jumpsuits got their Stripes

The Low-Down on Black and White Prison Jumpsuits 

When most people think of prison uniforms, they tend to think of black and white striped jumpsuits. Although prison uniforms today come in many different styles and colors, prisoners in movies are still often portrayed wearing these classic garments. So how did these jumpsuits come to be? 

Black and white jumpsuits date to the early 1800s, when they were given to inmates as a “badge of shame.” The black and white stripes were said to represent cell bars, and served to identify those who were serving time in custody. Not only that, but it made inmates easily identifiable in the event they were to escape.

Nearly a century later, people began to rethink the idea of shaming prisoners by making them wear the black and white striped jumpsuits. As a result, many penal institutions began phasing them out because they felt it was unfair to shame offenders regardless of the crime they had committed.

Rather than black and white, many institutions turned to solid orange jumpsuits instead. These outfits were not intended to shame prisoners, but instead make them easy to locate inside a facility. Orange jumpsuits served another purpose in that the public would be able to spot an escaped offender right away, which would hopefully mean that person would be returned to custody much sooner.

Today, a handful of facilities continue to use black and white uniforms more out of tradition than to shame offenders. The fact that they fit men and women of all sizes is another major factor in choosing them as well.