Why are burglars associated with striped jerseys?

In the kids’ comics of the 50s (at least here in the UK) the burglar was always depicted with a domino mask, a red and black striped jersey and a bag marked SWAG. Just search for ‘burglars comics’ in Google Images and in the first row of results you’ll see a couple of examples.

Is, or was, this common in the US too? Why was that style of jersey associated with burglars?

They’re prison stripes. Generic prison garb before the orange jumpsuit took over. So for a cartoonist it’s a way of denoting a criminal.

Of course, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a burglar to dress as a prisoner before he even gets caught (and suggests a certain depressing defeatism on the part of the criminal). But cartoon conventions are supposed to be a handy shorthand, they aren’t really supposed to make “real life” sense.

Woops, re-read your post and you were asking about red stripes, not black ones. In the US, burglars in 1950’s era comics usually wear “prison stripes”. I suspect the origin of the red stripes in the UK is the same, but I don’t know for certain.

bags in USA has dollar sign too.

It may well go back to the French Apache gangs of the early 1900s, who were often depicted wearing striped shirts.

I can’t answer the OP, but I don’t know that I’d associate black-and-white striped jerseys with prison stripes. In It Takes A Thief Cary Grant wore a black-and-white striped jersey. He wore it because the button-down collar of the shirt he intended to wear was too modern for the film. I think that the striped shirt was just a common clothing item in France at the time. Could it be that striped jerseys were associated with a particular class of society that produced a lot of burglars? (Incidentally, the firs U.S. image that comes to my mind is of the burglar wearing a leather jacket and motoring cap – though that might be more of a robber’s image than a burglar’s.)

I googled per the OP’s instructions, but did not see an illustration on the first page of images.

There are several with black-and-white striped shirts; I didn’t see any with red-and-white stripes.

Thje outfit of McDonald’s Hamburglar clearly seems to be based on prison stripes.

When mimes don’t get enough donations, they turn to a life of crime.

This was common in the U.S. as well. I never noticed one color scheme being predominant, and the bag might be marked “$” instead of “SWAG,” but the depiction was essentially the same.

Google images for burglar clipart seem to show the best variety of this. Note the different colors as compared to striped prison uniforms.

Although the shirt pattern resembles prison stripes, I don’t really see a connection. True prison stripe outfits include the pants where these burglar ones don’t, and striped shirts are typical of various other groups (Apache gangs, mimes, rugby players, etc.). Colibri’s suggestion strikes me as rather likely.

I didn’t see any of the red-and-white striped ones either.

I agree that the Hamburglar’s costume is clearly prison stripes because of the trousers.

And it’s not likely that they’d be mistaken for escaped prisoners because they are, after all, wearing masks.

I don’t think the pants not being stripped really matters. The point is that stripes became a shorthand for “criminal” because of the association with prisoner uniforms, not that the burglars were supposed to literally be wearing clothing they got in prison.

It seems too much of a coincidence that “generic cartoon prison uniforms” and “generic cartoon burglar clothes” are so similar if their origins aren’t linked.

I disagree. I don’t think they’re all that similar, in that there are different colors used for some of the burglars and the pants are not included, and there are other plausible – and I would say more plausible – explanations for the striped shirts.

I’m doubtful about it (as a life-long British comic reader). For one thing, British cartoon stereotype prison uniforms (like the real thing, at one time) didn’t have stripes – they had the broad arrow.

Also, criminals weren’t the only ones wearing the outfit: the British Dennis the Menace wore the same sweater, as did Minnie the Minx and (I’m fairly sure) several other characters.

The actual colour scheme may not be very relevant, though. British comics at the time were mostly black-and-white on the inside pages, with occasional spot colour; and where there was spot colour it was usually red. So red and black stripes may simply have been the default.

It does look as though hoop pattern pullovers were popular with British cartoonists at the time, though. Whether they were – or had been – in fashion, or were just simple to draw, I couldn’t say.

White and black seems to predominate pretty strongly, and as I said, I don’t think the pants thing really means much either way.

But obviously we’re going to need some more evidence. Anyone want to try and find the origin (or at least earliest example) of the trope?

As an alternate, the “blatant burglar” article on tvtropes mentions an association with French sailor uniforms, with the idea that they were stranded on the wrong side of the channel and turned to a life of crime.

Nitpick: The movie was To Catch A Thief.

I stand corrected. The TV show was on when I was a kid.

Well, when I was growing up in England in the 1950s and '60s I understood them to be prison uniform (probably my mum told me, or something). The fact they they are not compete prison uniforms and may vary in their colors a bit, does not strike me as very significant. It is an artistic convention that has (and had, even in my youth) doubtless evolved far away from its origins, which most of the artists probably had little awareness of. They were just copying, but not slavishly copying, each other. Certainly they were not going for realism. No burglar would obtain, and open carry around, a bag prominently marked as “SWAG”.

It is true that in my youth, kids comics, although they depicted burglars with stripes, conventionally depicted actual prisoners with arrowed uniforms, but that might mean no more than that the convention for burglars and for the (much less frequently depicted) prisoners, developed at different times.

Burglar stripes, as I remember them, were generally much broader than “Frenchie” stripes (comics would generally depict Frenchmen in narrow-striped jerseys, and berets), but I suppose, for the reasons given above, that that does not really have much significance.