In fashion, piping refers most often to a type of trim on fabric. It is usually a small roll of fabric, sewn on to hems, sleeves and collar edges of garments. Piping is frequently seen on military uniforms in gold, red, white or blue. The material may be flat, or puffed out with cotton or wool batting. It has been used on clothing for hundreds of years and provides contrast and ornamentation.
Although a staple on uniforms, piping also appears on civilian garments, especially on women’s clothing. It provides eye-catching contrast on jacket lapels or sleeves. It is even used on women’s shoes for effect and style. It was very popular on women’s clothing in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and has made a comeback in recent years.
Piping can be tricky to sew. In the U.S., it is often sold by the yard on spools at fabric stores. Generally, it has a narrow band of fabric below it, which is what is attached to the fabric. Piping is usually sewn between two layers of fabric so it will stand out in contrast to the body of the garment. A sewer must make certain the fabric comes right up to the trim line, but does not go over it. He or she must also ensure the fabric comes up evenly under the piping for the entire length of the seam.
The other issue with using piping is to make sure it goes well with the main fabric in style, color, and composition. Using velvet on a cotton blouse, for example, would not work well. The piping should enhance the garment and emphasize its desirable lines. It should never be the first thing someone notices about the garment. Like cayenne pepper, a little gives a garment some flash and style, but too much or the wrong kind can overwhelm a garment.
Piping is an interesting and worthwhile embellishment for a piece of clothing. However, the wearer should look for what is tasteful and appropriate in its use.