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Patterns in Fashion: i. Checks

  • The word check comes from the word 'checkmate', the winning move in chess, to capture the king! However, the checkerboard pattern has been incorporated into man-made objects since at least the Bronze Age.

  • In twentieth Century European fashion, checked patterns, for example, the lining of Burberry macintoshes, became fashionable from the 1940s onwards, as worn by the film stars of the day, such as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Checkerboard - Check Patterns in Fashion


  • A repeating diamond pattern or a single diamond with overlapping gridlines, knitted into the fabric, gives texture and depth to woollen garments.

  • The pattern was originally the tartan of Clan Campbell of Argyll, Western Scotland and used for kilts and patterned socks - 'Tartan Hose.'

  • Argyle knitwear became fashionable in the United Kingdom after World War I. Developed by fashion houses, such as Pringle in the 1920s, as golf wear, and famously worn by the Duke of Windsor, particularly jerseys, plus-fours and long socks.


  • Buffalo check, originally black squares on a red background, was copied after a pattern called Rob Roy, named after a folk hero from Scotland who wore woollen shirts in the Pennsylvania woods. The patterned shirts were incorporated into mainstream twentieth Century American fashion as lumberjack shirts. The flannel plaid shirt became synonymous with the 1990s Grunge fashion, the adopted wear of Seattle bands such as Nirvana.

  • Black and white checkerboard, associated with motor-racing, became popular as part of the bold, geometric and playful car design and Mod fashion of the 1960s. Latterly, the pattern was used by American skateboarders of the 1970s, popularised in streetwear by the brand, Vans, and associated with the Ska skateboarding, music and alternative culture of the 1990s.


  • A medium-weight and balanced fabric of white and a brightly-coloured dyed checks. From the mid-eighteenth Century it was being produced by the cotton mills of Manchester.

  • A well-known blue and white gingham pinafore dress is the one worn by Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939) and evoked the look of a Great Depression-era farm girl from rural Kansas.

  • Popular as part of the 'Nouvelle Vague' french gamine look of the 1950s, gingham was used in cotton blouses, skirts and dresses and made famous by Brigitte Bardot, who wore a pink gingham dress, when she married Jaques Charrier in 1959.

  • Gingham was also used in men's Mod clothing of the early 1960s, particularly shirts. It is associated with mod and indie music, fashion and brands such as Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, Merc and Lambretta Clothing to the present day.


  • Houndstooth or 'dog's tooth' check is a tessellated, abstract, two-tone pattern, with repeating four-pointed shapes.

  • The pattern originated from a woven fabric from the Scottish Lowlands, but is now used in a variety of different fabrics.

  • Christian Dior's 'New Look' (1947) incorporated houndstooth check, which many of its signature tweed suits were cut from. The print became emblematic of the house and the early perfume bottles were moulded into a houndstooth pattern, such as the legendary Miss Dior perfume (1947). The pattern was worn famously by Lauren Bacall in 'The Big Sleep' (1946).

  • Similarly to gingham, houndstooth was adopted by 'Nouvelle Vague' European fashion and early 1960s Mod fashion in larger, bolder designs.

  • Houndstooth became popular, again, as part of 1980s 'power dressing', the formal wear of the fashionable working woman. It was used extensively by Alexander McQueen in his 2009 Autumn/Winter collection in a dramatic and theatrical re-working.


  • Madras Fabric is a handwoven, lightweight, cotton fabric comprised of checks, stripes or plaids created using vegetable dyes, where the colour bleeds slightly to give a muted appearance to the pattern.

  • The fabric originally comes from the Madras region of India.

  • It is used for summer weight shirts, trousers, jackets and dresses and is often constructed into a patchwork, which gives a more textured look.

  • Synonymous with North-East American collegiate fashion of the 1950s and 1960s, 'Preppy' madras print became a symbol of authenticity and quality in clothing, compared to the abundance of relatively cheaply produced American cotton.


  • Tartan fabric originated in Scotland, a patterned woven wool of criss-crossing bands of multiple colours.

  • Highland tartans were associated with the clans people of Scotland, who used the natural dyes representative of their local area. Weaves were chosen according to preference.

  • Tartans were worn notably by the Jacobite army of the eighteenth Century, which included the clansmen who fought the English army. However, it wasn't until Victorian times that specific tartans were given specific Scottish clan names.

  • Tartan is a perrenial in fashion and most associated with Scotland, the British aristocracy and country life. It was latterly used as part of an anti-establishment look in the Rockabilly fashions of the 1950s and the Punk fashions of the late 1970s, used by designers Vivienne Westwood, John-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen.


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