Criss, cross, line, line. The check in theory is a pretty simple concept, but how to wear checks — is that as straightforward? In recent times, designers’ fascination with the print has seen it used in all its most complex styles, from Prince of Wales to madras.
How to wear checks
Championed most recently by the likes of Isabel Marant with delicate cotton dresses, Jacquemus in behemoth suiting, Vetements in grungy checked shirts and Victoria Beckham in demure bodices and form-fitting dresses, it seems designers are requesting, “Check please!” as their print of choice.
There are few fashion moments that come along that fit the oxymoron “timeless trend” quite so well as the check. Although it is minimal in aesthetic and almost neutral for its ability to be partnered with other eye-catching prints (like a floral, for instance), the check is also complex, with so many pattern varieties, each with their own codes and signifiers, concealing within its deceptively simple lines and shades allusions to everything from grunge rock ’n’ roll to classic suiting to old-world royalty.
Tartan and gingham and plaid; a favourite among men, women, hipsters and farmers; the check is one of fashion’s most favoured prints. But how many of us really know our houndstooth from our tweed? Grid from gingham? Perhaps it’s time we checked our pattern IQ and, more importantly, how to style checks.
Prince of Wales
Returning to her Posh Spice roots, Victoria Beckham’s AW16 collection re-imagined her beloved bustier into daywear, using a mish-mash of houndstooth jacquards, gingham blousing and classic Prince of Wales check – a check-on-check pattern, also known as the Glen plaid, but named after Edward VII when he was the Prince of Wales.
Whether swathed across low-slung trousers, twisted around the bodice as a directional tunic or sculpted into the behemoth proportions of an oversized jacket, the Prince of Wales check featured front and centre across many other AW16 collections. Look to French up-and-comer Jacquemus’ avant-garde collection for a master class on how to style checks in a Cher Horowitz of Clueless homage, pairing a Prince of Wales check blazer with a matching skirt and pastel thigh-high boots.
It’s no secret that designer Demna Gvasalia is sympathetic to the plight of the angsty teen. A cursory look over his AW16 collection for Vetements reveals a focus on emo-style death metal hoodies, new-gen Lolita high socks and grungy, 90s Seattle-inspired plaid, which is a North American term for tartan. Check.
Looking to almost school uniform-esque starting points, there were micro-mini dresses, suiting that was at the same time shrunken and oversized and…the classic plaid shirt. Matched with the season’s sumptuous velvet suit, the plaid shirt showed us how to style checks with a grunge-luxe sensibility, a nod to grit and indie rock. If you prefer your plaid more staid, go for a Rochas coat in dark-toned checks and you can still somewhat reference the 90s flannel.
Channeling the likes of English style icons Charlotte Rampling and Jane Birkin, the Topshop Unique AW16 collection read like a greatest hits of fashion. There was shearling, see-through lace, khaki — and a feature story on houndstooth. Models were wearing checks blown out into generous proportions and laid out over A-line mini skirts, trousers and leather-trimmed peacoats, showing how this particular pattern can be fresh and edgy while speaking to a prim and proper polish.
But how to wear checks like the houndstooth without looking like a carry bag from a certain Australian department store? With strong 60s allusions, this is a trend best teamed with mod tailoring, clean separates and a generous swipe of kohl eyeliner. Olivier Rousteing worked monochrome houndstooth into jackets for the Balmain spring 2014 collection and, paired with a flared leather skirt and ankle boots, the result was black and white (and even pale pink and cream): this check has longevity.
Taking its name from the former name of the Indian city of Chennai, madras is traditionally a lightweight, summer check realised in bright, airy hues. It was a popular pattern for checked shirts, shorts and blazers in the 1960s and made a preppy resurgence in the 80s. Today it’s been returned almost beyond recognition.
Playing into AW16s undeniable obsession with streetwear, Creative Director for Iceberg, Arthur Arbesser (of Giorgio Armani alumni), put forward a collection that was something of a love letter to the check print. Featuring abstracted, painterly interpretations of the grid as well as almost pop art-style versions, the most pronounced and successful was a madras-style check in bold colours that stood to reinvent streetwear classics. This is an easy-to-style pattern that makes light work of how to wear checks for the weekend. And we’re not talking about a tablecloth for the barbecue setting.