Gingham. Whether it was covering a tabletop at an Italian restaurant, or the back of some guy in red shorts eating a lobster roll, you've seen it in the wild.
The word “gingham” is most commonly used to describe a medium-weight cotton fabric covered by a distinct pattern of overlapping checks. But it wasn’t originally meant to refer to that pattern alone: gingham is the name of the fabric itself, which was historically known for its stripes.
So, how’d that happen? In the early 18th century, mills in England and America began producing gingham fabric in checked patterns to imitate the popular tartans and plaids of Scotland. The more simply designed, brightly colored check patterns soon became a category of their own, under the word “gingham.”
The lighter weight and casual patterns of gingham make it ideal for the warmer months, particularly spring. Though it’s best known as a less-formal fabric, it can also makes a great, unexpected addition to a suited look. Here are just a few of the directions you can take gingham in:
As a Casual Shirt
This one’s pretty-much a no-brainer. Every style of gingham makes a great button-down shirt to wear with jeans, chinos, or shorts. Just keep in mind that the larger the check, the more casual the shirt.
As a Layer
Spring’s transitional temperatures may have you reaching for a crewneck sweatshirt or a merino V-neck by evening. In those instances, gingham’s flash of pattern and color will be a great way to add some visual interest to a solid-colored sweater. Again, any sort of gingham will do the job, but try pairing warmly-colored ginghams (like orange and pink) to cool-colored sweaters (such as grey or navy), and vice-versa.
With Suits or Sportcoats
Pairing gingham with suits or sportcoats carries the most risk, but offers the highest reward. For best results, keep a couple of rules in mind:
Keep the suit simple: Because the shirt has a pattern, try to stick to solid suits rather than pinstripes, plaids, or other patterns that might clash. If you do decide to mix with a pattern, go for something subtle like birdseye or nailhead.
Keep the tie simple: Once again, allow the shirt to be the only pattern in the mix. Select a dark, solid-colored tie that will sharply standout against a gingham background. But that tie doesn’t have to be formal: gingham’s. casual nature makes it a great companion to grenadine and knit silk.
Keep the checks small: Large checks threaten to drown out the other visual components of a suited look. Smaller checks are slightly more discreet, helping to achieve a more harmonious effect overall. Think of large checks as the lead singer, and smaller checks as the backup vocals.