Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 15/09/11: Let’s Talk About Checks

One of my absolute, hands-down, all-time favourite aspects of fabric is pattern.  It’s not the colour, it’s not the tactility.  It’s not the miracle that is puffs of cotton bolls and sheep fuzz getting woven from fibre into twine into material into clothing (even though the human race wouldn’t have survived without twine – think about it).

What amazes me about pattern in fabric isn’t so much the final appearance as how it’s made.  With pattern on paper, you know that those polka dots are just a few daubs carefully placed on one surface.  With woven fabric, threads of different colours have to be carefully synchronised to make a harmonious whole.

There’s a method to it, but I don’t want to know.  I’m like a mother in denial that her daughter is a pole dancer and not an award-winning architect.

Printed fabrics just don’t measure up.  Digital printing has come in leaps and bounds and, while some prints are truly remarkable, they lack the depth of woven materials.

Not sure about the shoes though... photo by Nina Leen for Life Magazine, 1946

That’s why I’m so happy that checks are making a reappearance. Tartan, Prince of Wales check and houndstooth; welcome back to the fold.  We’ve missed you so much.

I’m especially excited about tartan, inasmuch as a person can get excited about a pattern.  It’s deceptively versatile.  Wearing tartan can be a nod to a rich heritage, a dedication to a designer brand or an homage to punk – or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a mixture of all three.  It’s one of those rare patterns that can say absolutely anything, unlike say, vertical stripes, which bears the exclusive trademark of prisoners in old-timey silent films.

Thakoons take on the new plaid - via

While last year we did double denim, this year we’ll be doing double tartan, layering the same patterns in different colours.  A shirt with miniscule print would look great buttoned up to the collar insider a larger tartan sweater.

Tartan is also allying itself with the nascent 60’s trend.  Bold primary colours are demarcated with the familiar black lines of check, which has an unexpected, but totally serendipitous Op Art effect.

Even more 60’s is the resurgence of houndstooth.  When small, it can shift and blur into gray.  When the check is large, it can look abstract and jarring.  Mostly though, it looks chic.  Houndstooth is one of those patterns that is so terminally under-appreciated that it never really goes out of fashion, so if you love it already, stock up joyfully.  You can legitimately play with that monochrome print for years to come.

Even Wallace is getting in on the Prince of Wales action for a Harvey Nicks store opening in 2008

Prince of Wales check will be even less appreciated due to it’s relatively complicated manufacturing process, but that doesn’t make it any less lovable.  It’s a shame that this won’t appear in more high-street stores, but keep an eye out for when it does.  Because of the way it’s woven, Prince of Wales checks will usually drape really well, which is an extra bonus.

All of these patterns are classic, so will pop up in your wardrobe seamlessly regardless of trends.  There’s no shame in investing in it – let’s talk about checks.

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2 thoughts on “Licentiate Column 15/09/11: Let’s Talk About Checks

  1. “There’s a method to it, but I don’t want to know. I’m like a mother in denial that her daughter is a pole dancer and not an award-winning architect.”

    Possibly one of the best metaphors I’ve ever heard!

    As much as I like colour blocking, I do love the odd pattern aswell, breaks things up a bit.

  2. Pingback: Nina Leen: Feet Focus | The Licentiate

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