Different types of Checks and their origins
Bold or subdued, you can play around with checks to suit your stylistic preference. The check, however, is only as good as its maker, so it's worth visiting only the finest tailors for your attire.
Like denim, check patterns are one of the most ubiquitous sights in the world of menswear. And like the dyed yarn, its production is a dizzying combination of mathematical formulas, which directs the umpteen stages of complex production. The technicalities of its assembly line is a story for another day, but the cloth somehow ends up on the cutting tables in the hallowed workshops of Savile Row, Naples and Paris. Turning superior check cloth into bespoke masterpieces for countless French presidents and icons of the silver screen, Cifonelli's address at 31 rue Marbeuf is one of those workshops. Under the stewardship of cousins Lorenzo and Massimo, they have extended the house’s legacy to produce prêt-à-porter collections with haute couture know-how. An extremely rare commodity in the ready-to-wear space, clients and menswear commentators have been eulogizing over their use of check patterns. Their legion of followers usually have to wait close to six months each year to clap eyes on their beautiful check creations. Whether it is a surprise or not, this year the wait has been pleasantly inturrupted by the launch of Lorenzo Cifonelli’s most personal collection to date – a Lorenzo-designed assortment in partnership with The Rake. If you’re a check fiend, have a penchant for elegant tailoring, and you’re yet to peruse the collection featuring Loro Piana fabrics – all we can tell you is that by reading on you will be in a state of graphic marvel. But to coincide with this visual rapture, it is worth delving a little deeper into the origins of these different types of checks.
Prince of Wales check (Glen Check) Like most other checks it originated in Scotland and was actually first registered in 1840 as “Glenurquhart Estate Check”. It is widely accepted that designer, Miss Elizabeth MacDougall, came up with the original design in her native village of Lewiston, found at the bottom of the glen, but some believe it was the feat of Countess Caroline of Seafield, an accomplished weaver who was looking for something smart and durable to dress the grounds staff with on the Urquhart estate. For a while, the check remained a local fashion, but on a hunting visit to the estate, King Edward VII (who was then Prince of Wales) observed the estate’s staff wearing the pattern, and took an immediate liking to it.
Worn consistently with real aplomb by the Prince of Wales in royal circles it garnered the nickname “Prince of Wales Check”. With its enduring popularity ever since, one must point out that strictly speaking PoW should refer to only one specific type of Glen Check: “The PoW check is distinguished by its over-check, whereas a Glen Check comes without an over-check,” as Jeremy Hackett explains. It is why, with no over-check the three-piece suits of the Vendôme and Iconic III looks in the Lorenzo Cifonelli for The Rake collection are titled as Glen Check. Lorenzo comments on the Vendôme by saying: “The fabric is a Loro Piana check, that to me is the perfect size”. And like the Iconic III the check is perfectly executed to be the cynosure of all eyes drawn towards elegance and refinement. With a warm brown overcheck, the Sorbonne look has been titled as Prince of Wales for this very reason. Broken Check (Houndstooth and Puppytooth) Houndstooth can be distinguished from other similar types of check patterns by its jagged edges, which are formed by tangent twill lines that flare out from the sides of the squares. It is called houndstooth because some people see these serrated edges as resembling the back teeth of a dog. Even though the pattern emerged over a century ago, its popularity into the fashion world didn’t arrive until the 1930s, and more fervently a decade later when Christian Dior incorporated houndstooth in his designs for the 1948 haute couture spring/summer collection. Now widely used by the most distinguished labels in sartorial menswear, the houndstooth pattern has been the go-to check to permeate a smart appearance that falls below anything too formal. As the fulcrum of the Tuileries look in the collection, Lorenzo says of the puppytooth three-piece suit: “I love this fabric because of how many subtle tones it has.” The three-piece suit can be worn as separates and looks splendid when worn with denim.
Windowpane When a graph check contains larger squares, the pattern may be referred to as windowpane, referencing windows that have divided panes. Windowpane checks have come back into style in recent years, but this is largely down to a select few tailors, who are applying their stylistic and cutting nous to produce checks that adhere to authentic qualities. Gingham The word gingham entered the English language in the seventeenth century; originally it was a striped fabric imported from India. However, in the mid-eighteenth century, when Manchester mills started producing the material, it was woven into checked or plaid patterns. Gingham (sometimes called “Vichy” in Europe) is the simplest of the checks involving thicker lines, in this case, generally a single colour crossing on a white background. Blue tends to be the most popular, though many colours of gingham are possible. The distance between lines is always regular, so the result looks like the typical checkerboard. As part of the Lorenzo Cifonelli for The Rake collection, the soft grey large-format gingham check shirt is a classic and understated shirting masterpiece destined to blend in beautifully with a black and grey wool Glen Check suit. Tartan Tartan has an ancient history. The earliest known Tartan in Scotland can be dated to the third or fourth century AD. Dubbed the most complex checked pattern in menswear, it is formed by intersecting lines of varying thickness and any number of colours. Though it is not always the case, usually the squares and rectangles on a Tartan are different sizes because the space between the lines does not have to be even. The Tartan pattern in the last half a century has passed into the cooler realms of menswear with punks adopted it as an ironic counter-play to its aristocratic and military connotations in the Victorian era.