Check's, Plaid's, Tartan's.
There's something of a renaissance in check's right now and, it's fair to say, a good amount of dapper creativity on display across various media; whether it's with the simplicity of a single check garment worked into the mix alongside plain colours, or playing with pattern combinations.. check on check, checks with stripes, checks with herring-bone, checks with dots...
There's an art to all this of course; the perennial fine line of striking the right balance and carrying off your look with a sense of dapper formality or an at ease sprezzatura, versus, simply... getting it wrong. And getting it wrong with checks can be pretty severe, leaving you with a horrendously pieced together jumble sale look of vagabond proportions.
So, some thoughts.
Ultimately there's no hard and fast rules to checks. A couple of fundamentals though: as with all sartorial consideration across pieces of apparel - it is to compliment rather than match. And, if you're not sure, just play it safe.
With checks you're helped at the moment by seasonal fabrics. If you're starting point is with the jacket think of light wool for more formality, or tweeds for more relaxed wear, both historically and neatly offering themselves to check patterns. If you're starting with the shirt you have the beautiful and classic gingham in soft cotton for a more formal look (though gingham, strictly speaking, isn't a check), or for more relaxed wear there's slightly thicker cotton shirts in plaid, sporting an out-door country-style vibe.
With either a check jacket or shirt as your starting point it is of course what you add to them that delivers on the right or wrong of your 'check look'.
Playing it safe you can simply balance these items against plain colours and a mix of fabrics; if being a little more dynamic then playing with the scale of the patterns can offer a stylish while neat look, as well as, again, mixing up the fabrics to create balance, and subtle colour contrasts.
Avoiding a garish mix of colours is a pretty critical point, though as with all things there are exceptions, with a few supremely stylish gents able to pull off a bold clash of checks; though we would humbly suggest that it's better for the majority of us style mortals to opt for a more controlled dapperness.
Here we've created a relaxed tone, playing on the dynamic gingham of the shirt versus the soft surrounding colours and mixing up the fabrics to create balance. Creeping checks, stripes and dots into the mix! Wearing the pocket square in the pocket of a cardigan can be debated, but we thought - why not? You judge.
Gingham essentially means striped. Tracing gingham to it's roots takes you to Asia and specifically Malaysia where the practice of dying the yarn of the fabric before it is woven was used; the coloured yarn form the warp when woven travels against the weft (the uncoloured yarn) and creates a criss-cross of stripes - 'genggang' in Malay. The technique travelled and the name (of sorts) remained, evolving from 'gengging' to 'gingham'.
In the west gingham became popular as a style and also a cost effective way of producing fabrics for any number of purposes. The nature of the gingham weave on cotton makes it light and reversible, and so versatile.
Playing on the theme of check on check. The difference in scale of the checks gives room for manoeuvre when combing the two, so long as the tie and the pocket square offers a contrast in pattern and fabric. While not in view the trousers for this look should be dark hued and plain.
Here you can see the checks are busier with more colour employed in plaid than in gingham. Making a note of gingham versus plaid is important when understanding the patterns, the insight can help inform the way you work with them. This is also especially true when considering plaid versus tartan.
Tartan was originally woven with wool and consists of criss crossed bands in multiple colours. It can be traced back to Roman occupation era Britain and the ancient Celts of Scotland and Ireland where it was worn. The pigment on the check denoted the regions where it was woven and consequently it's clans. As such tartan was and still remains very symbolic.
It's symbolism also extended to rebellion, being the uniform of Scottish clans coming together to rebel against British rule. As a result of this for periods of time in Britain, most notably the mid 1700's after the Scottish rebellion, it was frowned upon and even banned due to the association.
Plaid is an evolution of the Tartan check, and became popular in fashion in the 1800's after it's association with rebellion was put to rest.
It's popularity in Britain was followed in the US where Tartan travelled across the Atlantic with migrating Scots reaching the frontiers, and as such was adopted by such folk, building an association with the outdoors, hands on living and labour. Think.. lumber-jack shirt.
So, it's worth noting when understanding check patterns that while all tartan is essentially plaid, not all plaid is necessarily tartan. Though all, it seems, can be checks.
Here we've gone with a favourite look of ours when balancing the checks, colours and fabrics, with a close up to see the textures: Cotton Gingham Shirt, Silk Natt Weave Tie, Wool Jacket, Silk Pocket Square. For us it combines simple formality, relaxed dapperness, assured style and confidence with colour.
The ingredients to truly set yourself apart. With integrity.
Embrace the check and create your look.