Forget florals. This summer, gingham is splashed all over the catwalks and high street rails. One particular £15 gingham frock from Primark has even been tipped as this year’s must-buy. As a result, millions of shoppers have been battling to bulk-buy the dress in store, while others have paid up to double the price on eBay just to get their hands on it!
Judy Garland was one of the first to bring gingham into the spotlight in the Wizard of Oz. Her pinafore, with a puff sleeved blouse, ringlet pigtails and ruby red slippers, made her the perfect picture of childhood innocence.
Then came Doris Day, who truly made gingham her own as the fabric became synonymous with her wholesome image. And she wasn’t the only musical star to don a bit of gingham as the costumes of Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers were packed to the rafters with checks. Ginger Rogers and Ingrid Bergman were also big fans.
So far gingham was all about being prim and traditional. But all that changed in 1955 with sexy siren Brigitte Bardot, cavorting on a St Tropez beach in a frilly gingham bikini. Almost overnight gingham went from a housewife’s favourite to the preserve of fashion rebels. When Brigitte married her second husband, Jacques Charrier, she wore a Jacques Esterel pastel pink dress with a fitted waist and three quarter sleeves in gingham. Almost instantly we were running out to the shops and eyeing up our gingham tablecloths as we wanted to try out the look for ourselves.
Fledgling designer Barbara Hulanicki was the one to bring gingham to the masses after creating a specially designed sugar-pink gingham sleeveless dress for a Daily Mirror photo shoot with Pauline Stone in 1964. As soon as it hit the headlines, Barbara received 17,000 orders for the dress and it officially launched her now world-famous Biba label.
The Nineties saw another brief revival for gingham but it’s been this year’s spring/summer season that has truly made it hip to be square again as everything from gingham bags to shoes, to dresses and embroidered blouses flies off the shelves.
A chequered history of gingham
While gingham has distinctive checks, it actually started life as a striped fabric, imported from India in the 17th Century. The word ‘gingham’ comes from the Malayan word ‘genggang’ meaning striped. When it reached the mills of Manchester, it got a new look as millers began weaving the materials in checked or plaid patterns.
In gingham, the yarn is dyed before it’s woven and the coloured yarn goes against the grain of the uncoloured yarn to create a lightweight fabric that looks the same either side.