I have always associated gingham with Judy Garland’s iconic blue dress in The Wizard of Oz. And tablecloths. Which is why I never particularly warmed to it. As iconic as the film (and the cloth) are, I preferred Peter Pan. And yet Miuccia Prada showed us this season that gingham can be versatile. Styled correctly (she paired gingham with sheer wrap dresses evoking pinafores or aprons) the fabric can be fresh and modern – think Brigitte Bardot dressed as Mick Jagger in the Sixties, at a picnic.
Gingham first originated in Dutch-colonised Malaysia, Indonesia and India, and was subsequently imported into the UK in the mid-eighteenth century. Manchester mills started producing the material, where it was woven into check or plaid patterns. The word appears to derive from the Malaysian word genggang meaning ‘striped’ and adopted by the Dutch.
In Europe, it became synonymous with rustic symbolism and an authentic country-style, while in America, cowboys and the wild west adopted the fabric as their own.
In addition to these overblown kitsch stereotypes, the fabric has also always managed to make a statement, starting in 1940 with Katherine Hepburn’s multi-tiered red and white gingham dress in The Philadelphia Story. Designed by MGM’s head costume designer Adrian (who worked in house between 1928 and 1941), this was the first time they would work together and according to Katherine, “Adrian was my favourite designer – he and I had the same sense of 'smell' about what clothes should do and what they should say." Adrian also designed Dorothy’s gingham pinafore in 1939, proving his appreciation of the inexpensive yet practical fabric, and its universal appeal.
Another key moment was in 1959, when Brigitte Bardot married Jacques Charrier in Paris wearing a simple pink and white gingham dress by couturier Jacques Esterel. This nonchalant approach to bridal wear marked ‘the decline in the hold of couture over the fashion business’ according to film historian Ginette Vincendeau, and the rise of the ‘celebrity’ as opposed to fashion designers. Life Magazine’s August 1959 Issue revealed, “One of Paris’ biggest stores is selling 3,500 gingham dresses like the one Bardot wore at her wedding” and according to one visiting American fashion editor, “You can’t buy a yard of checked gingham in Paris, not even for kitchen curtains, since Brigitte picked the fabric.” As Andy Warhol declared, she was the first ‘modern woman.’
It is this sense of modern youthfulness that captures the summer’s mood – think Audrey Hepburn or Princess Diana in gingham capri pants, or Jackie Onassis in a sunny yellow gingham dress and pink lipstick. It is the subversion of tranquil domesticity that makes it so appealing to so many women. So approach gingham in an unexpected way: instead of the classic gingham dress, opt for a gingham bikini and wear it over a crisp white t-shirt, or as I did yesterday, turquoise high-waisted knee-length shorts paired with cropped t-shirt sporting watermelons. The fun is in subverting the rules, and experimenting with what was stylish in the past.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CHRISTINA HIGGINS
LOCATION: KILRUDDERY HOUSE
Outfit: Pale pink sleeveless polo neck, French Connection, sheer floral high-waisted skirt, Topshop Boutique, burgundy gingham top, Pinko @ Harvey Nichols, salmon socks, Cos, silver runners, H&M