Gingham Shirt: All You Need to Know About Its Meaning, Origin and Contemporary Use
Introduction Why does the Western world seem so attached to gingham shirts? Maybe because they look good and stylish on almost everyone. Or perhaps it is due to the fact that gingham shirts are a perfect fit for official wear and all kinds of social settings. The gingham shirt stands out as one of the most — if not the most — ubiquitous clothing items in our wardrobes today. Gingham shirts can go with virtually all types of trousers in your wardrobe, be it jeans or khaki-made, a dress pant or even suits. You can wear them all year-round. While they seamlessly straddle the divide between prep and lumberjack, they can also be dressed up or down. For a gingham shirt, even if you haven’t ironed it perfectly, it still looks great since its forgiving pattern will hide any wrinkles. They even draw your onlookers’ eyes away from your extra weight! So, What Exactly Is a Gingham Shirt? As a type of fabric, gingham refers to the plain-woven material that is made out of dyed cotton or cotton-blend yarn. Its yarns are mostly carded, medium or fine, with the coloring being on the warp yarns and always appearing along the grain i.e. weft. The gingham fabric normally comes in a checkered pattern. It is distinguished by even-sized white and colored checks. The pattern is created using horizontal and vertical stripes — often of the same color — that cross each other at right angles on a white background to form evenly-formed checks. A gingham shirt is made from this fabric. Origin of the Gingham Shirt Different theories explain the origin of the gingham fabric and shirt, with the most accepted one postulating that “gingham” comes from the Malay word “genggang” that can be transliterated to mean ‘separate’ or ‘ajar’ in English. Alternately, it has also been speculated that the fabric we now call gingham may have originated from the small town of Guingamp in Brittany, northwestern France, with the term “gingham” being a later corruption of the town’s name that entered English via the Dutch language. According to the main theory, the gingham fabric originated from southwestern Asia and was first imported into Europe in the late-17th century. Although it came to the western world as a striped fabric, gingham is today distinguished from other fabrics by its checkered pattern. But starting around the 1750s when its market had tremendously expanded and it was being made en-masse in the textile mills of Manchester, England, manufacturers began to weave the fabric into both checked and plaid patterns. Over time, checked gingham became the more sought-after alternative by buyers, though striped versions were still common in the late Victorian period. In the 18th century, gingham producers in Manchester and elsewhere in England — as well as the southern parts of the US — began making the fabric in large quantities and shipping it further into continental Europe and the rest of the US. This is because the two nations were at the time in the middle of a severe financial meltdown and textile manufactures saw large-scale gingham production as one of the ways to revamp their fledgling economies. Influenced mostly by tartans and plaids, UK textile manufacturers largely replaced the stripes with Britain’s ever-popular checked pattern. With time, the gingham fabric’s trademark checks increasingly became more prevalent across Europe and North America. Today, the gingham shirt is one of the recognizable fabrics across the globe. Gingham vs Checked vs Plaid: What are the Distinguishing Factors? Actually, the gingham pattern isn’t exactly the same as check or checked. The original word in Malay referred to a striped fabric. However, when you are dealing with a fabric pattern that has been around for almost 500 years, naturally some aspects of the meaning can easily get lost in translation. The way the modern world identifies the gingham shirt as being a contrasting-check pattern was not how the fabric was known originally. The original meaning of the word notwithstanding, today we distinguish true gingham from other fabrics for being a primarily dyed-in-the yarn fabric. That means the yarn is dyed before being woven. It is also marked by having its colored yarns (i.e. the warp) going across the uncolored yarns (i.e. the weft) to form a lightweight texture on the two faces. In southeast Asia, gingham the pattern balance between colored and neutral fabric yarns was considered a perfect combo for striped shirts. However, as the fabric made its way into the Western world and was adopted into the gingham shirt we know today, the original name was retained its but not its once characteristic stripes. As for plaid, although gingham carries less historical importance, it began the same way. During the fabrics’ early days, gingham was a cotton or linen cloth that mostly had symmetrical and overlapping stripes of the same color formed to create a checkered pattern. It is this symmetry and single color that was the main distinguishing factor between gingham and plaid fabrics. Modern-Day Usage of the Gingham Fabric Since the early 1960s, gingham shirts have been often associated with mods and are still identified with indie and mod music fans. Top global brands like Ben Sherman, Lambretta, Fred Perry, Merc, and Penguin produce gingham shirts for a global market still in love with the checkered fabric. Today, just like muslin (a common plain-woven cotton fabric), apart from being used for making inexpensive fitting shells before the actual manufacture of the clothing in fashion fabric, gingham is also commonly used as a test fabric when designing fashion. Gingham clothing forges on as a significant part of both spring and summer style landscape. From dress shirts and pocket squares to even tablecloths and barbecue aprons, gingham is still widely used across a wide range of applications and fashion designs. Its colored checks and patterns add a bold touch to a fashion look that can take you almost anywhere for any function. With your gingham shirt, it is a safe bet to go to the office, organize a meeting with your love’s parents, go out for drinks or even wear it over a pair of board shorts during your next beach adventure. Additionally, in Britain and a number of other Commonwealth countries, the school uniforms of younger girls often apply the gingham pattern in their design.
Gingham is a fabric for all!