Style File No. 4 - A History of Gingham & Its Iconic Fashion Moments

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Photography by Shay Maulsby

Carrielle Rose Fashion & Beauty Blog | Gingham Dress


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Before embracing a new fashion trend, I like to know its story. Where does it come from? What does it represent? Who made it famous? Why is it significant?

Gingham has many iconic fashion moments from the American Wild West to the Prairie Frontier. To World World Two, mod style of the 60s, and movie stars like Jane Fonda.

Gingham is as classic as plaid and stripes. It’s characterized by its cross-hatch of equal-sized squares in two colors, resulting in a check pattern traditionally white and blue. Here’s where things get complicated: gingham doesn’t actually mean check or checked, it means striped.


Several origins for gingham are suggested. It’s said, gingham was created 500 years ago in Southwest Asia. The fabric was manufactured in Dutch-colonized Malaysia and Indonesia and also in India.

Gingham is derived from the Malaysian word genggang meaning ‘striped’ and was adopted by the Dutch.

The fabric was widely exported to Europe in the 17th Century and later the colonial United States before local manufacturing was established in the West.

Originally, gingham meant a specific fabric that was made from dyeing cotton-blend yarn before it’s woven with neutral, uncolored yarn. Weaving the colored yarn against the neutral yarn creates a signature striping effect.


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hello ruby  gingham dress  (I'm wearing a small)

hello ruby gingham dress (I'm wearing a small)

It wasn’t until the mid-18th century, the checked gingham we know today is born.

During this time, local cotton mills in the southern U.S. and textile mills in North England are experiencing major financial losses. Their solution is to produce gingham to revive their industries as well as their struggling local economies.

At this point, manufacturers decide to forgo the once signature stripes in favor of the UK’s infamous check pattern, usually made in blue and white.

Gingham became the fabric of the next century. A pattern that defines the rugged American Wild West and the American Prairie Frontier.

In the mid to late 19th Century, the U.S. starts producing its own cotton and dyes for manufacturing gingham. Gingham fabric remains popular among men, women and children because it’s affordable and patriotic to support the local economy.

It goes on to become one of the most common and recognizable fabrics in the world, seen on some of the most famous women in history.

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The infamous checks gain popularity as an all-American summertime classic during World War Two when gingham summer dresses are all the rage. The country is experiencing an economic depression so an huge emphasis is placed on utility fabrics. Gingham is durable and affordable so it becomes the perfect wartime uniform.

Helping the gingham movement along was Katharine Hepburn, who wore a gingham dress in the movie The Philadelphia Story, and catapulting the 1940s trend. And who can forget Judy Garland’s major gingham moment when she plays Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in 1939?


After WWII, gingham becomes a fabric for formal occasions. In the post-war period, glossy magazines advocate that women should look well turned out at all times, even when doing the housework. Women are encouraged to get back to old-fashioned values and return to domesticity. (Whatever that means.)

During this period, women would wear men’s gingham shirts with jeans and tie off the shirt tails to define their waists.

The post-WWII America nostalgia values the wholesome 19th Century. As this theme continues into the 1950s, gingham becomes popular for home furnishings: forever enshrining it into the Americana style.

Across the pond at the end of the decade, Brigette Bardot is making gingham sexy. The gingham revolution starts with bombshell Bardot wearing a check bikini in the French Riviera.

This lead to gingham is having one of its biggest fashion moments in June 1959 when Brigitte Bardot famously wears a pink nuptial vichy (French for gingham) wedding dress when she weds Jacques Charrier. This starts a global trend and causes a gingham shortage in France.

Gingham catches fire from Hollywood with an off-duty Marilyn Monroe, photographed lounging in a turtleneck and gingham trousers to the First Lady of the United States. Jackie Kennedy makes gingham a preppy staple and the iconic fabric of American summertime.


Four years into the '60s, Polish-born fashion designer, Barbara Hulanicki, disrupts the post-war haute couture fashion industry.

In 1964, she receives a call from the UK newspaper, the Daily Mirror. It’s fashion editor, Felicity Green, is writing a feature story about young career women and wants to include Hulanicki. Green asks Hulanicki to a design something specifically for the article.

The dress Hulanicki designs is a sleeveless, A-line, sugar pink gingham shift dress that sells 17,000 units and launches the successful Biba label. Hulanicki's label, Biba, is a huge tipping point in the fashion revolution of the '60s.

Biba democratizes the fashion world by creating a sector for young, hip, affordable boutique fashion in the industry. The seismic shift towards youth and optimism leads to new beliefs about how young people should dress. Women are no longer expected to dress like their mothers.

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For the next several decades, gingham goes in and out of style without having many major moments. Gingham is a signature of Princess Diana in 1986, teaming teamed her gingham trousers with a simple jumper and shirt for a timelessly preppy look.

It receives the Anna Wintour seal of approval when she wears a Prada gingham dress sitting front row at Peter Som’s F/W 08 show. The wholesome reputation of the fabric is challenged again in 1996 when designer, Rei Kawakubo, presents her spring collection entitled ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body.' An elemental part of Comme des Garçons’ nineties body morphing comes from gingham avant garde silhouettes seen in her collection.

Right around 2013, gingham starts showing up on celebrities, fashion bloggers and runways. It hasn't slowed down since.

Now with all this gingham knowledge are you ready to embrace the trend? This fall, look for ladylike silhouettes, tailored blouses, jumpsuits, and midi dresses in gingham patterns. Try the classic black-and-white if you're new to gingham. If you’re already a fan, look for gingham prints in fall colors such as brick red, earth-tone browns, copper, and pumpkin-and-navy.

Moody florals and dark gingham are both having a moment right now, so try pairing them together. Make sure you stick to the same color family, and you should be good to go.

Thank you so much for reading this post! You can shop the hello ruby gingham dress here. (Promo code CARRIELLE for 10% off any hello ruby order) More info about their Aksarben grand opening this weekend below.

What do you think about the gingham trend? What trends are you excited to wear this fall and winter?

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