Katharine Hepburn in the Broadway stage production of The Philadelphia Story, 1940.
You have certainly seen it - in tablecloths, children's aprons, shirts, spring, summer, autumn and maybe even in winter clothes... It is simple yet eyecatching and so perfect for summer or active clothing. From its beginnings it has made numerous successful, lasting and adorable appearances, from tablecloths and kitchen curtains to day dresses, picnic blankets to punks, pinups and to the runway and couture shoes.....
Here it is - the legendary gingham classic!
Is it not worth looking into the history of this pattern?
Then let's do it right now!
What's in the name?
Gingham is a plain-woven fabric, originally made completely of cotton fibres but later also of man-made fibres, which derives its colour and pattern effects from carded or combed yarns. The name comes from the Malay word genggang, meaning “striped,” and thence from the French guingan, used by the Bretons to signify cloth made from striped colouring.
The Malay term ging-gang and the French guingan refer to stripes, and the name most likely entered the English language through Dutch or French.
Medium or fine yarns of varying quality are used to obtain the plain, checked, or striped effects. The warp and the weft, or filling, may be the same, even-sided and balanced.
From Pretty Stripes To Checked Pattern...
It began being imported into Europe and the American colonies during the 17th Century. After the mid-eighteenth century, textile mills in Manchester, England and the southern U.SA began manufacturing the fabric in checked patterns, which helped boost the economies of both countries while the striped variety became a thing of the past. The fabric is the same on both sides, and dressmakers often use it alongside muslin when creating or altering patterns.
Significant Similarity & Importance Of Gingham
Manufacturers of the famous gingham (influenced by tartans and plaids), took the raw fabric and decided to forgo the stripes in favor of the UK’s ever popular checked pattern. The fabric and its trademark - checks - became increasingly more prevalent until it was one of the most common and recognizable fabrics in the world, seen on Southern literary types, and London bankers alike.
Gingham fits very well in the landscape of the spring and summer style. No matter where it is... It is great for a dress shirt, simple man's shirt with pockets or a tablecloth and the apron... The colored checks can add a bold touch to a look that can take you nearly everywhere. It's so customary and ordinary...and that's why you do not have to forget about its origins.
Historical Sketches Of Gingham
As previously mentioned, gingham was originally developed in India and Indonesia, and as the textile it was first exported to Europe in the early 17th Century. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I allows 'East India Company' a monopoly on trade between England and the Far East. The Netherlands, France and Denmark also establish similar East India companies. During the 17th century the East India Company regularly ships small amounts of brightly coloured textiles to England.
Since 20th Century it's taken on a uniquely American and Brittish identity thanks to its traditional red-and-white or blue-and-white color scheme, its popularity in the literary and cinematic works (for example, in The Wizard of Oz), and its popularity during World War II.
The iconic print has also been a favorite among some of the most famous women in history, including Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and Jane Fonda, as well as Jackie Kennedy and Gloria Vanderbilt.
Girls in ginghams and plaids (1909).
Image - New York Public Library
Ladies Home Journal (June, 1912)
Diversity Of Gingham's Symbolism
And once again it is the story of popularity of checkered fabric around the world and in different cultures.
In India, the gamucha is a gingham towel used to dry the body. In Indonesia it symbolises the battle between good and evil. The contrasting colours represent this relationship.
In Japan the pattern also has spiritual symbolism. The fabric was used to wrap around statues when a child had died.
The African Masaï tribe has used a checkered fabric pattern for thousands of years. Gingham check is part of the national costume. In Cambodia, a gingham type cloth called a krama has many uses from the decorative to the practical.
And how has it been in Europe and the United States?
In Germany the gingham fabric is claimed to have originated in Bayern, while Italians claim that gingham is from Northern Italy. The French call it ‘Vichy’ since they feel it originated in the Vichy region.
The USA claims that gingham could not be more American having produced the fabric for a couple of centuries. Gingham was imported to colonial USA long before it was locally produced.
In Europe gingham is associated with the rustic symbolism. This is no different in America where the fabric became synonymous with country style.
It has made gingham a popular choice for tablecloths, curtains, aprons and practical workwear.
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.