Like most popular fabrics, Gingham has a rich history that spans centuries and continents. The word first appeared in English during the early 1600’s as a variant of gingang (Dutch) which stemmed from genggang (Malay). It originally meant “striped” and the trademark checks that we know today were nowhere to be found.
The stripes are formed by weaving a dyed thread on the warp along with white threads on the weft. This technique produces a striped pattern that looks the same on either side. Because the fabric had bright colors (typically blue, red, and yellow) and was economical to produce it gained traction in Europe after being imported in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Textile manufacturers in Manchester, England began producing their own gingham in the 1800’s, but eschewed the trademark stripes in favor of a checked pattern reminiscent of tartan plaid which was stylistically more popular at the time. This look caught on, and soon striped gingham faded into obscurity.
In the United States the economical nature of gingham resulted in its widespread use for clothing and home décor. Gingham table coverings became almost ubiquitous, evoking the rustic charm of a simpler time. Costume designer Adrien put Katherine Hepburn and, more famously, Judy Garland in Gingham dresses which helped cement the fabrics rural association.
Gingham took a backseat during the latter decades of the 20th century but has since seen a revival as an important piece of Americana. Unlike other ‘rediscovered’ fabrics, gingham has remained primarily a shirting fabric for men – although there are variations in pattern size. Wear gingham to add a bold colored dimension to an otherwise understated outfit – especially in the spring or summer when the lightweight cotton will provide some relief from warm weather.