From tartan to tattersall and beyond, these men’s shirts are getting a very soft reboot
Maybe you were under the impression that the buttonup-shirt-wearing segment of the male population achieved peak gingham in the summer of 2014. That season was marked by the debut of an Instagram account, @thatjcrewginghamshirt, which was part creep-shot, street-style blog, part treasure trove of anthropological data.

The site documented the ubiquity of that J Crew gingham shirt, the blue-and-white checks that defined 20-somethings’ preferred tribal garb, either while drinking happy- hour beers in Murray Hill or juice smoothies in the Marina District. If you followed the media coverage of the account, you might have supposed that gingham was overexposed, played out and due for a little rest at the back of the cultural closet.

But you would have been wrong. Gingham has presevered and proliferated and, furthermore, stimulated the revival of its less familiar peers. More than ever, the check is on the male.

“Checked shirts in general have seen a steady increase as they have become more widely accepted into the working week,” says Turnbull & Asser head of design Dean Gomilsek-Cole, whose check offerings range from an upscale edition of that gingham (“a no-brainer”, he calls it) to a subtle Glen plaid. “The caveat is that the increase has come from smaller- scale, more sophisticated checks that work well with tailoring.”

Take a look during your next visit to the ancestral homeland of American offthe-rack shirts — Brooks Brothers. In January 2016, when Brooks rebooted its classic Oxford cloth button-down, it did so with solids and traditional candy stripes.

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This year, Brooks has taken that wonderfully staid garment in a playful new direction. “Beginning in June, we added tartans and ginghams to the assortment,” says Guy Voglino, the company’s vice-president of men’s retail global merchandising.

Chris Olberding, president of sales at Gitman Brothers and Gitman Vintage,traces the origins of the Great Gingham Reawakening to “the heritage hysteria” that began after the financial meltdown. From 2009 to 2013, Olberding saw “massive double-digit growth, season after season”, when it came to gingham. The appeal, he says, is that “for a guy who might not care that much about clothing, this is something he can understand. It’s not fashionable, but it’s not mundane”.

What he means is that gingham is not mundane compared with solids and stripes. But given the gingham glut, it has begun to look rather basic. Shirtmakers are making the pattern fresh by incorporating au courant colours and attempting intriguingly scaled designs.

What’s more, they are continuing to revive other classic patterns. Brooks Brothers, for instance, has rolled out its classic button-down with windowpane checks and fresh Madras prints. Voglino says “customers also want novelty patterns such as tartans and tattersall”.

Tattersall, a check defined by the regular spacing of its thin stripes, has a bit more of an “aristocratic appeal, an auction- house vibe”, says Olberding. “Gingham’s a little bit more country-bumpkin.” The pattern takes its name from an 18th-century London horse market owned by one Richard Tattersall.

Although it originated as the pattern for blankets that warmed the horses’ flanks, it made its way onto the torsos of men adorned in formal riding attire. A shimmer of that sportiness remains in handsome new shirts from Gitman, Brioni, Canali and many others.

This article appeared in Issue 801 (Oct 16) of The Edge Singapore.