The check shirt is an item that even the most fashionably inept individual can relate to. It’s a classic piece that transcends the wardrobes of men across the globe – from sharply dressed city boys to rugged, blue-collar workers.
Their popularity is plain to see; you only need to walk along your local high street for confirmation. But this popularity comes at a price, and quite a serious one at that. The problem is, check shirts have become a little boring. Certainly not as an item in itself – they’re available in more patterns, sizes and palettes than ever before – but the way it is worn? I feel as though it has lost its edge.
All too often do we see large groups of men staggering around town after dark in horrible shirts, terrible jeans and pointed black shoes. Too often do we see check shirts worn un-tucked under shiny blazers. And too often do we see check shirts worn in the most dull and uninspiring ways imaginable.
Yet this is a timeless piece that has a lot to offer the modern style-conscious gent – way more than what your local city or high street might suggest. It’s possible to become too comfortable with our clothes; simply following the crowd and trying to fit in. The majority don’t think outside the box and are reluctant to try new things.
The check shirt is one of these safe options and if we really want them to work for us in a unique and contemporary way, we need to re-evaluate the way we approach them.
With all this in mind, here are three styling techniques that will help breathe new life into your current collection…
The Double Shirt
This idea is all about creative layering: combining pieces that you might not automatically think of, making the most of your wardrobe and stepping away from the shirt and jumper combinations that have long been a sartorial crutch.
Wearing two shirts over the top of each other is a great way of adding texture and depth to your outfits. Sticking to Matt Allinson’s basic rule of layering, make sure your pieces go from thin to thick. I’d recommend using a heavyweight denim, flannel, brushed cotton or corduroy over-shirt for your outer layer as these tend to be straighter fitting and give you more space for movement.
Underneath I would keep it casual with a lightweight Oxford, chambray or twill shirt. Be wary that dress shirts are often far too formal to be utilised within this aesthetic and will jar with the rugged, casual top layer.
By keeping your over-shirt muted and classic you give yourself much more scope for adding colour elsewhere. For instance, why not try a check shirt in mostly blue tones worn underneath an olive corduroy shirt?
Alternatively, those that want to make more of a statement can go bolder with their outer layer. Warm red, orange and brown check shirts look particularly great over blue chambray or plain white Oxford styles.
Example Outfit 1
- Uniqlo Men Oxford Long Sleeve Shirt B
- Allsaints Ostberg Shirt
- Topman Blue Black Overdyed Vintage Slim Jeans
- Asos Derby Shoes In Polido Leather
Example Outfit 2
- Topman Forest Green Twill Long Sleeve Shirt
- Carhartt Douglas Flannel Shirt In Navy
- A.p.c. Petit New Standard Slim-fit Dry Selvedge Jeans
- Jack & Jones Arizona Tweed Boots
The Smart-Casual Check
We are all very familiar with smart-casual dressing here at FashionBeans; it can be considered our house style. If our readers were to create an essentials list (as loathe as I am to use that word), it would almost certainly contain at least one blazer and many shirts with which you could dress said blazer up.
Yet when it comes to creating smart-casual outfits, the majority of men still tend to stick to the same type of shirts – invariably an Oxford cloth version or white dress styles. Just when menswear is finally beginning to accept colour and pattern, we continue to turn our noses up and stick with what we know – which, incidentally, is exactly how the check shirt became so boring in the first place.
Our stylish Iberian cousins are particularly adept at converting the check shirt into smart-casual wear, so it’s always worth taking a browse through their offerings. For example, HE by Mango produces the perfect kind of shirt for this look: cutaway collars, slim-fitting and constructed from lighter weight cottons, they strike the right balance between formal and casual.
Just make sure you look for shirts with a curved hem that is long enough to be tucked in – we don’t want you looking sloppy.
How To Wear
Step out of your comfort zone by pairing your check shirt with a deconstructed, textured or heavyweight jacket – these aren’t as formal as a structured blazer and therefore complement the slightly more relaxed nature of the shirt perfectly.
Knitted, soft shouldered, bold coloured or unlined blazers work particularly well, as do those jackets that include heritage detailing such as patch pockets or elbow patches.
If you go down this root, don’t be afraid to add a textured tie for an extra injection of character and individuality.
Alternatively, those who have a more relaxed personal style can try subbing out the blazer for something like a shawl neck cardigan, leather biker or waxed jacket.
Finish with a pair of slim-fit jeans or heavyweight trousers and your choice of footwear (brogues, desert boots or suede Derbies would be ideal) for a look that works just as well on a night out as it does within a business-casual environment.
Example Outfit 1
- He By Mango Slim-fit Twill Check Shirt
- Reiss Jeffery Brushed Two Button Blazer Soft Grey
- Band Of Outsiders Corduroy Tie
- Asos Slim Jean In Indigo
Example Outfit 2
- J.crew Check Cotton Button-down Collar Shirt
- Reiss Drive Button Through Cardi Navy
- Minimum Smart Trousers
- Caino Kg Kurt Geiger Brown
The Formal Check
Thankfully, I haven’t yet been in the position of having to wear a suit to work every day, although I’m sure it will happen eventually. Despite this I can still understand the issues that many professional men face, particularly that you end up wearing pretty much the same thing, day in, day out.
Personally, I don’t think there is anything better than a well fitting suit and crisp plain shirt in white, blue or pink – the basic colours we all know and rely on. But let’s be honest, this will quickly get boring, even if you do vary your ties. Fine stripes make a nice alternative but sometimes you just need something more. The formal check shirt could be just the answer.
When it comes to wearing check shirts with your suiting, flannel plaid isn’t going to work; it’s just too casual. Here you want to be considering lightweight cotton dress shirts with small scale checks such as gingham, or larger, muted checks like Prince of Wales or windowpane.
The easiest to pull off will be any small check pattern that features a classic neutral base tone such as white or blue. These can be worn with your existing solid-colour ties or contrasted with stripes and patterns, just remember to vary the pattern sizes.
Example Outfit 1
- Richard James Blue Gingham Check Cotton Shirt
- He By Mango Slim-fit Basilia Suit
- John Lewis Fine Twill Plain Silk Tie Black
- Reiss Gillespie Classic Brogues Tan
Example Outfit 2
- Richard James Slim-fit Prince Of Wales Check Cotton Shirt
- Reiss Contra Plain Wool Tie Bordeaux
- Reiss Bishopsgate Mohair Wool Notch Lapel Suit Bright Blue
- Selected Homme Derby Shoes
Current Key Styles
- Asos Smart Shirt In Long Sleeve With Grid Check
- Penfield Alberton Plaid Shirt In Red
- Asos Wool Checked Over Shirt
- Uniqlo Men Flannel Checked Long Sleeve Shirt R
- He By Mango Slim-fit Gingham Check Shirt
- Allsaints Plains Shirt
- Etro Slim-fit Gingham Check Cotton Shirt
- Austin Reed City White Windowpane Check Shirt
- Tailored Slim-fit Non-iron Exploded Plaid Shirt
- Reiss Hendrick Gingham Check Bordeaux
- Band Of Outsiders Padded Cotton-flannel Shirt Jacket
- River Island Grey And Black Check Flannel Shirt
- Topman Navy Green Tartan Long Sleeve Shirt
- Saturdays Surf Nyc Check Cotton Shirt
- Topman Monochrome Check Long Sleeve Flannel Shirt
As you can see, there is a lot more to the check shirt than the masses might lead you to believe.
Whether formal or casual, by wearing them in an unexpected way or in a situation/environment where they’re slightly harder to pull off, you could find yourself standing out from the crowd for all the right reasons.
But now it’s time for you to have your say:
- Have you been put off the check shirt due to its popularity?
- How do you like to style your check shirts?
- Will you be considering new and interesting ways to wear your current collection?
- Or have they had their day?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below…