Check It Out

It is common knowledge by now that menswear has fully embraced pattern, colour and texture as the modern man continues to gain confidence and become more sartorially adventurous with his personal style.

There will always be a place for block-colours and muted tones in menswear, but pattern and print is fast becoming an essential part of any contemporary wardrobe, and the pattern of the AW13 season is undoubtedly checks.

It is likely that the majority of our readers will already own a checked shirt or two – but this autumn/winter the pattern is being applied to nearly every garment imaginable, whether in gingham, plaid, tartan or Prince of Wales check form.

The current trend caters for everybody: smaller checks in muted tones are available for those who prefer a subtle and refined approach, whilst louder, oversized checks are on offer for those who tend to be a bit more sartorially audacious.

On The Runways: Checks
Key Show: Moncler Gamme Bleu

Several high fashion designers backed the checked trend fully at the global AW13 fashion week previews.

My personal favourite was the collection by Moncler Gamme Bleu, which demonstrated a clear Scottish influence from the outset with tartan checks applied to a plethora of pieces that included kilts, capes, jackets, trousers, coats and vests, along with accessories such as hats, scarves, socks and shoes. Many of the looks also featured a Scottish heritage sporran in the same tartan pattern.

The set of the showcase was particularly dramatic, with pretend snow and barren, leafless trees creating a harsh yet beautifully wintry vibe. The initial colour palette of blue, grey and white reinforced this outdoors aesthetic perfectly, echoing the frosty feel of the backdrop.

Later in the show, traditional red tartans made an appearance, offering a stark contrast to the icy white backdrop for an added visual impact. Designer collections often have a tendency to be outlandish in an effort to up the shock factor but the Moncler Gamme Bleu collection retained a sense of realism and many of the items that made their way down the runway were extremely wearable and functional – particularly the tailored suiting:

Key Show: E.Tautz

Another collection showing a distinctly Scottish influence came from E.Tautz. Described on as one of the fashion house’s “most fashion-forward collections to date”, they set about making traditional Scottish tartan appear more contemporary – and the collection certainly achieved this.

E.Tautz cleverly made use of exaggerated, oversized tartan, applying the pattern to overcoats in subtle monochrome palettes and pairing with stylish hats for a more refined, pared-down and altogether wearable look.

Subtle, grid-like checks followed, which were again applied to overcoats for a less in-your-face effect. However, not wanting to be outdone by some of the more experimental, bolder collections, the show ended on a punchier note with this season’s go-to hue, orange, injected into check suiting via an effective pairing of soft grey and bright orange.

This orange/grey check was applied to two-piece suits, overcoats and jackets and demonstrated that it is possible to adopt a bold, colourful checked pattern without overdoing it:

Best Of The Rest

Other designers to successfully feature checked patterns included Vivienne Westwood, with her mostly sober, understated collection; Valentino and Umit Benan – the latter sending models down the runway with fear-inducing balaclava headgear (also in checked patterns):

One To Avoid: James Long

Of course, there are always collections which tend to go a bit too far – and in my humble opinion the collection by James Long was the most controversial.

Unfortunately, the colour palette was quite drab and dreary, the use of patent fabrics didn’t sit well with the traditionally matte and textured approach of the winter season and the cut of the garments was slightly too oversized.

Long also made full use of pattern clashing by including checked shirts with contrast patterned collars and cuffs – something that wasn’t executed effectively, purely due to the jarring patterns chosen:

The Fashion Press

The fashion press has been championing the checked pattern revival in menswear. Details stated that: “Traditional plaids, checks, and houndstooth are once again indispensable in a modern man’s wardrobe”, whilst GQ have published a guide to the best checked shirts available and also backed bold check suits as a key piece for autumn/winter 2013.

Similarly, Shortlist recently included a feature on the relaunch of Jigsaw’s menswear line, their first since 1999. The key lookbook image features a checked mac paired with micro Prince of Wales check trousers, showing that the new Jigsaw collection has its finger firmly on the pattern pulse.

Even the Telegraph recently featured an article on the Marks & Spencer ‘Best of British’ collection, which features an array of tailored pieces, blazers and trousers in fetching heritage check prints and patterns.

And it’s not only men’s magazines that have been championing the rise of checked patterns in menswear. As a follow up from London Collections: MEN, Grazia included a small feature entitled: ‘How to dress your man according to the hottest trends at London Collection: MEN’. Top of the list? You guessed it – checked suits, coats and knits. As the journalist herself wrote: “if it wasn’t a right angle, it was a wrong angle. Forget polka dots, forget camo – checks are where it’s at!”

Modern Lookbook Inspiration

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Current Key Pieces

Checked patterns are huge within the current menswear market. From high street shops such as Topman and Burton to online superstore ASOS to premium retailers like Mr Porter and Oki-ni, there is a checked piece to suit all budgets and personal styles.

Whether you are after tailoring, knitwear, tees, outerwear, trousers or even accessories such as shoes and bags – the check has truly cemented itself as the go-to pattern this year:

  • Topman Charcoal Checked Drop Shouldered Smart Coat
  • Topman Charcoal Check Bomber Jacket
  • Reiss Derby Double Breasted Window Pane Blazer Grey
  • Topman Grey Checked Skinny Suit Jacket
  • Marc By Marc Jacobs Check Woven-cotton Sweatshirt
  • A.p.c. Check Quilted Wool Shirt Jacket
  • United Colors Of Benetton Check Slim Fit Trouser
  • Farah Vintage Utility Jacket In Check
  • Allsaints Clash Leather Biker Jacket
  • Topman Grey Checked Skinny Trousers
  • He By Mango Check Wool-blend Peacoat
  • He By Mango Check Scarf
  • Topman Black And Red Oversized Check Blazer
  • North Face Men’s Mountain Heritage Stone Cat Lined Flannel Shirt
  • River Island Grey Check Handkerchief
  • Marc By Marc Jacobs Plaid Mesh Holdall Bag
  • Beams Plus Check Cotton-blend Socks
  • Topman Dune Check Panel Chelsea Boots
Final Word

The great thing about this trend is its versatility: you can add a subtle, muted check to an outfit for a welcome touch of detailing, or go all out in head-to-toe, oversized checks in bold, brash colours – there really is something for everyone.

The good news is that based on the SS14 previews, major design houses such as Brioni and Giorgio Armani have backed the check for 2014 as well, meaning the pattern looks here to stay for the long haul.

As always, we want to hear your thoughts and feedback on checks and how they are best applied to menswear. Feel free to drop us a comment below…