Old-school checks just became menswear's hottest trend

The Prince of Wales. Tartan. Houndstooth; they're not just the names of your local corner pub. They're the types of checks that have gone big this season. The humble check has flourished from being a subtle grid on a business shirt, to the hero on head-to-toe suits, jumpers and overcoats. Step aside pinstripes, move over (way over) camouflage, stylish gents have mastered a new game-plan and it's called check, mate.

A good check is an effortless way to elevate an outfit by incorporating a hint of pattern, without going over the top. But the latest Autumn/Winter collections from local and international labels such as Joe Black, Double Rainbouu and Ralph Lauren are reinventing checks through daring colours, unlikely textures and playful renditions.

Formal experimentation

Mr?Porter Style Director, Olie Arnold notes that while checks have typically been considered a formal element in menswear throughout history, they now offer the wearer an opportunity to experiment with expressing different moods and personality traits. It all starts with the reinvention of the check shirt:

'For this season we see brands such as Off-White's printed check twill zip-up shirt and RRL by Ralph Lauren's checked cashmere-blended shirt reinventing the colour palette and the pattern itself. Adding neon green and sharp red to the formula really pushes the boundaries, making checks fun again,' he says.

Little wonder every male attendee at the recent VAMFF runways beamed at every iteration of the squared-off design. Alternative resort wear label Double Rainbouu thrilled the optics with a warped-checkerboard crew neck knit that'll banish any hint of winter boredom. If punchy palettes aren't your thing, minimalist streetwear brand Nique showed exactly why tonal checks should be worn on (instead of under) statement coats this season. The brand's 'Mineko' wool coat incorporates large feature pockets and an all-over grey and ink check that is, naturally, cool without even trying.

Uneven squares

But before we get too excited, it's important to consider where you're going when determining which type to check to opt for. Mr. Arnold contends that 'not all checks are created equal', with some varieties like the Prince of Wales and Houndstooth generally being more formal than a Lumberjack or Tartan, for example.

This doesn't mean you still can't make an elegant statement with classic suiting checks reinvented in new textures. M.J Bale's denim and white grid 'Jacques Jacket' exemplifies classic tailoring with a modern twist. Pair it back with a neutral shirt and pant to really let the fabric do the talking. The grid wins again in the M.J. Bale taupe 'Razor' pant that adds a dash of '70s-inspired charm to the realm of (occasionally bleak) winter business wear.

The check liberation is also seeing artfully altered proportions of the pattern across knitwear, casualwear, and even accessories. Calibre's textured camel merino sweater incorporates a combination of different check sizes in earthy tones; perfect for those who want to mix things up without venturing too far out of their comfort zone. You can also experiment with checks in your accessories too. Declic reinterprets the pattern via a pair of silver-grid cufflinks that add a glint of personality to any formal suit jacket.

A complex effort

Melbourne-based designer and this year's David Jones National Designer Award winner, Christian Kimber suggests that while checks may be more technically complex to work with than other patterns, the end result is generally worth the extra effort. Case in point, his Japanese cotton field jacket. Notice how its Prince of Wales check match up perfectly across the panelling and pocket details? That didn't happen by chance.


'Technically checks are much harder to work with because all the panels on the garment need to match up. You need to supply more fabric than normal and it more expensive and time consuming to put together. But when it's done right, the result is extraordinary,' says Kimber.

So whether you dare to go bold, or opt for the more refined route, this season presents the perfect opportunity to, well, check yourself… and come out a winner.

Check out the gallery above to get inspired to get square.