Alongside the Parka, the Harrington and the Polo, the check shirt is arguably one of the garments most associated with the Mod movement. In fact, the two-tone Gingham checked shirt has played a key role in a number of Britain’s most revolutionary subcultures over the past 70 years.
For this week’s Last Word we look at the history of checked shirts within Britain’s youth movements, and how the famed Ben Sherman house check came into being.
From the beginning of the 60s, Mods rose to prominence across Britain, borrowing elements from American Ivy league style, and the smart tailoring of continental Europe, to create a smart, contemporary look that was at odds with the stuffy nature of the clothing worn by their father’s generation. Far from being just a way of dressing, being a Mod was a lifestyle choice, a head-to-toe badge of honour that showed the world you were one of those in the know.
This tailoring imported from France and Italy was almost always paired with a button-down shirt, and in another attempt to distance themselves from older generations, plain coloured shirts were largely ditched in place of more vibrant, stimulating patterns. The Gingham check was widely produced in the UK, but largely for practical applications, and the Mods were the first group to redefine its usage and bring it into smart, everyday wear.
Check shirts made an appearance again during the re-emergence of the Mods in the late 70s, but it was the second-wave ska movement of the early 80s that really brought two-tone Gingham check back to the fore.
During the 1970s, bands such as the Specials and Madness were heavily influenced by both the Mods and the Suedeheads of the 60s, pairing the formality of the former with the ruggedness of the latter to great effect, and the check shirt was the item that perfectly embodied this marriage of styles.
Having produced checked versions of our signature button down shirts during the Mods’ heyday in the 60s, and using the pattern intermittently in the years following, we decided to produce our own, signature House check during the rise of the Britpop era in the late 80s and early 90s.
Our house check acts as a homage to the classic mini checks worn by the Mods in the early 60s, timed perfectly with the rise of Britpop. This was seen by many as the next in the lineage from Mods to Rudeboys to Suedeheads.
Today the Ben Sherman house check is a modern classic, cut from lightweight chequered cloth with the customary button down collar and chest pocket.
Our house check shirt is a garment with history stitched into its very fabric.