When summer rolls around we pull out the sprinklers, find the popsicle molds, and track down the gingham picnic blankets, napkins, tablecloths, hair ribbons, and dresses. Summer just screams for gingham, but have you ever stopped to wonder where it comes from?
Gingham comes from the the Malayan word genggang, which means "striped," according to GQ's history of the fabric. While the gingham we know and love and wear is not striped, but checked, the name stuck as it also indicated how the yarn was dyed before it was woven and had a unique weaving pattern that created a lightweight texture on both sides of the fabric.
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The fabric hit the mainstream in mid-18th century England, when manufacturers took a cue from Scotland’s famed plaid and turned the striped gingham into its now iconic checks.
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While gingham was originally designed as the ultimate men’s shirt fabric, women soon borrowed the style for dresses. The trend hit the U.S. during World War II, according to Town & Country, when it was readily available and still affordable. It soon became a popular summer dress fabric, especially after Dorothy paired a blue gingham dress with her ruby red slippers in the Wizard of Oz. Soon stylish housewives and the Hollywood elite like Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn were all wearing the checkered fabric. They transformed it into chic pantsuits or utilitarian aprons or the fabulous checked coat Hepburn wore in the movie Undercurrent or gingham trousers Marilyn Monroe was photographed wearing. Jackie Kennedy helped make gingham a preppy staple and the iconic summertime fabric. These days it can still be spotted on the runways, as well as on stylish men, women, and children at seaside resorts from Myrtle Beach to the Gulf Shore, and of course, on the napkins and blankets in your picnic basket at your Fourth of July festivities.