Tuesday, June 10, 2014

'Know Your Patterns' - Houndstooth

I’ve said this before, but one of my favorite (now kind of long-term/ongoing) trends has been this resurgence of classic menswear patterns, especially when I see them being used in new ways. We talked recently about glen-plaid, which definitely falls into this category - originally mainly found in heavier wool suiting and outerwear, and now everywhere from shirts to ties to suits to bright chinos. It's just a great way to ground a ‘trend’ or new idea in something classic that has already stood the test of time.

That’s why, for our second installment of ‘Know Your Patterns,’ we are turning to the classic houndstooth check. The pattern originates in the Scottish lowlands as far back as the 1800’s, and traditionally alternates dark and light 'checks' for a look that is both refined and bold at the same time. Originally, the pattern was used pretty exclusively with heavy wool suiting and outerwear, just like Glen Plaid (and, I would guess, most patterns coming out of Scottish antiquity). Again, the application has spread widely as clothiers have experimented with the pattern in multitudes of uses.

The houndstooth pattern itself is characterized by an almost checked appearance, and is made up of repeating 'abstract' blocks with four kind-of jagged points (which is where the pattern derives its name, as the points can be reminiscent of a hounds jagged back teeth): 

There is a weaving pattern that causes this to happen, but it’s technical beyond my own interest (a quick google should pull it up for you if you are so inclined). The checks tend to run at a diagonal, giving a bit more visual interest compared to a standard square check (like a gingham). Even more variation is given by playing with the scale - more popular with women’s coats and dresses is a jumbo-scale print in stark black and white. On the other end of the spectrum is tiny puppytooth, often in a monochromatic scheme (or with subtle color differences), that function much like any other micro-pattern, appearing solid from a distance, with the visual depth clarifying as one gets closer. For the record, I love puppytooth the most - besides the cute name, it’s such a fantastic way to spice up a look without standing out like a sore thumb - in fact, to most passersby you are just wearing a solid garment, but those who know you enough to get up close can see how splendid of a dresser you really are.

The look has come in and out of popularity in waves, and is definitely feeling some time in the sun today as a pattern you can find used on almost any garment of clothing. I’ve really fallen in love with it as a tie pattern - I think it lends some old school charm to a look that I can then pump up with some more modern touches. It's also usually small enough in scale that it plays well with many patterned shirts. Brooks Brothers has a really nice option in navy that's currently pretty well discounted at $55.65 (seen below, originally $80), or you can grab this one in traditional black and white from The Tie Bar for just $15.
Houndstooth Tie | Brooks Brothers
Another subtle way to wear the pattern is in a dress shirt - which is where it really does act like micro-gingham or a micro-stripe - almost solid, but really not at all! Charles Tyrwhitt has some great shirts in puppytooth, all in warm colors like sky blue or lilac, like this one currently running just $39:

Lilac Two Color Puppytooth Dress Shirt | Charles Tyrwhitt
Progressively moving to larger pieces, I’ve been seeing summer blazers pop up with a usually light blue houndstooth pattern, which creates a really cool warm-weather vibe that doesn’t stick the standard (and some may say tired) staples like seersucker or gingham. I got a great cotton/linen jacket from Uniqlo for my birthday (pictured here on the Wide Eyes, Tight Wallets Instagram - @WideEyesTWBlog), but I believe it’s all sold out (maybe for the season). However, for not a ton more (a very reasonable and often discounted $188) J.Crew offers a very similar option - bonus, it might not suffer from the few Uniqlo faults of cropped tail and long sleeves.

Ludlow Sportcoat in Mini Houndstooth | J.Crew

If you want to go bolder, or at the same time more traditional, I suggest looking for heaving cloths and more fall/winter clothing. Where I would see a large-scale houndstooth check as kind of clownish on a shirt or tie, it looks bold and bossy on a luxe overcoat, or in muted colors on some toothy tweed. Sorry, though, we're currently too out of season for me to find an example on sale now, but I did find this shot of a fella looking damn good in a Thom Brown wool overcoat:

Photo Credit - The Bulletin
If you haven’t tried the pattern, I suggest picking up a small piece - it’s irregularity and funky shape can make it seem unapproachable, but it’s easier than you think to work into a regular ‘fit, and once you start, you won’t turn back.

How do you rock houndstooth? Do you have any favorite pieces? Share in the comments:

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