It’s no secret that fashion trends keep repeating, and once more, the Vichy print, more commonly known as Gingham is back in style. This checkered pattern goes beyond picnic tablecloths and pajamas, it's also one of Barbie's favorite prints!
Here is a bit of its history and inspiration.
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What is Vichy Print?
The Vichy print may sound like a pattern we’ve never heard of before, but it is the French name for Gingham. While known all over the world, Gingham has a complex origin story. Many countries, from France, Britain, and Africa to Indonesia and Japan, have versions of the checked fabric, each an integral part of their respective cultures and heritage.
In France, the Gingham pattern is known as the Vichy, and, you guessed it, it originates from the city of Vichy in central France.
History of Vichy Print
While the Vichy checks were popularized in the 17th and 18th centuries, their origin goes back further in time. The textile fragments of the 11th century tell a story of how the Vikings created and used white and blue checked cloth, whereas the illuminated manuscripts of the 14th century show this checked cloth in use as pillows and linens.
Initially, the Gingham pattern was made up of only stripes. The checks weren’t added until the 20th century.
The Vichy Print in France
In the 17th century, Europe started importing this fabric, which initially had a striped pattern and was named ‘Genggang’ (originating from a Malay word). From the mid-18th century, the fabric was produced in Manchester. The 19th century brought with it a booming textile industry to France.
The French courts reinforced the making of dresses that used yards of fabrics which in turn helped the industry grow and strengthen. The king of France, Emperor Napoleon III, supported this movement by visiting the manufacturers every time he traveled.
Vichy was one of Napoleon III’s vacation places. In 1863, while staying in the spa town, he visited the local Grivats Spinning Mill in the neighboring village of Cusset, a factory that had been producing striped cotton canvas for over forty years.
The Emperor’s wife, Empress Eugene, and her court ladies fawned over the stripped fabric and popularized it in Paris and France. You were considered elegant if you were seen in striped cotton of pink and daffodil or lilac and white stripes.
The Vichy Print in America
Following the growth of the textile industry, Europe started exporting fabrics to its colonies where cotton production was now a huge success. The fabric would arrive in the States and would be advertised in the newspapers of Boston and Philadelphia. George Washington even ordered the checked fabric for the table chairs in his house in Mount Vernon.
Gingham from All Over the World
While Gingham was popular in France, the checked pattern actually has deeper roots and was used long before it came to Europe. Several countries across the globe consider this fabric an essential part of their cultural heritage and call it by a different name.
In Indonesia, the fabric is called poleng and is created with stripes alternating between a neutral color and a colored thread. In the United Kingdom, the fabric is called Gingham (taken from the Malay word Genggang meaning striped).
Southeast Asian countries like India and Bangladesh call it a gamucha, and it is used as a towel to absorb sweat. Some men even tie it around their heads or their necks.
In Japanese culture, the Gingham pattern is a spiritual symbol and is used to wrap a Buddha statue when a child has passed away. The African tribes of Maasai and Suburu use the pattern in their traditional garb.
Popularization of the Vichy Print
The Vichy print was considered a precious fabric, and people used to mend their Vichy checks when damaged. It was also considered a great hand-me-down and was often listed in wills along with arts and silvers.
Vichy Print in Fashion
The Vichy print has been in style ever since and soon gained popularity among the general public. From the 20th century, the pattern was a huge hit in British and American literature and cinema, especially during the period of World War II.
While the checked fabric was used in films after the First World War when the public had access to fashion trends and ready-to-wear clothes, it achieved true fame when Katharine Hepburn wore a long checked dress with a flared skirt in The Philadelphia Story in 1940. [Although Judy Garland wore a Gingham dress a year earlier in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Gingham took over Hollywood and was seen on-screen in a ton of the films of that time.
In France, the Vichy print was brought to fame when Brigitte Bardot, also known as BB, wore the print in some of her movies, as well as on her wedding day. Around the same time, Jacques Ouaki, the founder of Tati stores, created his logo with the Vichy pattern as a background. He brought the Vichy print into prêt-à-porter in Paris.
The Vichy print was insanely popular in the 50s and the 60s when actresses splashed the big screens with stylish dresses and elegant Vichy looks. The 70s, however, brought a more relaxed outlook by pairing denim with Gingham. Since then, it has been in and out of fashion, although it remains a classic and has made several comebacks over the years.
More fun reads on the Vichy print in fashion:
Vichy Print in Interiors
In the United States, the designers for Valentino, as well as Colefax and Fowler, extensively used the Vichy print in their interior designs. Faudree took inspiration from 18th-century French design and soon became well-known for his favorite pairing of Toile de Jouy and the Vichy checks.
Perhaps, the most fascinating was the actress and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt who liberally used the Vichy checks in her home decor, making her an icon for many designers. The walls of her living room and bedroom were wrapped in pink Gingham.
The Vichy Print in the Modern Day
The Vichy print has been in and out of the fashion scene for quite some years now, and there doesn’t seem to be an end to this lovely pattern. Although the print has certain rustic connotations, its fresh and innovative use in stylish clothing, classy decor, and elegant interiors has given the Vichy print a new status.
And then there is Barbie! In the 2023 film, Barbie wears pink Gingham and it has influenced fashion trends again!
The variety in color and the size of the checks have made it possible to use them for almost every occasion. It can be used on its own or paired with another print for a funky look. When it comes to colors, nothing beats the monochromatic look of a neutral base and a colored thread.
The Vichy print is a great accessory for casual and formal wear. The size of the checks and the color makes all the difference – smaller checks are more suited for serious looks while bigger checks and bolder colors are perfect for playful outfits.
The Vichy checks have completely embraced and dominated the urban fashion scene and continue to remain a timeless motif that designers migrate back to.
How about you? Are you a fan of Gingham/Vichy print? Do tell!
I am married to a French man, lived in France for 3 years, and have been to Paris more than 50 times. I am always a tourist so the information, tip, and tricks I share are created to help you!