Recently, a photo of Queen Elizabeth II caught my attention. As always, she looked pulled together, lips pursed, hair tucked under a silk kerchief, handbag clenched by her side, her person a few commanding strides ahead of Prince Philip.
Still, the impression she gave off was more than regal elegance. In a three-quarter length, gray-and-white houndstooth overcoat, the queen looked fierce. Instantly, I heard Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s blockbuster anthem “WAP” playing over the queen’s expression: “I don’t cook/ I don’t clean/ But let me tell you how I got this ring…”
The quirky check, which originated in the Scottish Lowlands in the 1800s, pops up in every regal wardrobe from Wallis Simpson to Princess Diana to the Duchess of Cambridge, but houndstooth is not just for British divas. In music released this year, the pattern also swaddles the most in-demand queens of pop culture.
In “WAP,” Normani dances in a room with houndstooth walls and a houndstooth marble floor while wearing head-to-toe vinyl houndstooth: heels, gloves, high-waisted bottoms, bra, cap, umbrella and a long trench coat.
A week after the song set records for most streams, Miley Cyrus offered “Midnight Sky.” In this declaration of independence, Cyrus chose a crystal-studded houndstooth pantsuit to run into the night (and away from Liam Hemsworth), and she liked the look so much, she septupled it. Then for “Brown Skin Girl,” from her Black is King film, Beyoncé projected both class and sass in a low-cut, houndstooth gown with a long, flowing train by designer Sarah Diouf of Tongoro.
What is it about this cheeky pattern that’s attracted women for generations?
Those who love it, really seem to love it—like Christian Dior, who in 1947 integrated houndstooth into the New Look and used it to adorn the packaging of his first fragrance, Miss Dior. Houndstooth even played a part in the courtship of then-married Wallis Simpson and the Prince of Wales.
After admiring the future Edward VIII’s houndstooth tweed overcoat, Simpson’s second husband was gifted an identical coat by the royal tailor. “This later gave rise to the jibe that Ernest Simpson was the man who sold his wife for a bolt of cloth,” the Duchess of Windsor’s biographer Anna Sebba later wrote. (This, too, recalls Megan Thee Stallion’s exclamation, “Now get your boots and your coat for this…”)
The versatility of houndstooth clearly transcends time, space, and class. While houndstooth may be embraced by the most privileged people on earth, it is also a defiant symbol of intersectionality. Other geometric patterns, like polka dots, are printed on a background color that’s usually white.
A true houndstooth, meanwhile, interweaves black and white threads in equal numbers, alternating bands of four dark and four light threads with a classic 2:2 twill. The result is a harmonic shape that repeats without any wasted space. It is the black-and-white cookie of fashion.
It can be worn by young and old, by short and tall, by blondes and brunettes.
There’s an intricacy to houndstooth that offers a depth and sense of motion not found in a simpler checkerboard. It can be worn by young and old, by short and tall, by blondes (Lady Gaga) and brunettes (Jackie Kennedy.)
Houndstooth favors no gender. Cyrus’s pantsuit was modeled by a man in Richard Quinn’s fall 2020 show. (The designers at Berluti, Off-White, JW Anderson, Wolk Morais and Marine Serre also, uh, checked it off for fall 2020.) Today’s houndstooth comes in a rainbow of colors and size doesn’t matter. The teeth can be small and tight or bold and large.
Houndstooth’s subtle message of finding harmony between two contrasting colors explains its endurance. At a time of blue states versus red states, houndstooth doesn’t divide. It connects.
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