Checkerboard first caught my eye back in March, right at the start of work-from-home orders, while I was scrolling through the sales section of Jungmaven, the California-based hemp-clothing brand. Specifically, a pair of black-and-white checkerboard-print socks — which I decided not to purchase because I just didn’t want to spend $26 on socks — stood out to me. I kind of forgot about them until a few weeks later, when a friend posted a photo of herself wearing those exact same socks paired with checkerboard slip-on Vans on Instagram. “Too much checker?” she asked her followers.
The answer was no, because soon after, I started seeing checkerboard everywhere. There were checkerboard-print pillows and dog beds from Dusen Dusen in people’s quarantine home-redesign projects. Clare Vivier, designer and founder of Clare V., posted photos of a checkerboard-print scarf and a new multicolored checkerboard-print bag from her brand — and she’s since posted more bags, shorts, and scarves in the print. Next, I saw this aesthetically pleasing living room filled with checkerboard prints from Stockholm-based brand Studio KJP floating around my feed a few times. Lisa Says Gah, a quirky fashion retailer that features mostly small brands, posted a photo of lime-green checkerboard pants from Australian brand Holiday The Label and the next day shared Holiday The Label’s matching checkerboard shirt and shorts set (which Gigi Hadid wore on a livestream in July). I then received a sponsored ad for Kule’s checkerboard sweaters, and, on the same day, a friend posted a picture of herself in a checkerboard mask from Portland-based accessories brand Primecut. From there, I stumbled upon hand-painted checkerboard cups from Studio Hecha, a different Portland-based brand.
It’s not a new trend. Anyone who’s seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High (circa 1982) will remember Sean Penn’s character’s black-and-white checked Vans. “When that came out, I was immediately like, Oh, man, I have to get a pair,” says Robert Jungmann, founder of Jungmaven and creator of the socks that first caught my eye. And almost all of the experts I spoke with correlate the resurgence of retro styles from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s with the popularity of the checkerboard print, with Katherine Plumb, designer for Studio KJP, even calling it, “the obvious next chapter from all of the gingham that we were seeing in 2018 and 2019.”
The checkerboard print, though orderly in form, represents something even more relaxed and carefree to Emma Mulholland, founder and designer of Holiday. And much like leopard print or gingham, anyone can wear it. “It looks really classic. You can wear it really preppy or you can skate in it — it’s for everyone,” Mulholland says. Vivier actually considers it a “neutral,” adding, “I think everyone kind of realized, maybe at the same time, that this pattern is actually really easy: It can be worn by itself or with other prints and colors.” And that is true for home décor too. Haley Ann Bradley of Studio Hecha believes that because people are “spending more time at home and want to make their spaces feel good,” they’re resorting to patterns that make them happy, like this “stinking cute” checkerboard.
To Jungmann, though, the pattern in its original black-and-white design represents something that’s “a little bit radical and a little bit like there’s a change in the air,” which he thinks is brought out by youth. “It’s fun and rebellious,” he adds — and whether it’s conscious or not, the checkerboard print seems to consistently creep up at times when people are going through a very transformative experience, like adolescence, or, say, a global pandemic. Sure, the print is easy to wear, enjoyable to look at, and well liked by many, but even when done in a pastel pink or dreamy lavender, checkerboard is associated with going against the norm — something that a lot of people can probably relate to right now.
Some checkerboard-print things to buy:
The socks that started it all.
A commitment to the pattern, to be sure, but Hadid herself said the set is very comfortable.
In case you’re looking for more of a toe dip that also protects against the coronavirus.
While Vivier’s Jungmaven shorts are now sold out, you can still buy these Vans ones (and for much less).
A nod to the trend that’s great for mirror selfies.
If you don’t want to leave your pup out of it.
The checkerboard-print sandals Vivier just added to her collection.
A more colorful take on the traditional check.
But perhaps you’re more of a purist.
A subtle strap to add to any bag you already own.
In case you’re still in the redecorating phase of quarantine.