When I was living with a French, aristocratic family in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, I discovered the meaning of Gingham (a.k.a. Vichy) fabric for a French person while shopping with my host mother.
She was showing me some shops nearby her home and as we were walking by a children’s clothing store she quickly changed course to examine a pink, gingham halter. As the mother of 4 girls ranging from 6-16, I figured the blouse would be for one of them. The tag read 15 euro. She said she would be back when les soldes were on. We continued on.
One evening in July, she was hosting a dinner party for the friends of her painting restauration class. She kindly invited me to join. I noticed the gingham halter and remarked. She winked and said that she ended up buying it for 8 euro. After all, the top was actually for her.
That was an aha moment for understanding traditional French style. It was everything I had heard about French women’s fashion… traditional patterns, the slim enough physique to wear children’s clothing (not all French women are this small… she was a very petite woman.), the patience for a bargain and the elegance of being above the brand. I was thrilled to witness all of these things.
Since that moment, Gingham has had a special place in my heart. For the last 6 years, I have been googling Gingham halter to copy my dear Host Mother with little success. In the last couple of years, I have noticed its resurgence.
Now, what makes a pattern like gingham so “traditional”? The test of time. The gingham motif has been in Europe since the 17th century. It has history in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Northern Italy, Belgium and Bavaria.
The name, Vichy, comes from the city in France. This is how francophone refer to the motif. Gingham on the other hand has less clear origins. People have thought that it may come from the Malay word “genggeng” or from the town in Brittany, France called “Guingamp”.
Gingham was launched into consumer fashion when Brigitte Bardot wore her pink, gingham wedding dress to marry Jacques Charrier. The “Mods” also wore the fabric in the ‘60s. This meant that gingham was no longer only for a traditional kitchen curtain, but now a modern fashion statement. I love playing with the traditional and modern connotations of the pattern.