What is a Checkerboard Pattern?

G. Melanson

Also known as a “checkered pattern” or simply “checks,” a checkerboard pattern is a black and white graphic resembling a checkerboard that often adorns articles of clothing, particularly footwear, handbags, and smaller accessories such as wristbands, pins, and wallets. The checkerboard pattern has made its way in and out of fashion over the last three decades, and has been adopted by certain genres of music. In addition to music and fashion, the checkered pattern is also associated with certain genres of art, literature, and items in popular culture.

Gingham is a type of fabric printed to have a checkered pattern.
Gingham is a type of fabric printed to have a checkered pattern.

During the late 1970s, a music genre arose out of England which blended elements of punk, ska, pop and reggae. This genre was called “2 Tone,” a term coined by musician Jerry Dammers. Dammers also helped create the checkered pattern image known as the “Walt Jabsco logo,” representing the 2 Tone movement. The black-and-white checkerboard pattern was chosen to symbolize racial unity and equality, and has since then come to represent the second wave of ska music.

Plaid pajamas are available in a range of colors.
Plaid pajamas are available in a range of colors.

During the 1980s, checks fit in well with the bold graphics and bright colors that dominated the decade’s fashions, adorning everything from skateboards to socks to suspenders. As the late 1980s gave way to the early 1990s, plaid fashions which were popularized by the grunge movement replaced the bold graphic prints of the previous decade, including checks. Bands such as No Doubt, however, ushered in a resurgence of ska music during the mid-1990s and into the new millennium, making the checkered pattern a popular element in fashion once again.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, musicians such as Avril Lavigne have made major strides in bringing checked fashions back into the mainstream. Lavigne’s fashion line, Abbey Dawn, features several articles of clothing boasting a checkered print, including shorts, hoodies, ties, and shirts. Former No Doubt front woman Gwen Stefani is another musician who has incorporated checkerboard patterns into her fashion line, on such items as stilettos and shift dresses. Retail franchise Hot Topic sells several checkerboard patterned items as well, including earrings, sunglasses, and one of their hottest-selling products, Vans® slip-ons.

In the art world, checkered images are often associated with the works of graphic artist MC Escher, who featured the checkerboard pattern in such pieces as his 1938 illustration, Day and Night. The checkerboard pattern has also come to symbolize Lewis Carroll’s most popular book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland due to chess pieces playing a central role in the story. In popular culture, checkered patterns are also symbolic of classic New York City cabs as well as race car flags.

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