It’s not often you can eye up a catwalk trend, then ransack your bank account safe in the knowledge that you’re investing in an ageless menswear classic. You can this season, however. The check coat is fashion’s must-have piece of outerwear. A natural people pleaser, this style of coat is both a trend and an evergreen staple, so whether you’re a Grailed-addicted scumbro or a dedicated follower of heritage menswear, checks are fair and square and everywhere. That versatility is grounded in the fact that you can dial them up or down as your style dictates. One of the few patterns that doesn’t look ridiculous on tailoring, checks can be a subtle embellishment or a screaming centrepiece. Houndstooth, Prince of Wales, tartan and Madras styles all say different things and designers have practically wallpapered their collections with them for the months ahead. Kenzo played it smart and traditional, Versace went technicolour, and Burberry did a bit of both. There were big checks and little checks, tailored Harrington jackets and belted oversized overcoats. And unlike, say, leather trousers or luxury balaclavas (both real, both awful), this is a trend for everyone.
“There are so many ways to wear a check coat,” says ASOS head of menswear design Nick Eley. “They can be dressed up, worn with a smart wide-leg trouser, a roll neck and a clean white pair of sneakers, or dressed high-low with a pair of mid-wash jeans, a hoodie and a pair of dad trainers.” The structured symmetry of checks means they’re flattering on all but the broadest of body types (who would benefit better from a narrow pinstripe or single dark colour). And while bold patterns are traditionally paired with muted outfits, menswear is increasingly coming out of its shell. Go crazy, says Mr Porter style director Olie Arnold. “The difference this season is the emergence of clashing check patterns styled across one look or within one garment – a great way to add not-so-subtle texture to a winter outfit.”
4 Ways To Wear It
Checks In The City
In a sea of commuter gear as dreary as the English Channel, check coats are a stylistic life raft. While everyone else wraps up in the same basic windstopper, checks let you add texture, pattern and colour without going rogue on your office dress code. A textured overcoat or waxed cotton raincoat teams up nicely with a suit or roll neck but can also dress up a pair of jeans at the weekend. Houndstooth and windowpane checks are the safest options for corporate surroundings, while tartan throws some Celtic swagger at the other end of the spectrum. For something in the middle, find a Prince of Wales check with a strong accent tone and smuggle some colour into your work wardrobe.
Oversized winter coats are a staple of British heritage menswear. It’s Withnail or Sherlock Holmes and looks excellent with tailoring and layered knitwear. But these days you don’t have to be a traditionalist because the oversized trend is now as much about streetwear as Baker Streetwear. Pick one that’s as long as it is baggy and wear it over a hoodie. The XL styling means it’s wise to go large with the checks themselves to keep things in proportion. Then continue the maxi vibe with an overtly tactile fabric, like a coarse wool or alpaca. It might feel like a big look, but it’s one that will last, says Arnold. “The oversized overcoat is an essential wardrobe staple that can be worn year on year.”
USA! USA! USA!
Bold plaid checks in primary colours are synonymous with rugged American outerwear and have been since the mid-19th century. Not that you have to be a woodsman in Minnesota to make this work. “A worker jacket or plaid overshirt is a practical option for the winter season and lends itself to more of a streetwear look,” says Arnold. The classic red and black buffalo check is a little overdone, but blues, greens and yellows all look authentic – or try an extra pop of colour with a Madras check. Whatever your preference, keep the American dream alive with mid-wash blue jeans and a plain tee or some chunky knitwear, but swap the work boots for sneakers. You don’t want to look like a fancy dress lumberjack.
Wearing clashing patterns and checks on checks is advanced menswear. You need an eye for geometry to make it work. If you’re bold enough try it, keep the look tonal and “remember that contrasting checks look best worn together when they are of noticeably different sizes,” says Arnold. “The contrast in scale will help to balance your outfit.” Try a plaid shirt or houndstooth blazer under a Prince of Wales overcoat and remember to have at least one plain piece in a muted colour to anchor your look. It could be your trousers, a roll neck or a scarf, but you definitely need something.
Loud, statement dressing and classic menswear are often mutually exclusive ideas, but not when it comes to a check overcoat. This is one of the few staple pieces that encourages the playful side in you. You can opt for a subtle houndstooth, sure, or grey-on-grey Prince of Wales. But how about some tartan? Red tartan. How about high-contrast black-and-white plaid? Why not make it oversized with an extra wide lapel or a dramatic collar? It’s hip to be square, you know.
Bombers and Harrington jackets have, in recent years, been in your face and very shy at the same time. In black or navy, they are a cornerstone of the minimalist male wardrobe, seen but unseen. Not any more. As menswear designers get ever bolder, these quiet jacket styles have found their voice again. Gingham and Prince of Wales checks recall mid-century casual wear, especially in a deep green. For something more modern, a plaid puffer jacket is the hypebeast answer to hypothermia.
The brands that first made wet weather gear fashionable also have the most famous checks in the business. It stands to reason, then, that raincoats from the likes of Burberry and Aquascutum should come with their famous patterns on the outside, not just the lining. Macs and trench coats are traditional silhouettes so muted colours should be forecast – think greens, greys, blacks and creams. You’ll still have something ten times more interesting than the average commuter’s cagoule.
Once upon a time, checks were used to denote men from different clans. Today, the same is true of style tribes. Spot a plaid design on a cropped woollen jacket and you’ll have found the not-so-lesser-spotted workwear fanatic. Trucker jackets, chore jackets and overshirts all look great in warm-coloured checks. Throw in a borg or shearling lining for added insulation and salt-of-the-earth brownie points.