We could be in Kansas, Toto. Not since Dorothy tripped through Munchkinland in her little country frock has gingham had so much exposure. The checked yardage seen in store summer racks is enough to pave the Yellow Brick Road into eternity.
Gingham is everywhere. Black and white in city suits and dresses, pink and white in sneakers, blue and white in perky little bikinis. That's in the adorable, affordable market.
In the rare Oz-like land of designer labels, gingham patterns are cut into grand-entrance gowns and ruffled extravaganzas that cost enough to make the payment on the farm. Gianfranco Ferre for Christian Dior Couture does it in oversize organza checks floating over ruffled petticoats. American designers have taken gingham dresses out for cocktails and dancing in naughty-but-nice little numbers.
The last time gingham had so much checks appeal was in the late '50s and early '60s when Brigitte Bardot pouted about in short shorts and demure gingham tied under the bosom to contain all that sexuality. We were more innocent then. The torpedo brassiere would not have passed the censors. Nice girls copied the nice girls of Hollywood. Connie Francis and Sandra Dee danced their way into popularity in full circle gingham skirts and checked bathing suits that covered the navel. Pat Boone was a teen idol. Golly!
Innocence has captured young shoppers again.
"Gingham is very hot in the junior market," says Janice Biele, manager of sales and marketing at White Marsh Mall. "It's a retro swing to the '50s, but they're perceiving it as a hot, current look even though it has been around for decades. They particularly want the sleeveless tie-front shirt to wear with very narrow cigarette pants."
Ms. Biele sees it all over the malls. "The Gap is full of gingham separates in bright yellows and blues paired with white. And all the other stores have it in a broad range of clothes and accessories -- headbands, baseball caps and touches in belts."
One of the charms of gingham is the cost factor. Lisa Parker, merchandising coordinator for Seventeen magazine, which is bringing a fashion show to White Marsh tomorrow and Saturday, says a touch of gingham is a way for young people to latch on to a current trend.
"Teen-agers have a limited amount of money to spend. A little bit of gingham makes their wardrobes new," says Ms. Parker. "For example, Hue makes great leggings in gingham, and they look terrific worn with a white T-shirt or pulled over a bikini. And it works well in small doses to add a fresh spark to an outfit. Where it's really moving is in beach wear and bikinis."
Shades of Gidget.
"They're so cute, cute, cute," says Darren Tolbert, manager of the Cignal store at the Gallery. "We just got in a gingham tie-front crop top with stretch shorts and a T-shirt unitard to match by the Cignal private label. They're so adorable, they're going to blow out of the store because they make our young customers look terrific."
The young and fit look terrific in anything, but what about the mature customer? "Some people may feel too costume-y in total gingham," says Ms. Biele. "They can limit their checks to a discreet black and white pattern in a classic suit, or pick up the pattern in small accessories such as a crisp scarf."
Old-fashioned weaves and values do have an appeal. Who would have believed that grandmother's checked table cloth could feed a fashion trend?