Know Your Terms: Houndstooth

Because dropping the lingo is half the fun of dressing well.

Bear sporting his signature headwear.

A few hundred years ago, you wore houndstooth to avoid a fight. The pattern—a duotone check characterized by a series of broken squares or abstract, four-pointed shapes—was one of the few not registered as an official clan tartan in Scotland. Wearing someone else’s tartan without permission was more than enough cause for a punch up, so donning houndstooth became the sartorial strategy of choice for nonviolent gents in the Lowlands.

Luckily for them, it wouldn’t have been too tough to find. Because despite its complicated appearance, houndstooth is pretty simple when you get down to the mechanics of things. Many different versions exist, but the most basic is created by weaving alternating groups of four black and four white threads together in a simple 2×2 twill pattern. That signature broken appearance comes from advancing the weave by one thread each row or column, so that edges of each check are staggered. (Think stairs, not walls, for an easy visual analogy.) And though the Scots preferred a version that was woven only from black and white woolen yarns, things have shifted since the birth of the pattern. Now, you can find it in pretty much every sort of material, and color choices abound.

Oh, and a note for the pacifists out there: Ever since the legendary Bear Bryant turned houndstooth into a de facto calling card for rabid Alabama fans, wearing it out of context could be just as dangerous as appropriating another clan’s tartan—at least in Tuscaloosa.

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