‘I love a man in a checked shirt,’ said no woman ever. They profess a fondness for a man in uniform or a chap in a tuxedo, but you’ll rarely hear girls gushing about a bloke dressed like a gingham tablecloth. Despite this, the checked (or check) shirt has reached a level of ubiquity on a par with skinny jeans or fedora hats. In fact, the garment has overtaken those two staples of the hipster uniform and is now a mass market item. Everywhere I look I see men in check shirts. It’s a sartorial plague; the check shirt seems to be a highly contagious virus with no known cure. I succumbed to the disease last month, after the underused fashion part of my brain – known as the sartorial lobe, located deep at the back of the organ hidden underneath the Michael Bublé appreciation lobe and the understanding rugby rules cerebellum – woke itself up, prodded my consciousness and said: ‘Hey, you might want to get one of those sometime soon.’
I went and bought a check shirt but immediately became confused as to what way I should wear it. Sleeves rolled up or not? How many buttons open on the neck? Do I wear a t-shirt or vest underneath? Do I tuck it into my jeans or not? I followed a few men around for the afternoon, taking notes and recording their ‘look’, until the Gardai were called. But I had all the information I needed, and confidently wore the shirt into work the next day. Sadly my colleague was wearing almost the exact same garment. This wouldn’t bother me normally because I’m not a woman; in fact I felt quite proud because my workmate is a bit of a fashionista himself. ‘In future we’ll have to text each other night before,’ I joked with him, ‘just so this doesn’t happen again.’ He looked at me with a puzzled stare. ‘But you’ve only one check shirt right?’ he said, ‘So you should text me when you plan to wear yours.’ I was both offended and impressed. I was offended by the pity in his voice when pointing out that I owned just one check shirt, like I only had one thumb or half a head, but I was impressed by his observational skills. (I was also a little disappointed that he didn’t regard it as a good thing if we coincidentally wore matching shirts. He referred to it as ‘clashing’.)
After that incident I knew I was never going to be a fully paid up member of the check shirt gang. Time was this particular style of shirt was only worn by smelly, hairy and unkempt death metal fans or wacky students re-enacting the Monty Python lumberjack sketch. The check shirt had its place in the pantheon of legendary fashion statements, like the paisley shirt and – particularly offensive – the grandfather, or collarless, shirt. Despite the actions of a few renegades, I’d thought they were consigned to the discontinued clothes lines of history.
Fashion is cyclical, and what goes away will eventually come back ‘in’ again. It just seems we’ve got a bit carried away with the check shirt. If I never got into a fashion trend once, I’m not likely to embrace it when it comes around for a second or third time, but trends won’t take no for an answer. It’s like those cold-calling marketing people: ‘Good afternoon sir this is 1984 calling; can I interest you in wearing a check shirt? Our records show that you once owned a red and navy plaid shirt back in... hello? Sir? Hello?’
Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering if flares are going to come back. It’s been about three decades since men last strutted about with their trouser legs flapping in the wind. I really hope they don’t return; I can’t deal with the stress of having to explain to everyone that I wasn’t into flares back when I was three years old and my position on them hasn’t changed. The same goes for biker jackets, Xworx jeans, cargo pants and ripped stonewash denim. So the next time 1984 calls for me, I’ll let them leave a message and then pretend I never got it. Let’s leave the check shirts to the lumberjacks.