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  • Elizabeth Little

Checkerboard Chic: How The Queen’s Gambit is Influencing Today’s Trends

Illustration courtesy of Spilt Milk Press

The other day I was having a wander through Westfield’s in London when a display in Mango caught my eye; the mannequins all had on looks that consisted of a black and white checkerboard pattern. What really struck me, however, was that Mango wasn’t the only fashion retailer to be participating in this colour blocking trend. From Monki to & Other Stories, the chess board is dominating the high street (and in a variety of colours), and we have one TV show to thank for it.

The Queen’s Gambit is a Netflix limited series that premiered in October 2020. The show centered on Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), a chess prodigy in the 1960s. The show took the world by storm, and according to LadBible, is the eighth most watched Netflix show of all time. But it wasn’t just Beth’s character arc that captivated audiences, her wardrobe told a story of its own. This was no accident as her clothes grew with her as a character, often emulating the chess board or the pieces themselves (the fabulous all white ensemble Beth wears at the end of the series is supposed to signify her transformation in to the white queen). Gabriele Binder, costume designer for the show, told Vogue that, “I always try to mirror what is happening inside a character with what they are wearing on the outside and the checks are something that I thought would be immediately interesting to Anya’s character, as she would intuitively choose to wear pieces that are connected to chess.” She continued by saying, “The contrast of the check print also mirrors the nuances of the game itself — it’s decisive, it’s win or lose — which you would not have with, say, a floral print.”

Much like the show, the actual 1960s also had a fascination with checked prints. The mid to late 1960s saw a rise in popularity in bright colours and bold patterns. André Courreges and Pierre Cardin, two of the most prominent designers of the decade, were often inspired by pop art and geometric shapes to create new and innovative collections. By using black and white (and sometimes other colours), their colour blocked looks were a stark contrast to the previous popularity of Christian Dior’s New Look, and became a defining style for the decade.

Black and white checkered suit, designed by Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, circa 1964. Photo is writer’s own, taken at the Victoria & Albert Museum, 2015.

Designs by Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, featured in British Vogue’s “Young Idea” series which showcased new and young designers of the decade. The writer of this section, Marit Allen, wore the suit seen in the above images. Photo is writer’s own, taken at the Victoria & Albert Museum, 2015.

Though the 1960s saw many bold patterns being utilised – stripes, polka dots, multi scale squares – The Queen’s Gambit’s choice to focus on just the eye catching checked pattern was a stroke of storytelling genius. Now, are you just dying to find a piece of your own so you can channel your own Beth Harmon? Here are the best pieces available now, but don’t forget to check your local charity shop too, as you might just luck into your own vintage find that will make you look as if you stepped straight off the screen.


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