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The History of Patterns in Fashion

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The history of patterns in fashion one full of intriguing facts and surprising details. Who would have known the prints we wear daily held such a rich history that leads back to many centuries ago. Although we may sport many of these looks with ease and a light-heart, why not be educated on the truly unique aspects of each pattern? Today we are taking a look at some of the most prominent prints in the fashion industry and the history that makes them so unique.

Dogtooth aka Houndstooth

Houndstooth originated in Scotland in the 1800s and was first referred to as Shepherd’s Check or Dogtooth. This pattern was originally worn as an outer garment of woven wool cloth by shepherds. The houndstooth pattern is characterized by an almost checked appearance. As it’s look reflects, it is relative to it’s canine-sounding name. This pattern’s name was inspired by the uneven shape of a hound dog’s teeth. However, rather than just squares, the houndstooth pattern is made up of repeating geometric blocks which allow the print to be so versatile.

Many designers adjust the details such as the scale, size and color of the pattern to add further dimension and characteristics. The term ‘houndstooth’ itself is derived from the protruding jagged teeth that define each particular block in the design. Despite the pattern’s complexity, houndstooth isn’t just printed onto fabric, at least not originally. Instead, it is the result of a very technical weaving pattern.

Polka Dots

Women’s lifestyle magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book was the first to use the term polka dot (in reference to a scarf) in its 1857 issue, with the following description: “Scarf of muslin, for light summer wear, surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots.” America was again, and more prominently, introduced to the polka dot in 1926, when Miss America, Norma Smallwood, was photographed in a polka dot swimsuit. Just two years later in  1928, Disney introduced its cartoon leading lady Minnie Mouse wearing a red polka dot dress and matching bow.

Throughout the 1930s it was obvious that the polka dot had become a revolution in women’s fashion. Polka dot dresses appeared in stores with ribbons and bows. Then in 1940, Frank Sinatra gave a refreshed wind to the pattern with his ballad “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”. This song captured the height of America’s polka dot mania . Later that year  the Los Angeles Times wrote to its readers, “You can sign your fashion life away on the polka-dotted line, and you’ll never regret it.”

Nearly twenty years later in 1963 Japanese artist Yayoi Kusaam shared her obsession with polka dots with the world through her art. She believed they contained messages for us about life and the universe. Kusaam started out by covering all the surfaces in her home with polka dots, then her naked assistants, calling these dotted landscapes her “infinity nets.”


Tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. The pattern belongs to the Scottish culture and is not only one of Scotland’s greatest icons but also one of the world’s leading national marks of identification. One of the first recorded mentions of Tartan was in 1538 when King James V purchased “three ells of Heland Tartans” for his wife to wear. The next important milestone in the history of tartan was the 1745 rebellion ending with the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The Jacobite army was organized into Clan regiments that wore tartan uniforms. The popularity of tartan continued to grow with Queen Victoria adding to the romantic adoration of all things Scottish.

The complexity of the tartan pattern further transformed as the use of chemical dyes began introducing vivid colors to the print. These are known today as ‘modern’ tartan colours. Tartan colors formerly produced using vegetable dyes became known as ‘Ancient’ tartan colors.

Fleur De Lis

The English translation of “fleur-de-lis” is “flower of the lily.” In the twelfth century, either King Louis VI or King Louis VII, sources disagree, became the first French monarch to use the fleur-de-lis on his shield. Perhaps one of the most prominent use of this pattern was by Joan of Arc. She carried a white banner that showed God blessing the French royal emblem, the fleur-de-lis, as she led French troops to victory over the English in support of the Dauphin, Charles VII, in his quest for the French throne.

The flour de lis also carries a bit of a darker history. The pattern was once a sign of reinforcement and power. It was used to mark “hardened criminals, slaves, and anyone controlled by the French state.” That included slaves in French colonies overseas, who were branded with the pattern if they tried to flee.


Camouflage’s association with war is strong and well-known. Rooted in the military, and used to conceal army equipment before it covered soldiers’ uniforms, camouflage has typically been used for hiding. It was during World War Two that history witnessed the rise of mechanical printed patterns onto fabric. The distinctive variations of the camouflage pattern were brought into sharper focus.

Each nation had not one, but several unique camouflage patterns, with different versions matched to the battle landscape. These battle landscapes included snow, desert, jungle and forest. Soon after, the camouflage pattern emerged into popular fashion.  Women began sporting the print in dresses and even inspired makeup.

Camouflage made it’s artistic debut in Andy Warhol’s Camouflage Self-Portrait (1986). This piece hit was exposed at the height of the Cold War.


Although the pattern of stripes began as a condemned pattern curing Medieval times, reserved only for prisoners, clowns, prostitutes, hangmen-the pattern has come a long way since. One of the earliest positive impacts stripes had on the public was in 1846 when Queen Victoria dressed her four-year-old son, Albert Edward, in a striped sailor suit to board the Royal Yacht. Ever since then the public became entranced and adored any kid wearing stripes.

The pattern soon after acquired sporting or leisure connotations due to Victorian paintings of women strolling in long summer dresses made of striped fabric. These paintings were also mostly of seaside scenes. This is where the relation between stripes and the sea/beach and anything nautical began. For the men, sweaters made of wool and knitted with horizontal stripes of blue and white. These sweaters quickly became the fashion norm for sailors.

A century later Coco Chanel initially put nautical stripes at the forefront of fashion. Soon after, emerging designers followed by adding their own spin to the historical pattern. One of the most known fashion houses today for adapting the stripe pattern is Missoni. This brand has evolved stripes into chevron patterns as its signature look.

And that’s a wrap on the history of these six prominent patterns in the history of fashion. These patterns along with a plethora of innovative prints are still large and in charge in the fashion industry today. Ready to add some exciting patterns to your wardrobe? Shop at today!

The post The History of Patterns in Fashion appeared first on Artteca.


  • Doris Boord: August 28, 2017

    Que comentarios tan ocurrentes! Me encanto conocer el origen de los diseños. Gracias!

  • Doris Boord: August 28, 2017

    Que comentarios tan ocurrentes! Me encanto conocer el origen de los diseños. Gracias!

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