Gingham - A tale of 3 Dresses

Gingham - A tale of 3 Dresses

I don’t think that any print evokes thoughts of Summer quite as powerfully as gingham. It is now considered a cute seasonal staple and appears everywhere from bikinis to minis . 

I’m a fan and I know lots of others are too as gingham pieces are always popular but did you know that gingham has played an iconic role in 20th Century fashion history . Let me explain in 3 dresses …..

Dorothy’s gingham pinafore dress in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz 

Designed by MGM’s in house, costume designer, Adrian, this pretty classic pinafore epitomises the classic gingham look, evoking feelings of wholesomeness, simplicity, the innocence of youth and home. It was even sewn on a treadle sewing machine to give it a more homespun look. 

The pinafore was cut to help make Judy Garland look less womanly and more girlish in keeping with the role of Dorothy.  


The Dorothy dress helped to increase the popularity of the use of gingham in women’s dressmaking from WW2 when it was prized for its durability, through to the present day. 

Interestingly this iconic garment was sold at auction last year after going missing for nearly 40 years from the Washington DC campus of the CUA ( Catholic University of America ) and then being discovered last year by fluke in a shoebox. The sort of find us vintage sellers dream of ! 

Brigitte Bardot’s gingham wedding dress 1959 by Jacques Esterel 

This demure lace trimmed pink and white gingham or Vichy check in French shirt dress caused an absolute fashion sensation when Bardot wore it at her second wedding to the dashing Jacques Charrier. It was so different from what was expected of BB. 

Firstly, it was a world away from her first wedding dress and the wedding gowns worn in her films which had much more of a conventional fairytale vibe, plus this pretty but demure dress really didn’t fit in with her sex kitten image.

This short, sweet and extremely feminine dress became one of the most copied garments ever and still is today. 

It’s all down to timing,  Bardot represented youth and freedom at a moment when young women had more access to fashion. The old guard of the labour intensive haute couture houses were having to give way to the new and more affordable concept of boutiques selling ready made garments.

In some ways it is ironic but also rather fabulous that Bardot’s greatest impact on fashion was this girlish gingham frock and the bridal market rather than the teeny weeny bikinis which were such a part of her movie star image. 

The BIBA “ Youth Quake “ Dress designed by Barbara Hulanicki 1964 

I first came across this story when I read Barbara Hukanicki’s autobiography*, a cracking book which I cannot recommend enough! 

So, Biba first started as a postal boutique and after some success Barbara received a call from the Daily Mirror’s fashion editor, Felicity Green who was doing a feature on career girls and wanted to feature her. It was then suggested that Barbara create a garment for the article and so they agreed on a pink gingham dress with a cut out back and a matching Brigitte Bardot ( nice link to the above ! ) style kerchief. The price agreed per outfit was 25 shillings, which ended up being Barbara’s last foray into the financial side of the business! 

The dress, modelled by Pauline Stone alongside Felicity Green’s copy was a huge success and demand was huge. You have to remember that at this time there was no clothing specifically designed for the young so seeing such a cute outfit available for such an affordable price point in a national newspaper would have been so exciting.  

After much adventure getting the bank to accept the postal orders, finding a manufacturer and tracking down enough pink gingham they sent out 17,000 dresses. A staggering amount and fashion history changed forever …..

So next time you are skipping through a summer meadow in a pretty gingham frock, take a minute and think of the stories behind that cute candy print x

*From A to BIBA The autobiography of Barbara Hulanicki 1983

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Another great read Becca! Imagine finding Dorothy’s outfit in a shoe box after all these years! But what I wouldn’t give for that Biba dress – or any Biba garment for that matter! xxx

Ann Polyester Princess

Another brilliant post! I never knew the stories behind it. Biba rooftop is now a classy restaurant. BH would be very impressed, hope she is reading the blog! Have a good w’end! -Fitz


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