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Often made from woven cotton, check skirts are not considered formal wear. Rather they are designed to be worn in more relaxed and informal situations, despite often being a similar shape and size to more formal skirts. Check skirts have been around for a long time and perhaps gained an increase in popularity in the 1950s in the UK, after many female characters who featured in Hollywood westerns were seen wearing them. In fact, all sorts of check skirts, including tartan designs and plaid kilts, were outlawed in Britain in the 1740s, following Scottish rebellions. Since then, check skirts have really been the preserve of North Americans, sported by outdoors folk, like herders. This is because the check skirt, like its denim equivalent, is made from woven material and consequently tougher and more hard wearing than thinner, more formal skirts.
As mentioned, check skirts took off in Europe as a result of them being featured in films which harked back to an earlier time, but the check skirt also found favour as a fashion item in its own right during the hippy era, when the multi-coloured patterns of longer and flowing check skirts lent themselves to the flower power generation. During the 1960s, the rise of the mini skirt also lead to the development of the ultra-short mini kilt. These types of check skirts were often worn by Scottish performers, such as Lulu, but they were just as likely to be worn by women south of the border, too, during their period of vogue. In the 1990s, check skirts again became something sought after by younger women who tended to wear them with checked shirts. Used to mark out their generation by bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana, both from the Seattle grunge scene, female musicians and music fans were often seen in ankle-length check skirts, sometimes frayed or prematurely aged. As a consequence of the trend, checked and flannelled skirts probably saw their hey day as chic items worn by rocking young women at this time.
There can be little doubt that check skirts share certain common features with other skirt designs. Firstly, most of them will have a zip at the back which allows them to be pulled on and off easily. If no zip has been fitted, then a button section at the back or the side can be expected. Those check skirts without either means of loosening, in common with other skirts, will usually be elasticated at the waist.
Check skirts come in all sorts of colour combinations and hem lengths. As mentioned, the mini kilt, which often does not come down much further than the upper thigh, is perhaps the most daring of all the types. These are often pleated so that they maintain a good shape whether the wearer happens to be seated or standing. Knee length check skirts are also popular, particularly when sold in a two tone design, such as black and white. This makes them popular among the so-called two tone music scene where ska, rocksteady and mod music is linked with other fashion items, like Doc Marten boots and button-down check shirts. Longer length skirts are also widely available in check designs, but theses tend to be summery and light rather than made of a thick and heavier material which is more durable. Along with classic check designs, like yellow and black, or green and yellow, more subtle pastel colours can also be found, if wanted. From bold primary colours to pastel tones and off whites, check skirts come in all varieties.
In terms of shape, checked skirts also offer a good deal of choice, as well. It is possible to find them in bell-shapes, for instance. These skirts are flared markedly from the waist but then extend downward is a cylindrical shape for much of the rest of its length, which allows the checks to appear very even from many different viewpoints. A-line skirts are also quite common with check designs, but the side panels have to be cut across the check to give the skirt its distinctive shape which means that there is a break in the way that the squares of the checks appear. Finally, check hobble skirts are made, too. This design restricts free-flowing leg movement, but makes for an attractive look for the checks themselves.