Get to know the versatility of the houndstooth pattern in menswear and learn how you can wear and pair them tastefully.
In the most general terms, houndstooth is a type of checked pattern. As a reminder, a check is a type of pattern that’s created from the intersection of horizontal and vertical lines on a garment which creates small squares. Sometimes, you can also see something called an overcheck which is basically a larger scale pattern that’s complementing the smaller check at the same time.
In more specific terms, houndstooth is a symmetrical multicolored broken check pattern that is formed by the overall weave structure of the garment. Houndstooth can be distinguished from other similar types of check patterns by its jagged edges which are formed by tangent twill lines that flare out from the sides of the squares. It is called houndstooth because some people see these jagged edges as resembling the back teeth of a dog. Houndstooth was historically woven only from wool but today, you will see it on cotton, corduroy, fleece, and even some synthetic fabrics. The traditional houndstooth check is small in scale and usually found in muted tones of either brown and black.
More modern houndstooth styles can include brighter or flashier colors and also larger scale patterns. Traditional uses for houndstooth, as well as several other checked patterns, include all different kinds of tailored garments such as jackets, vests, trousers, hats, ties, scarves, or even bags of luggage. More trendy uses that you might see today include houndstooth fabric on shoes, as well as t-shirts, other casual apparel, and even some home decor items like beddings.
Similar terms include dogtooth or dogstooth, primarily in British usage. In French, you will see the phrases Pied De Poule which means hen’s foot or Pied De Coq which means Rooster’s foot for slightly larger patterns. If we are talking about a particularly small houndstooth pattern, again in English usage, you may also see the term puppytooth.
Houndstooth is available in many different color combinations and it is a classic pattern but it might not necessarily be everybody’s cup of tea. It can be a bit of a busy pattern and for that reason, you do have to be somewhat careful when combining it with other garments especially in different colors, patterns, or textures
As houndstooth was traditionally a pattern for tweed fabrics, here’s a brief refresher on tweed. Tweed was originally a solely hand-woven fabric. The threads were rough and felted and the colors were muted and earthy, usually in browns or greens, for example. Tweed, in particular, was the gentleman’s sporting fabric of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Phrased another way, it was sort of the performance fabric of this time; almost akin to something like Under Armour now.
The English gentry of this time period quickly adopted tweed as the go-to outdoor fabric for their country estates. Also, because it was a fairly effective form of camouflage against the rolling hills of Scotland and England, it was used for all different kinds of outdoor activities including hunting and fishing. Also, early golfers, for example, people like Old Tom Morris, wore all kinds of houndstooth and other tweeds when they were on the course. Of course, tweed fabric is very rarely used for sporting events these days except for a few specific events like for example, the tweed run.
When houndstooth is woven at particular sizes, usually something like 6 yarns by 6 yarns or larger and in colors like brown and white or black and white, it can, therefore, classify as a shepherd’s check. As you might imagine, shepherd’s check is a pattern named after the simple plaids that were worn by herders working in the hills between Scotland and England. This pattern was frequently on large warm cloaks that they wore and they would use these cloaks not only to keep warm from the wind and weather but they would also sometimes even carry newborn lambs in these cloaks.
Because the pattern was so closely identified with shepherds, we still know it today as the shepherd’s check. Just like houndstooth, shepherd’s check is another popular pattern for sturdy tweeds, although it’s comparatively a rustic pattern whereas houndstooth is a bit more versatile. Also like houndstooth, shepherd’s check can still come in a variety of sizes and color combinations. The shepherd’s check is also known as the pepita check if it is a bit smaller. This is exclusive in German-speaking countries.
How To Wear & Pair Houndstooth
On the whole, houndstooth, as well as pretty much other kinds of traditional tweed pattern you’ll see, is fairly underrated. Tweed has a multitude of different color, texture, and weaving options and you can get much more variety by using it in your outfits than you could with just a standard plain wool.
Given its heritage, houndstooth is an ideal choice for autumn and winter and various activities you might participate in during those times. Say, for example, cold weather golfing, trout fishing, or bird hunting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, houndstooth, as well as other tweed patterns, are not ideally suited for traditional white collar business scenarios. These patterns are a little too rustic and are a little too informal.
Our founder, Sven Raphael Schneider, has many different tweed coats, several of them in houndstooth. Because of their variations in color, pattern, and texture, they are very versatile, fun, and easy to wear. You can even own up to thirty of them and still probably have room for more in your closet. Also, vintage jackets featuring a houndstooth pattern are fairly easy to find. Because vintage jackets using this pattern were often woven from sturdy wool tweed, they were built to last so you can still find all kinds of them in various locations including thrift stores, second-hand stores, or perhaps even online.
We would go for a single-breasted jacket featuring 2 buttons or 3 roll 2 button stance. Also, we would recommend colors including brown, green, beige, or some red, or alternatively, you could also go for grayscale or even some muted blues. Though we usually discourage single vents on the back of jackets, it is a perfectly acceptable choice for houndstooth given the sporting heritage of the garment. Of course, you can also go with a double vent.
Also because of the informal nature of traditional houndstooth jackets, patch pockets are a particularly smart choice, you can also see flap pockets as well. Houndstooth pairs particularly well with textures in an outfit. Take, for example, a knit tie or even another type of tweed such as a waistcoat. On that note, you can also see a houndstooth pattern used on a patterned waistcoat. If you wear one of these, it is probably best not to wear it with a similar houndstooth jacket just because they clash and would not be harmonious.
Although houndstooth suits are not necessarily as common as some other pattern types of suits that you will see today, they do, of course, exist. In fact, you have seen Raphael wear a few different houndstooth suits on the channel before. Of course, what this means is that the jacket, vest, and trousers all feature exactly the same houndstooth pattern because they were cut from the same cloth. If you do choose to wear a houndstooth suit, a small subtle check would be the more versatile option. If you were to try to wear a full houndstooth suit featuring a larger style houndstooth check, it would verge on looking like a costume. Go for something smaller and you will look more distinguished.
Most typically for dress shirts, you will see a very small houndstooth pattern, this is where the term puppytooth again comes in. Often, this pattern is just in one color and white. Now, on more informal shirts, you will sometimes see a larger scale houndstooth check and it can also be in multiple colors. This would be for a more casual styled shirt, usually in something like a slightly thicker cotton flannel.
As far as houndstooth in neckwear is concerned, houndstooth ties are a traditional and still popular option. You will see houndstooth on neckties in printed silk which is usually smoother as well as a woven bourette fabric which has a little bit more texture to it. Burgundy is a classic color for a houndstooth necktie as is navy and for that reason, many men will choose one of these two colors first. Also, if you happen to wear a lot of brown tweeds, a beige houndstooth tie could be a particularly smart choice. Houndstooth is also a popular pattern for bow ties.
Now, if you are wearing a houndstooth jacket, it is probably best not to also be wearing a houndstooth tie. If that is the case, you could wear a Prince of Wales pattern tie in a somewhat large pattern in a color such as gray or navy. Also, you could be wearing a tie with a Macclesfield neats pattern or a similar sort of micropattern. Of course, going with a solid colored necktie here, perhaps a knit tie that provides just a little bit of texture is always a safe and distinguished choice.
For pocket squares, the same rules generally apply as for neckwear. A houndstooth pocket square in silk can add a pop of color and interest to an otherwise more muted jacket. If you are wearing a houndstooth jacket, go for a more simple pocket square in silk or in a slightly more textured fabric.
As far as hats are concerned, flat caps are a traditional choice that still remains equally stylish today. You will see flat caps in all different kinds of tweed patterns including houndstooth.
As we have said in the past, brown is the most versatile color for outfits consisting of a combination of sport coat and odd trousers. Oxfords, derbies, and loafers are all acceptable in various shades of brown for these kinds of outfits. For a slightly more modern shoe style, monk straps or suede shoes still usually in varying shades of brown can also look particularly smart.
Conversely, black shoes are much more risky to wear with these kinds of outfits. You can still get away with a more informal type of black shoe such as a horsebit loafer and these will look best if the houndstooth you are pairing is in a grayscale pattern. You can pull off houndstooth with black shoes but you have to exercise a little bit more caution. Now you may see particularly modern styles of shoes or boots that have fabric inserts, in these cases, you could actually see a houndstooth pattern on the footwear itself.
We are big fans of boutonnieres here at the Gentleman’s Gazette because they add that special touch of sprezzatura in a way that you don’t see many men doing these days. Generally, when wearing a boutonniere with a houndstooth jacket, you should go for something smaller and more subdued because you don’t want a large flower clashing with the already bold nature of the houndstooth pattern.
The houndstooth is a very versatile pattern. It is equally at home in the Scottish highlands or in a business casual office environment. If worn and paired tastefully with other items, it can look unique but not too flashy. Overall, it is really a pattern that you can sink your teeth into if you know how to wear it well.