Chintz, Gingham, and Seersucker. You might see them everywhere in the South and have accepted it as part of Southern charm and fashion—but where did they come from? How did they become so iconic within Southern culture?
Today, we'll be unraveling these iconic Southern fabrics.
You've probably already encountered this multicolored, lovely cotton fabric or wallpaper pattern known as chintz. These eye-catching textiles originated in India and were prized by the European elite for centuries. Immigrants carried European style and taste to the United States.
Originally, chintz was a cotton textile from India in the 16th century, featuring colorful woodblock-printed, painted, glazed, or stained designs on a typically pale or plain white cotton background.
As we know it currently, chintz is a continuation of a traditional fabric and pattern that began in the 17th century; printed Indian textiles were first introduced in the West by Dutch and Portuguese traders. At its most basic, chintz is a floral print that has been finished to give the fabric's surface a polished sheen and is often used in furnishings such as drapery and upholstery.
Although its popularity would come and go through the centuries, chintz never completely went out of style. Those big floral or fruit patterns on Southern ladies' dresses or Southern men's blazers or polos have never truly gone out of fashion in the South and remain a must-have for many in the South today.
Gingham is a prevalent material you'll be surprised to find in many Southern homes and wardrobes. From pillows, accent chairs, and clothing, this popular Southern textile has been and will always be a beloved element of chic country cottage décor and fashion.
Don't mistake gingham for plaid, however. Gingham is a checkered pattern that features evenly sized squares of alternating colors, usually white with a bold color like red or blue. Plaid, on the other hand, is a pattern of intersecting stripes that can have all sorts of different widths and colors.
The name 'gingham' is thought to have come from the Malay word "genggang", meaning "striped" or "checkered." Initially created in Southeast Asia from cotton or silk with the checks woven into the fabric. It gained popularity within Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the 19th century, through different variations and patterns that evolved, gingham became closely associated with Southern culture and particularly prized as a durable, affordable fabric for clothing. Especially popular among farmers and laborers, gingham could withstand hard work and frequent washing. The 20th century saw gingham become an essential part of Southern culture and tradition used in home décor and fashion. It continues to be a popular fabric in the South, with iconic designers including the pattern in their newest collections.
Whether spring thaw or hot Southern summer weather, you'll undoubtedly see Southerners breaking out their favorite seersucker garments. Seersucker was originally traded and created in India through the East India Company in the 1600s. It was known as "shirushakar" which in Persian meant "milk and sugar." The first pattern was created with a light tan shade (hence, the sugar—from sugar cane) and a creamy white (like milk.) Once the English adopted the fabric, they called it "Seersucker."
The pattern you'll see most often in the South is the traditional blue and white, but seersucker is also available in a rainbow of colors, from green, red, pink, yellow, purple, and more. Typically created from 100% cotton that appears slightly puckered, known as a slack-tension weave, it is not necessary to iron the fabric; it allows breathability and coolness, making it a must for hot, humid Southern summers to this day.
Now that you're familiar with the history and origin of these iconic Southern fabrics wear your chintz, gingham, and seersucker with pride for its rich beginnings and profound impact on Southern traditions.