Burberry Plaid Is Making a Surprise Return

Because we’re all tired of quiet luxuries…

What about British fashion has us all so deeply and perpetually obsessed?

Is it the sharp tailoring of Savile Row that appears to be a no-fail remedy for every styling snafu out there? Or its celebration of the chivalrous gentleman and his suave suiting – a fashion fantasy I keep continually falling for? Maybe it’s designers like Vivienne Westwood, whose punk brand of Anglomania has been the cool-kid uniform for decades? Or perhaps it’s really the OG It-girls, such as Kate Moss and Alexa Chung, who, by marrying the eccentricities of their Warholian predecessors with high fashion, gave us our nearest and dearest It-bags?

Either way, England, in many respects, appears to have been a birthplace of sorts for modern menswear. And it is by adopting these tailored, masculine cuts into their uniquely funky wardrobes that It-girls (and boys!) concocted the androgynous cool of today! And yet, when thinking of a quintessentially British brand, the first name that’s likely to roll off our tongue is Burberry, even though the reputation of its infamous check has made it the very antithesis of all that mainstream British fashion stands for! So, it truly comes as a surprise when I say that the Burberry check is making a comeback, and you’d better watch out for it!

Checks and Challenges

With a long and illustrious past, Burberry’s origins date back to 1856, when a 21-year-old Thomas Burberry (whose initials now grace the brand’s polarizing TB bags) developed a line of weatherproof outerwear. It wasn’t before another twenty years or so that the designer devised the Tielocken, subsequently named the Trench Coat following its institution as the standard issue military wear during the First World War. And it was only in 1967 that the signature plaid pattern, previously reserved as coat lining, took center stage following the brand’s Paris store manager’s attempts to make the display pieces “more colorful” by placing them inside-out!

Audrey Hepbrun Burberry Trench
Audrey Hepburn in a Burberry Trench Coat image via theculturetrip.com

Ever since, the House check has been integral to the Burberry DNA, appearing on everything, from hats and scarves to bags and shirts, and on everyone, from Winston Churchill to Audrey Hepburn to Rihanna and Madonna. However, in the wake of the 90s logomania, the brand licensed its popular plaid to the consumer wilderness to capture the young, lower-price point market. And consequently, original and counterfeit Burberry-themed products populated shelves at a dizzying pace, so much that an episode of rain was thought to swarm the streets of London with a sea of Burberry umbrellas!

But the brand’s check-related challenges didn’t end there. Kate Moss starred in an allover Burberry-themed wedding campaign, and a little known actress who was battling a drug problem, Daniella Westbrook, made a highly publicized appearance in a Burberry outfit, complete with her Burberry-clad baby daughter atop a Burberry baby-stroller!

All Eyes on Lee

Therefore, from the early days of the early-aughts, the label has been earnest in turning its fortunes. After all, in what the author George Orwell describes as a “class-ridden country” like the UK, nothing’s perhaps worse than nouveau-riche chic. And at the turn of the century, nouveau-riche is precisely what the Burberry check seemed to embody.

Christopher Bailey Burberry
Christopher Bailey with his models for Burberry image via theculturetrip.com

Enter – Christopher Bailey, the man who not only saved the brand from complete dilution for the better part of the 21st century but also clamped down on counterfeiters and used his experiences at Gucci and Donna Karan to pioneer era-appropriate designs, much like Thomas Burberry himself. And it was thanks to him that the label consolidated its numerous licensees and found its footing in the industry, backed up by big names like Naomi Campbell, Eddie Redmayne, Cara Delevingne, Suki Waterhouse, and more. Bailey’s tenure was followed by a shorter stint from Ricardo Tisci, and finally, the brand found itself in the hands of Bottega alum, Daniel Lee.

Now, as Lee stepped into the Creative Director’s shoes, change was already afoot. The brand had been gaining steam among the Copenhagen fashion crowd, and performance was most favorable in the post-pandemic Asian market, with revenues rebounding at unprecedented rates. And his “Bottega-fication” of Burberry – effectively wiping its socials clean and reinstating its serif-font logo and Prorsum-Knight emblem – has created greater buzz than ever surrounding the brand. Only time will tell if Lee’s new aesthetic (along with his high fashion makeover to the humble hot-water bag) can restore Burberry to its former glory.

Out With the Quiet, In With the Loud?

Of course, if you’re a millennial who carries around the memory of Westbrook’s Burberry baby-like generational trauma, this pivot to Burberry’s roots may cause you some degree of dismay, especially coming from a creative genius like Lee, who singlehandedly ushered Bottega Veneta to the modern day. And in light of that, perhaps Tom Wambsgans’ scathing diatribe against the brand’s ludicrously capacious bag on Succession doesn’t feel entirely unwarranted anymore.

Burberry AW 20 1
A Burberry checkered bag from Fall 2020

And yet, what the Burberry check encapsulates is a specific sense of Y2K nostalgia, especially for Gen Z-ers (such as yours truly). In fact, if you managed to look past the obvious problematic connotations, you’d see that the plaid was a major part of the hip-hop culture – who could forget Beyoncé’s Burberry swimsuit from Bonnie & Clyde (2002), another pivotal pop culture moment!

Now, its association with the streets signaling a medley of the high and the low, its maximalist bikinis (that Lee has since reissued), RTW, bags, and more, a rather encompassing blast from the past that packs a punch and makes a statement. In fact, if nothing else, the Burberry check is now an ironic piece of fashion that speaks of inclusivity rather than exclusivity. And it is this sentiment that the Gen Z is luxuriating in, unearthing vintage pieces and reveling in their utter Britishness.

Now, excuse me while I go bid on that checkered Burberry tote.

Discover all things Burberry has to offer here!


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9 months ago

The new “B” logo is soooo much better than the TB (Tory Burch) logo.
Much more understated!

Megs Mahoney Dusil
Megs Mahoney Dusil
9 months ago
Reply to  Terri

I love the B logo too!

9 months ago

Im sorry but plaid bags are not going to be a “thing”. They’re honestly hideous and will forever remind me of a Christmas tablecloth.

9 months ago

Stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen

9 months ago

The most recent public takedown in Succession coupled with the explosion of quiet luxury is an indication of how people feel about print, Gen Zer or otherwise.

Bailey, as noted in your article, saved the brand by looking into its heritage and running the other way from the check. The nova check is reminiscent of chavs at the football stadium, while Bailey breathed like by focusing on cuts, coats, Burberry prorsum (while it lived), and bags like the Canterbury (in plain fabric, not check). Check is not class,

It’s not coming back, in fact it’s probably going to stay inside people’s coats, subtly on lining, and on a couple very minimalist dresses and that’s about it. There’s no way worse to alienate your high paying clientele who are frightened in being robbed of their Rolexes and birkins by telling them to wear something that’s obviously expensive and that screams it throughout the recession

9 months ago

How is plaid making a “surprise comeback” at Burberry?? It’s literally their entire identity. Nothing surprising about them pushing plaid.