The houndstooth pattern is a staple of classic style. But how much do you know about this timeless pattern? And how is best to wear it? Our guide provides all the answers you’ll ever need about houndstooth, puppytooth, and all other varieties of this distinctive pattern.
Watch Our Houndstooth Video Guide
Preston is on hand to guide you through the history of this unique and intriguing textile pattern, as well as provide some of his recommendations for wearing and pairing houndstooth with style.
What is the Houndstooth Pattern?
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 an overcheck which is basically a larger-scale pattern that’s complementing the smaller check at the same time.
In more specific terms, the houndstooth pattern is a symmetrical multicolored broken check pattern that is formed by the overall weave structure of the garment. Essentially, the warp and weft threads are structured in a way to create an abstract yet still uniform check. The traditional houndstooth check is small in scale and usually found in muted tones of either brown or black.
What makes this timeless pattern unique is its four-pointed shape formed by tangent twill lines that flare out from the sides of the squares. Houndstooth’s name comes from the resemblance to a dog’s back tooth.
Houndstooth was historically woven only for wool cloth but today, you will see it as a woven tweed, on cotton, corduroy, fleece, and even some synthetic fabrics. Nowadays, it’s common to see oversized houndstooth patterns on the catwalks and runways for an haute couture spring or summer collection, even though it’s usually more at home in winter collections due to its history being used in wool fabrics.
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 bedding.
Houndstooth, Dogstooth, or Puppytooth; What’s the Difference?
There are many names that feel like they mean the same thing when it comes to houndstooth, but there are subtle differences to consider. Terms like dogtooth (or dogstooth) are primarily used in a British context. It’s for this reason that you’ll read of England’s super spy, James Bond, wearing a “battered dogtooth suit” in Ian Fleming’s original novels.
French terms such as Pied De Poule means “hen’s foot” and Pied De Coq means “rooster’s foot” relate to the houndstooth pattern in smaller or larger scales, respectively. Meanwhile, in English use again, a particularly small houndstooth pattern may be given the term “puppytooth”.
Traditionally, houndstooth was a pattern for tweed. Originally a solely hand-woven fabric, tweed threads were rough and felted and the yarn’s solid colors were muted and earthy, usually in browns or greens as a resemblance to the landscape of the Scottish lowlands where it was usually spun.
These features made tweed the original sporting cloth of choice. It was an effective form of camouflage against the rolling hills of Scotland and England, making tweed perfect for all different kinds of outdoor activities including hunting and fishing. The English gentry of this time period quickly adopted tweed as the go-to outdoor fabric for their country estates, with the trend rising in popularity through the 1930s and beyond.
Early Houndstooth Uses
Not just relegated to hunting and fishing, golfers like Old Tom Morris wore all kinds of tweeds bearing a houndstooth pattern when they were on the course.
Houndstooth or Shepherd’s Check?
When a houndstooth pattern is woven at particular sizes, it may take on a different name. A pattern that is 6 yarns by 6 yarns, or even larger could classify as a shepherd’s check. Of course, color plays a part in this too, as most shepherd’s check patterns come in a black or brown base with light threads as a contrast (usually plain white).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the shepherd’s check is a pattern named after the simple plaids that were worn by herders working in the hilly northern counties of the UK. 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.
The Gerum Cloak
One of the oldest examples of a woven houndstooth pattern can be seen on the Gerum Cloak, a remarkably well-preserved piece of outerwear dating from around 360-100 BC. The cloak was discovered in Sweden by Johan Fredrik Klasson in the early 1920s and is representative of the type of outerwear that inspired the name “shepherd’s check”.
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 its size lends itself better to more casual occasions whereas houndstooth has greater versatility. Also like houndstooth, shepherd’s check can still come in a variety of sizes and color combinations. In German-speaking countries, a smaller shepherd’s check is also known as the “pepita” check.
How To Wear & Pair Houndstooth
Houndstooth is a classic pattern that is available in many different color and size combinations, as well as a multitude of different textures and weaving options. You’ll be able to 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 various traditional autumn and winter activities. For example, cold weather golfing, trout fishing, or bird hunting are all sports in which houndstooth is very much at home. On the opposite end of the spectrum, houndstooth may not be suited to stricter or more traditional white-collar business scenarios, where a plain worsted cloth is much better.
That being said, houndstooth patterns will be more than welcome in many other dress codes including the office standard: business casual.
Houndstooth Jackets and Sport Coats
Perhaps the easiest way to introduce houndstooth into your wardrobe is in an odd jacket or sports coat. As the pattern is already on the casual side, go for a single-breasted jacket featuring 2 buttons or a 3-roll-2-button stance. Great colors include brown, green, beige, or some red, or alternatively, you could also go for grayscale or even some muted blues.
Given the sporting heritage of the garment, a single vent on the back of a houndstooth jacket is a perfectly acceptable choice. Of course, you can also go with a double vent, as is more commonplace nowadays.
Patch pockets are a particularly smart choice to play on the informal aspect of houndstooth, but classic flapped pockets are at home here, too. If you want to wear a houndstooth sports coat, let it be the main element of focus, so don’t be afraid to go for a bolder or larger configuration. That being said, it’s also best to avoid wearing multiple houndstooth patterns together as they’d likely clash.
A Houndstooth Collection
Raphael has many different tweed sport coats, several of them in houndstooth. Because of their variations in color, pattern, and texture, they are very versatile, fun, and easy to wear. He feels that you could even own up to thirty of them and still probably have room for more in your closet!
Vintage jackets featuring a houndstooth pattern are fairly easy to find as a popular style since the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Jackets using this pattern were often woven from sturdy wool tweed and 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.
Although recent years have seen womenswear adopt the houndstooth pattern in a big way, it’s still possible to see it used in men’s suits. Of course, what this means is that the jacket, trousers, and possibly a vest 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, as anything else would feel over the top.
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. Raphael is a keen fan of this timeless pattern, and you’ll spot him wearing a few different houndstooth suits on the channel.
Houndstooth Dress Shirts
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 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 that 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 Bow Ties
Houndstooth is also a popular pattern for bow ties. This can be a particularly unique way to introduce the pattern in an outfit. We’ve found that a houndstooth bow tie can easily dress up a relaxed outfit that consists of some casual pants and knitwear, such as a sweater.
Of course, houndstooth bow ties can also put a fun spin on a more formal outfit. The key to making this work is to keep the other elements of your outfit classic and simple. Don’t try to do too much at once, and the houndstooth bow tie will fit right in.
Houndstooth Pocket Squares
For pocket squares, the same general rules of neckwear also apply. A houndstooth pocket square in silk can add a pop of color and interest to an otherwise more muted jacket.
However, 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.
Want to learn more about Flat Caps?
What is the houndstooth pattern?
The houndstooth pattern is a form of small repeating shapes that form a broken check pattern. This is traditionally achieved by manipulation of the warp and weft threads when a fabric is woven, but innovations in fabric production mean that a houndstooth pattern may also be printed onto a finished cloth.
What is the origin of the houndstooth pattern?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of the houndstooth pattern, but the discovery of the Gerum Cloak informs us the pattern has been in usage for at least 2000 years. Houndtooth’s popularity soared starting in the late 18th Century, when it was woven in tweed cloth for use in outdoor pursuits.
What is the difference between houndstooth and dogstooth?
There’s no major structural difference between a houndstooth and a dogstooth pattern. The names refer to the same style of broken check pattern, but there may be a difference in the scale of the pattern. Ultimately, the many different names for the pattern largely come from different regions, but all relate to the same thing.
What patterns match houndstooth?
Surprisingly, almost any pattern can match with houndstooth, but you need to be careful of the scale. Don’t match two or more patterns of a similar scale – so if you choose a smaller houndstooth, then select a bolder stripe, check, or dot pattern. It’s best to avoid other patterns such as the Prince of Wales check which also contains houndstooth elements, as this can look jarring.
Why is the houndstooth pattern so popular?
Houndstooth is a great pattern to wear as it’s an easy way to incorporate two different colors into your outfit with just one garment. This gives you a great base-piece to combine other elements of your outfit in a complementary way. Houndstooth could be seen as a great pattern to include in your wardrobe if you want to put a different spin on things with a more minimal closet, but is equally at home in a maximalist’s selection.
Why is it called houndstooth pattern?
Simply, houndstooth is called such as it resembles the back tooth of a dog, or “hound”.
What does puppytooth mean?
Puppytooth is the houndstooth pattern, but is typically called so because its scale is smaller than the average houndstooth check. Thus, it becomes “puppytooth” to resemble a smaller, younger version – like a puppy to an adult dog.
Is houndstooth old-fashioned?
Houndstooth isn’t old-fashioned at all. It’s constantly being used by haute couture designers on the runways, as well as being a mainstay of classic tailoring houses such as those on Savile Row.
Foolproof Houndstooth Tips
Pick The Right Shoes
Brown is undeniably 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 riskier 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.
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.
Add a Boutonniere
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.
Don’t Add Too Much Houndstooth
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.
Preston wears a houndstooth sports coat. It’s a wool-silk blend featuring multiple colors; specifically, brown, beige, black, teal, and green. The vintage wool tweed vest compliments the jacket with its lighter shades of blue, green, and teal. The off-white shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt touches on the brown tones in the outfit a little bit better than a plain white dress shirt would.
Both trousers and socks are plain black, as are the black cap-toe Derby shoes. Now, we mentioned how it’s more difficult to pull off black shoes with a houndstooth because black is by nature more formal. While this is true, there are elements of black in Preston’s sport coat that tie in with the monochromatic nature of the entire bottom half of the outfit.
The green vintage Brooks Brothers bow tie features small blue paisley patterns, mirroring colors found in the jacket. Everything works harmoniously and the paisleys are small and well-spaced so they don’t clash with the size and pattern of the houndstooth.
Elsewhere, the cufflinks are gold-plated sterling silver in an eagle claw design featuring a tiger’s eye as the stone. The boutonniere is a small light blue Veronica Persica which is particularly understated, so there is really no chance of it clashing with the houndstooth pattern of the sport coat. The pocket square is light brown linen and it features a light blue x stitch.
How do you like to wear houndstooth? Share with us in the comments below.