The origins of the “Prince of Wales Check”

It is likely you have heard of “Prince of Wales” check in one form or another.  It is known under many different guises; Glen Check, Glen Plaid, Glen Urquhart Plaid and many more. It is worn far and wide by members of state and celebrities alike, but let’s see how it came about.

The Scottish Register of Tartan records Prince of Wales Check as actually named “Glenurquhart Estate Check”, registered on the First of January, 1840. The registered and most widely accepted designer, Miss Elizabeth MacDougall was a native of the village of Lewston found at the foot of the glen. Miss MacDougall’s design incorporates varying sizes of puppy tooth patterns giving the look of squares and stripes. It is worth noting at this point that some believe that the Countess Caroline of Seafield designed the check. As an accomplished weaver, she would have been easily capable, but it is far more widely accepted that MacDougall, in fact, designed it.

The pattern first came to prominence when Countess Caroline of Seafield herself was looking for something to dress her grounds staff. She was looking for something smart, warm and durable as the weather was often fierce and the clothing needed to be able to withstand all that the Urquhart estate could throw at it. It was when she saw the new check design worn by the local men she found something she could use. Usually, Glen Check is worn in winter and as such is made from thick wool or flannel.  This made it an ideal material for the harsh Scottish winter and outdoors.  The Countess adopted the material with haste and outfitted her groundsmen with smart suits made of local wool, woven into the newly branded Glenurquhart Estate Check. Over time, the Countess had the design altered with thin coloured stripes (usually green to match the local scenery) added to the tight puppy tooth stripes to make the check as we know it today.

For a while, the check remained a local fashion and was worn mainly by those who worked on the estate. It wasn’t until (the then Prince of Wales) King Edward VII visited the estate on a hunting trip and observed the estate’s staff wearing the pattern.  He liked the design and wore it so much that it garnered the nickname “Prince of Wales Check”.

As with most royal trends, the glen check became one of the most popular designs in the country and was worn very widely. Edward, known as Europe’s Uncle, was famed for his appetite for food, tobacco, and fashion. He was often reprimanded for spending too much time with his tailor, spending even more with his tailor than he did with his cabinet! So it is no surprise therefore that his taste in clothing was contagious.

In the years to come Edward’s own grandson would adopt the check as his own, rekindling the “Prince of Wales Check” title.

Later Fashion.

The Glen Check design stuck around for the years to come, especially in Britain and survived the Second World War with its other Tartan Brethren, but initially didn’t quite take hold as it had in the past. It wasn’t really until the late 40s and early 50s that glen check properly returned. The county gentlemen returning victorious from the war kitted themselves out in Prince of Wales jackets and suits when hunting and partaking in leisurely pursuits.

This carried on into the swinging 60s, where film stars and musicians such as James Bond and the Beatles. Sean Connery’s 3 pieces showed the excellent class and sophistication the material deserved and showed it was far from outdated.  Even JFK was seen wearing it, abandoning the American fit 3 button suit and instead, donning a two button European style two button suit instead. The Check made a definite comeback in the 60s and has been highly popular ever since.  We often find them when buying our 1940s style vintage suits.  They are among some of our favourites.

From the Highlands of Scotland in the 1800s to the highest office in the world in the 1960s The Glen Check has certainly done the rounds since the King first laid eyes upon it. Hopefully, it will be around for years to come, and will still be as popular as it is today!

By Cian Smith