Racing fashion is having a moment. What does that mean? Motorsports is many things but rarely is it considered… fashionable. We are not talking about what Jimmie Johnson is wearing on a red carpet or the fit of Courtney Force’s driving suit—we are talking about visual themes in racing transcending popular culture. Again, what does that mean?
Let’s first start with checkerboard; this is a clear motorsports visual cue. To us, the race fans, it is a checkered flag. The race is now complete and the starter is signifying that message to the competitors. Throw it back to the 50s and 60s checkerboard started to seep into the world outside of a racetrack, diners for example. Marketed to anyone that didn’t have a family yet, diners were meant to be a hot hangout and social gathering place. What is present outside? Cars. At that time, young people put a great deal of love and attention into their rides, thus popularizing a culture around said automobiles. Car design, interior design, the invention of the color TV, all played a factor in what American pop culture looked like.
Meanwhile across the pond, another visual trend was moving and shaking. Mod—or ‘Modernists’ were born in England in 1958 and were inspired heavily by music. Thick colors, heavy geometric graphic patterns and a reinvigoration of plaid were en vogue. Checkerboard happened to fit that style.
Perhaps the most popular American brand to incorporate checkerboard in the later half of the century is Vans Shoes. Starting in 1966, the first Van Doren Rubber Company store opened and by the early 1970s, the slick checkered pattern became heavily integrated. Rumor has it that the Vans designers were inspired by reoccurring doodles that teenage customers would draw around the white soles and thus a brand was born. Vogue Magazine attributes Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) to be a catalyst in the brand’s popularity and the style continues today. Though Vans wasn’t tipping their hat to motorsports by incorporating checkerboard, they have evolved their company into sponsoring various versions of extreme sports including motocross.
In 2017, top fashion designers Louis Vuitton and Givenchy debuted collections featuring the checkered theme. Rihanna later created a line for Fenty X Puma specifically inspired by motorcross—right down to giant (magenta) sand dunes and dirt bikes. As recently as spring of 2018, Tommy Hilfiger and Lewis Hamilton collaborated on a capsule collection inspired by the now five-time World Champion. As a full- time Formula 1 driver, it helps that Hamilton already has the physique and international notoriety to be one of Hilfiger’s models. Later last year the Hilfiger brand took it a step further and put out a full ready-to-wear line splashed in checkerboard and inspired by the a European racing paddock.
This integration of motorsports—even in an abstract way—helps all of racing on a recognition level. Checkerboard has always been a symbol of energy, youth and even rebellion- all that represents racing as well. That attitude is being brought back to the mainstream at a global level right now. We know that racing is cool, but this might be a roundabout way for others to realize that fact.
Fashion is also considered fleeting and notoriously styles change with a shift of gears. So relish it race fans, right now you are black, white and chic all over.