I had a feeling the instant popularity of Netflix's The Queen's Gambit would turn everyone into a chess prodigy. A few horse tranquilizers and those of us with real, untapped talent would start seeing black and white squares on our respective ceilings. I've yet to see a chess board materialize on my ceiling, but I have seen enough checkerboard prints surge my Instagram feed to the point where I constantly assume I'm hallucinating. Does that put me on Beth Harmon's level? Sadly, no. It just makes me a person with eyes.
To be fair, the checkerboard print trend predates the 2020 release of The Queen's Gambit by... a lot. Traditional black-and-white checkerboard emerged as a favorite print in mod '60s fashion, but the busy design picked up on a larger scale in the late '70s and into the '80s, predominantly in the skateboarding community thanks to Vans' use of the design in its classic checkerboard slip-ons. "The Vans checkerboard is full of wild spirit," Rian Pozzebon, Vans’ director of footwear color and trend, told Vogue in 2017, when the nostalgic print and shoe saw a small renaissance. "Its beginnings come from rebellious youth doodling on the sidewalls of their shoes. Vans took notice of the recurring checker trend in the late ’70s, and a print idea was born."
Checkerboard's brief reintroduction in 2017, it seems, was just a foreshock for the real seismic activity to come in 2020. Although, this year's adaptation of the print isn't so defiant as it is just quirky and contagious. Designers like Lisa Says Gah, Paloma Wool, and Palm Angels are just a few of the brands to reimagine the print in myriad shapes, sizes, colors, and silhouettes, so it feels more artsy and less racing flag. Lisa Says Gah, in particular, has breathed new life into the design by warping it so some areas of the once-orderly print are stretched, some are shrunken, and some are twisted. Paloma Wool founder Paloma Lanna's designs, too, feature checkerboards patterns made from her initials or mixed with blank spaces and rectangles, not unlike a game of Tetris. The end result for these fresher takes is something of an optical illusion, fitting for a year in which every day has felt like one.
As social media does, Instagram is checkerboard's lighter fluid. While checkerboard prints largely dominated clothing in the past, influencers in pretty much every lifestyle arena have taken on the trend, seemingly all over night. I've seen more than a few influencers every day wearing the same bright-colored, chunky checkered sweater with small checkered pants or vice versa. Shoe Instagrammers and sneakerheads and skaters alike have returned to (or maybe never left) the comfort of the timeless checkerboard Vans. Checkered throw pillows and rugs and mugs dot the homes of every popular interior design account.
Almost everywhere I look, I now see a checkerboard, as if this is a game designed by 2020 to test my mental agility, of which I have none following 12 months of straight dumpster fires. Do I play a strong defense to protect my bank account from a slippery slope? Do I lay down my king and accept my fate as someone who is most definitely about to bankrupt herself on literal checkerboard print? Have I waited too long to make my move and now I've run out of time?
Well, technically, I do none of those things because this isn't chess. But for the sake of the metaphor, I play the Queen's Gambit: I sacrifice a pawn — in this case, some amount of money — for control of the board. Below, see the checkerboard print items worth sacrificing your pawn for:
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