Houndstooth is a type of broken check pattern usually associated with rustic and countryside fashion. On this page, which is part of our suit pattern series, you will learn about houndstooth, its uses and how to wear it.
Notably seen on Basil Rathbone’s deerstalker when portraying Sherlock Holmes, the houndstooth is a unique yet subtle pattern. As you will later learn in this guide, it is in fact one of the oldest patterns known to exist.
Nevertheless, despite its old age, it’s a pattern that is rarely seen today. Sometimes it even goes by unnoticed. However, it is a stylish and outgoing pattern that makes a true statement when worn.
Also referred to as dogtooth, dogstooth, or even pied-de-poule (“chicken feet”), Houndstooth is a type of woven check used in men’s tailored clothing.
Being a versatile design, it can be paired with a great number of garments such as gloves, coats or hats. Due to its thicker weave, it’s often associated with the winter months.
See All Suit Patterns!
What Is Houndstooth?
Houndstooth’s name comes from the fact that the pattern resembles dogs’ teeth, specifically molars and larger teeth about midway through the mouth.
It’s most often used in sport coats and odd jackets and is made in a wide variety of sizes and color ways. It always has at least two colors and may or may not have an overcheck in a different color.
A classic pattern, it has been around for centuries and has never really gone out of style. In fact, it’s an intricate weave that has a subtle yet outgoing effect on the wearer.
Dogstooth isn’t just used in menswear, either. Household items such as rugs are sometimes made in a houndstooth pattern, and furniture can even be upholstered with houndstooth weaves.
History Of The Pattern
Dog tooth is actually one of the oldest patterns known to humans. The oldest known example is the Gerum Cloak, a garment found in a Swedish peat bog. It was dated back to sometime between 360 and 100 BCE. Even our pre-Common Era ancestors seemed to have excellent style.
If we fast forward to more modern history, we learn that the pattern has never really gone out of style. It has always been a mainstay of Savile Row tailors when creating country garments for their clients.
Remember, this was a time when “sport” typically referred to fox hunting and other outdoor activities, and many a Norfolk jacket -the first style of modern sport coat- was made with cloth that utilized a houndstooth pattern.
Plenty of ready-to-wear firms such as Brooks Brothers followed suit and have been creating houndstooth garments for well over a century.
Today, a ten-second Google search will yield you thousands of results for ready-made houndstooth garments for men, with a particular focus on sport coats. Keep in mind that houndstooth is indeed made in more than just sport jackets, but more on that below.
How The Fabric Is Woven
Houndstooth checks are created by weaving alternating bands of four dark and four light threads in the warp and weft directions in a simple 2:2 twill, which means that the weft threads are woven two over and two under the warp threads.
What Is A Puppytooth Pattern?
Below: Houndstooth jacket on left, puppytooth slipper on right
You will sometimes see the word “puppytooth” when consulting resources on houndstooth. While houndstooth is typically a small-scale pattern to begin with, puppytooth is a micro-houndstooth. It’s extremely small and almost indiscernible unless you’re extremely close to the wearer.
Decisions about pattern size and scale should be made based on your body type. If you’re not sure what yours is, see our guide to body types to determine it so you can make sure you pick the best size houndstooth fabric for your frame.
Popular Houndstooth Fabrics
Wool is undeniably the most popular fabric used in houndstooth garments. It looks just as good on woolens (that is, nubbier, hairier wools) as it does on worsteds, but houndstooth truly does shine as a woolen sport coat.
If you are unsure of the difference and / or would like to know more about wool in general, take a look at our guide to wool fabrics.
Though wool is far and away the most common fabric used for houndstooth garments, the pattern is also utilized in cotton for shirts and lightweight sport coats.
How To Wear Houndstooth
As a pattern, houndstooth is everywhere. We see it on sport coats, full suits, odd trousers, waistcoats, ties, and even accessories like socks and gloves.
More often than not, the pattern is used in cold-weather garments.
With that said, one of the most classic summer jackets for men is a black-and-white puppytooth cotton, so don’t be afraid to buy and wear a dogstooth article of clothing if it’s made in a lighter material.
Is Houndstooth Good For A Full Suit?
As with so many things in life, the answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no. It depends.
Hypothetically, houndstooth is perfectly acceptable for a suit. Specifically, it’s a fine idea to buy a houndstooth suit as you get deeper into your suit collection; don’t buy houndstooth as a first or second suit.
While extremely handsome, its versatility is limited and it isn’t the “everything” suit you’d need from something typically found in a capsule wardrobe.
If you do buy a houndstooth suit, it’s a good idea to get a three-piece suit, as you’ll be able to wear each piece á la carte (more on that below).
So, when is it appropriate to wear a houndstooth suit?
- To work, assuming your office is on the lax end of business professional or you have such seniority/authority that you can wear whatever you like
- To a wedding or other celebratory occasion like a retirement party, engagement party, or a fundraiser
- Out on a date to a high-end bar or fancy dinner
- Anytime you feel like wearing a suit and the dress code isn’t strict
Please note that the above are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. If your houndstooth suit is very small in scale, it will look solid from a distance and probably work for some of the applications we just said to avoid. As always, your good judgement is paramount when making these kinds of decisions.
As An Odd Jacket, Sports Coat Or Blazer
Houndstooth is a spectacular choice for sport coats and odd jackets. They’re perfect for business casual dress codes (or casual Friday for business professional offices), they can be paired with denim for weekend outings, and if you want to look handsome while running some otherwise mundane errands, a houndstooth coat is a simple way to achieve this.
It is extremely important to remember that you need to be careful about clashing patterns when you wear houndstooth. The pattern is very busy to begin with, and it’s best to start off by pairing it with solid garments in complementary colors.
If you need some help with understanding how color works, our guide to color is an excellent resource.
Trousers / Pants Separates
Trousers in a houndstooth pattern are incredibly handsome, though less common than their sport coat counterparts. If you opt for houndstooth trousers, we suggest pairing them with a solid sport coat, dress shirt, and / or sweater for a look that allows the pants to do the talking as far as your outfit goes.
If you’ve bought a three-piece houndstooth suit, wearing the waistcoat as an odd piece is a very dapper sartorial decision. Like trousers, you’ll want to pair this with solid pieces so that the houndstooth pattern doesn’t clash with anything surrounding it.
A houndstooth tie is a handsome addition to any neckwear collection. When used in a tie, houndstooth can easily start getting away from the earth tone base that many houndstooth jackets are known for, with colors ranging from light blues to deep purples to rich burgundies.
Further differentiating the tie from other houndstooth clothing is the fact that it’s easier to pair a tie with other patterned wardrobe items. This is because the physical article of clothing is so small; busy patterns that cover relatively little real estate tend to play more nicely with other patterns.
All you have to do is keep scale in mind. If it’s a tie with a small houndstooth pattern, pair it with a shirt that has a large check or bold pinstripes. The varying scales will allow the viewer to easily differentiate between the two items as opposed to creating the optical illusion of one.
As mentioned above, houndstooth can be used in any garment, such as:
Throwing houndstooth into one of your outfits using one of these aforementioned accent pieces is an easy way to introduce the pattern to your sartorial vocabulary. A houndstooth scarf in particular is a simple way to add some nattiness to your look with minimal effort.
Color Combos & When To Wear Them
Black & White
A small-scale black-and-white houndstooth is a classic pattern for a summer suit, odd jacket, trousers, or all three. It is high contrast by definition, so this will work best on a man whose skin and hair are of similar contrast.
If you’re unsure of your personal level of contrast and would like to determine it, our guide to contrast for men will be of great help to you!
Earth Tones: Brown, Burgundy, Green & Blue
Perfect for autumn and winter, earth tones make up the most popular color ways for houndstooth garments, particularly sport coats.
A houndstooth jacket with simple navy trousers or jeans and a button-down shirt is a can’t-miss fall weekend uniform. Wear it to brunch, wear it out to dinner, wear it while running errands. You can’t lose.
High Contrast & Bold Combos
There are plenty of bold color combinations for houndstooth garments: red/white, purple/cream, grey/white, and much more.
If you want to take the colorful houndstooth road, make sure that you pick a color way that syncs well with your skin tone!
Conclusion: Other Patterns In Menswear
Now that you’re well-versed in all things houndstooth, how about flexing your muscles with other menswear patterns? Our page on classic patterns in men’s clothing has everything you could want to know about all the common patterns found in our clothes.