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Check Please

By JeanAnn Taylor

woman wearing a plaid coat and a beret walking through a forest of fall colors

It’s November. The days are short, the nights are chilly. What can you wear that will be stylish, comfortable, and keep you feeling snuggly and warm? A flannel shirt, of course! And what pattern will you most likely find in flannel? Plaid.

Plaid, originally called tartan has been around for centuries and has an interesting history. Wool weavers across the Scottish Highlands created specific checked patterns to distinguish one clan or region from another.

In 1746, Scottish rebels wore a pattern that led to the prohibition of wearing tartans in Britain. The Dress Act was in effect for nearly fifty years before the checked print was once again allowed to be worn. Plaid came to America in the nineteenth century and, with a few bumps along the way, has steadily grown in popularity.

Like much of fashion, plaid clothing was first made for men. In 1850, Woolrich designed the Buffalo check. The bold red and black checked wool shirts were warm and rugged, making them favored by hunters, fishermen, lumberjacks, and other outdoorsy men.

Western wear also has roots in this rugged backstory. Cowboys preferred warm, wool shirts rather than a restrictive overcoat when riding off into the sunset. In 1949, Pendleton introduced a flannel shirt for women. The intention was to keep her from stealing this irresistible shirt off her man’s back—and to compete for sales in the growing fashion industry.

This flattering plaid shirt became a favorite winter fashion staple, and also led to the popularity of prim, plaid dresses becoming all the rage for women and girls during the 1950s.

Plaid became synonymous with “preppy” when private preparatory schools claimed plaid as their uniform pattern of choice.

In my search for, “Why plaid?” I came across more questions than answers. I concluded that this tailored, clean, no-fuss style probably stemmed from the original intention of plaid—to identify one group from another. That, and because it is generally appealing to everyone and can be designed with so many variations.

During the 60s and 70s, plaid became popular in home decor as well as fashion. Sofas, easy-chairs, comforters, and even window-treatments in bold plaid prints offered a relaxed, yet modern, edgy vibe. Plaid decor was a blend of tradition mixed with a little rebellion.

In the 90s, plaid met grunge. While the resilience of plaid kept it in the mainstream of style, its rebel roots resurfaced and took over the world of fashion. Fashion designers created punk-inspired plaid clothing to protest, well everything: society, culture, fashion, manners, values, and tradition.

Plaid is the name of the pattern, not the fabric. It is made with bars and stripes criss crossing at right angles, creating alternating light and dark squares and sometimes rectangles. The result is an alluring design of straight lines and right angles attractive to both men and women.

The color palette can be as simple as green and black or as complicated as green, yellow, orange, and pink. The width and number of bars and stripes dictate the complexity of the design. Plaid was first woven with wool fibers; it’s now available in every natural and synthetic fiber imaginable.

One aspect of plaid’s appeal lies in its versatility. I read that there are over 7,000 variations of colors, widths, and right angles. Some plaids are defined by the placement of their bars and stripes, others are defined by their colors.

Black Watch is always dark green, navy, and lighter green tones. Royal Stewart always has a wide red bar, striped with yellow, blue, green, and white. I find it interesting that while all plaids have crisscrossing yarns, they also have these very defining looks. Here are the most common types of plaid.

Houndstooth plaid consists of only two colors. It has a jagged look because the squares form an abstract pointed shape. It is woven with black and one other color, usually white. It is considered to be a fall/winter pattern.

Gingham is woven with white and one other color. This makes the checks simple and easily recognizable. It is usually woven in lightweight fabrics, making gingham the perfect summer fabric.

Madras is a lightweight, cotton, summer fabric. With its bright, vibrant colors, madras more than any other plaid says, “casual summer.”

Windowpane plaid has thin stripes that crisscross to form large, open squares. This pattern is usually made with just two colors.

Buffalo plaid is considered to be a winter plaid. The wide checks formed with red and black yarns were originally made with heavy wool fibers.

Glen plaid is a wool fabric with small or large checks forming larger squares. It is usually found in neutral blacks or grays woven with white. The combination gives it a muted, dull appearance.

Tattersall has thin bands creating small, tight squares.

The 2019 fall/winter fashion trend predictions are full of plaid patterns. Just as small floral prints and aprons convey a desire to connect with home, security, and belonging, plaids can express these identical emotions.

This checked-pattern offers many fashion possibilities. Plaid can be worn as a fitted shirt tucked into a skirt, or as an oversized shirt tied at the waist. Plaid can be a tunic-dress worn with leggings and ballet flats, or a shirtwaist dress worn with heels.

Plaid can make a small statement as in a handbag or scarf, or a bold statement as in a pair of pants or overcoat. Any way you wear these engaging checks, plaid will spice up your outfit and express your individual style.

While there are very few fashion rules now, and although designers enjoy showing plaid in extremely sensationalized designs, it is generally more flattering to wear only one plaid at a time. Plaid is eye-catching, meaning that the eye will go straight to the pattern. When two or more plaids are worn at the same time, the result is confusing and discombobulated. The eye doesn’t know where to look, so it often looks away.

This attention-demanding print is best worn with solid colors, or patterns that compliment plaid. Solid colors will emphasize the plaid pattern because the pattern itself will be showcased by the surrounding color.

You can choose a neutral color, or a color found in the plaid pattern to give your ensemble an attractive look. Carefully, and intentionally, pairing florals, polka-dots, or stripes with plaids can look fashionable.

The key word here is, “carefully.” It’s best to let one print work as the dominant pattern with the other print supporting it.

While plaid can be worn in every season, it is an autumn favorite for many. The enchanting checks lend themselves to countless silhouettes, colors, fiber selections, and pattern variations.

This versatility makes plaid perfect for hiking and horse-back riding, as well as afternoon teas and formal soirées.

Now that you know all about plaids, you can look stylish, impress your friends, finish a crossword puzzle, and win a trivia contest, all while wearing your favorite, cozy, plaid flannel shirt.


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