The term “plaid” is drawn from a Highland Scots Gaelic word meaning “blanket.” In a culture in which a blanket often served double duty as a cloak, a plaid was an item of clothing as well as an article of bedding.
Over time, the term “plaid” was associated so strongly with the patterns known as tartan that the terms became largely interchangeable, though they have never become complete synonyms. Tartans are woven cloth, originally wool. A tartan was often a twill weave, and was patterned with cross-striping creating broad checks and color blocks. Tartan patterns, or setts, could be used in a range of woven applications, from shawls and capes to the “plaid” blankets the patterns became associated with.
Tartan kilts were commonly worn by Scots Highlanders until the 1700s, and made a massive resurgence in popularity as a result of Queen Victoria and her family’s affection for their Scottish estate and for the cultural elements associated with it. In the nearly two centuries since Victoria’s rule, tartan kilts, shawls, sashes and plaids have been romanticized and given a legendary aura exceeding the actual historical data. But the fabrics and patterns remain beautiful, and the legend adds great pleasure to those who use them.
Types of plaid
Wear Madras plaid and you are likely to be associated with the preppy set. It uses bright colors to make a plaid design that’s printed on lightweight cotton fabric. Prepsters and country clubbers embraced it after the upper crust in Great Britain made it popular. British officers brought it home from Madras, India, in the late 1800s. Indian weavers there were inspired by the Scottish tartans worn by some of the troops, and used vegetable dyes to create the colorful fabrics. This plaid is perfect for summertime, so you see it commonly on summer jackets, shorts and even bathing suits.
Tartans are plaids that represent specific Scottish regions and clans. This plaid uses bright and dark colors on wool fabric. Its history is debated, but most agree Tartans originated before Jesus Christ was born. Entire villages wore the same Tartan in some form of apparel, usually because the village weaver made one very long bolt of cloth that everyone used to make clothing. The most notable Tartan clothing is the kilt. However, tartan fabric and patterns are now made into all manner of clothing and accessories.
Glen plaid uses a combination of small and large checks to create a houndstooth design. It comes from Glen Urquhart, Scotland, and is called Glen Plaid for short. It’s printed on wool and it shows up most often in men’s and women’s blazers, suits and overcoats. However, it’s also popular as a pattern on other items of clothing, such as silk ties, scarfs and handkerchiefs. It’s even used in some bedding collections. Glen plaid is printed traditionally in muted browns and grays, but modern designers print it in all colours.
Buffalo check plaid is the name for a pattern of large square checks in two alternating colors. This plaid is as much associated with American lumberjacks as Tartan is associated with Scots. The lumberjacks often wore red and black buffalo check jackets of wool and buffalo check shirts made of flannel. In fact, the Woolrich company began making buffalo check shirts back in 1850. Today, buffalo check plaids are used for all types of apparel and home goods.
Plaids are a bold visual pattern often using strong colors and large, clearly marked blocks of color. They are also distinctly directional. Using plaids in design thus presents certain challenges. It has been traditional in fine sewing to attempt to match plaids at seams, even when seams are cut at angles. Where that is not possible easing and careful cutting are used to attempt to reduce the visual disruption caused by mismatched pattern sections.
The large square blocks can cause other visual issues, targeting physical features with the drama of a bull’s-eye target. Great care must be taken when placing both blocks and crossing points in respect to breasts and genitals in particular: a badly placed block or crossing can cause major social discomfort to all.
The dark, intense colors must be used with caution. Often it is best to use a plaid only with solid colors drawn from the plaid itself, or simple blacks and whites.
In its current form, plaid is now applied to lighter materials or incorporated into urban outfits. Ralph Lauren has used it for a short, contemporary pea coat while New York designer Michael Bastian used the traditional red-and-black pattern in many of the clothes for his current collection.
Plaid is resurgent in suits as well. John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling on the sartorially conscious show “Mad Men,” has gracefully donned the gray plaid suit to remind us that the pattern can be slick enough for the boardroom. To mimic the look — that is, smart exec rather than Canadian hockey broadcaster — stick with subtle patterns rooted in various shades of gray.
For nonoffice occasions, plaid can easily be paired with jeans, but to really honour the fabric and the hardworking fellows who wore it, don’t tuck. Lumberjacks never did, right?
Original article here.