Madmen men mad for plaid
For most of us, colder weather is either on the way or already here. Fall is my favorite season and one of the reasons is because I love all the cozy clothes you get to wear. This season feel free to be pretty in plaid as fall’s favorite pattern is everywhere and I couldn’t be more thrilled as I love a good plaid or check. And who doesn’t love the University of Tennessee’s checked end zones every football season?
The secret to making any pattern work is to keep it all chic and know when to say when. A plaid skirt is best with a solid top and maybe some tights or high boots. If you just have to have that pair of patterned tall boots on the other hand, pair them with a solid dress. Patterns go into the home nicely in the fall too, just make sure you don’t mix things up too much.
Surprisingly, plaid isn’t really a pattern; it’s actually a piece of clothing. Yep, my friends, today we’re clearing up all things plaid, tartan, check, gingham, and beyond!
Plaid vs. Tartan
We are all guilty of using the term “plaid” when talking about any fabric that has checks going this way and that. But, a plaid is actually a long piece of wool worn over the shoulder as part of traditional Highland dress. Think Scotland and not your favorite flannel jammies.
Above: JCrew vest, Ralph Lauren skirt, Fendi bag
Okay, then what should we call the pattern we have long called plaid? Tartan thank you! Those flannel jammies? They’re tartan. For true traditionalists and those in Scotland, tartan will forever be a pattern while plaid is a piece of cloth that consists of tartan prints. So, tartan is a checked pattern that has stripes meeting at a 90 degree angle and the vertical stripes are exact duplicates of the horizontal ones. A true tartan is a weave of colored threads registered with the Scottish Tartan Authority.
And yet, we will probably forever call patterned apparel “plaid,” and I’m okay with that. It just comes naturally. Sometimes these “plaids” aren’t colorful though and are often black-and-white. I’m okay with that too.
Above: Ralph Lauren, Target
One of the most famous plaids..err tartans…is the iconic Burberry khaki, black, and red check. Established in London in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, the brand’s distinctive plaid is recognized and imitated the world over. The Burberry plaid is a tartan recognized by the Scottish Tartan Authority and a forever fave of mine.
What about other checked patterns? Here’s a primer on some of my favorites:
Gingham is similar to plaid in that it is a fabric more so than a pattern and I was thrilled this morning to see Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen sporting a fabulous gingham shirt as he entered the stadium today.
Gingham originated in Malaysia and its name comes from the Malayan word for stripes, “genggang.” True gingham is a dyed in the yarn fabric, meaning the yarn is dyed before it is woven. Its distinctive print is a checkerboard pattern of simple thick colored lines on a white background.
Above starting with dress: Mira, LL Bean, Lacoste
When you think gingham, you probably think summer not fall. The fabric is lightweight and a standard issue spring and summer wardrobe staple. As opposed to outdoorsy or grunge-style plaid, gingham evokes a somewhat preppy, conservative image and is possibly best known for being a classic red and white tablecloth.
I’ve always loved buffalo plaid and I love my husband who hails from Buffalo, but sadly the pattern and the city are not connected at all. In fact, it’s not even American in its origin, but rather Scottish. Of course! The story behind the distinctive red and black check is credited to Scotland and the Rob Roy tartan of Clan MacGregor. One of that famous family’s descendants settled in Montana in the 1800s and traded buffalo pelts with Native Americans in exchange for heavy Scottish blankets made in the style of the family’s tartan. Hence the name “buffalo” plaid.
Above: Woolrich, Pendleton, Old Navy
Large blocks form the intersection of two different colored yarns on a traditional buffalo plaid. The colors are traditionally red and black and today the classic checked pattern symbolizes cold weather and signature warm brands like Woolrich and Pendleton.
Yet another type of cloth, madras came to be during the British colonial era in Madras, India. It is probably the most famous non-Scottish plaid and consists of colors commonly found in Indian textiles like yellow, pink, and orange. Like gingham, lightweight cotton madras is more suitable for summer and with its signature bright colors, it makes the perfect spring and summer wardrobe choice.
Above: Ralph Lauren and Gant
Another favorite of mine, windowpane check is classic and clean. The name comes from the windowpane-like square pattern formed by two perpendicular pinstripes, which make up the look. The grid formed by the crossing lines creates rectangles rather than squares as in many other checked patterns and these rectangles are almost always longer vertically than horizontally and are tall rather than wide.
Above: Alfani, JJill, Eileen Fisher, Chico’s,
This classic pattern needs no introduction to Alabama football fans, as it’s the pattern of the hat their beloved coach Bear Bryant wore. Today you’ll see Bama fans sporting anything and everything houndstooth to tailgates and football games, but the traditional look need not be reserved for those screaming Roll Tide.
Above: SweatshirtXY, Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta, Ferragamo
Houndstooth is characterized by its two-tone design that consists of small broken or jagged checks. The name “houndstooth” came about because its series of notched corners bring to mind dog teeth. Also of Scottish descent, a true houndtooth design is made up of a specific repeating geometric block rather than squares all in a row and is an example of tessellation. A truly traditional houndstooth check consists of alternating bands of four dark and four light threads.
Usually found in a twill, which is not a pattern but a fabric, herringbone has a “dressed up” and formal image of suits and menswear. Named for its resemblance to the skeleton of a herring fish, this distinctive V-shaped weaving pattern is a popular coat style, like this one from Jones NY:
For the Home
Herringbone is a popular tile and wood floor pattern as well. Similar to a chevron pattern, it differs in that it has a zig-zag joint with ends touching and forming a miter joint while with herringbone the ends are butted.
A longtime fan of Mackenzie-Childs’ Courtly Check line, I’ve been conservatively collecting the distinctive black-and-white checked ware for the kitchen for years. A product of small Aurora, NY, MC can now be found in small boutiques and big retailers like Neiman Marcus.
Here are a few additional images of home ideas:
Above: Pottery Barn and Good Housekeeping
Above: Reusable melamine plates and Sur La Table blue plates
Above: Pier 1 and Amazon
So there you have it, everything you’ve always wanted to know about all things checked and “plaid.” Which one is your favorite?
Side note: If you’re more of a stripes girl, I recently read something that explains the whole “stripes make you look bigger” belief. Stylist and fitness guru Audrey Slater says the most flattering and versatile clothing item one can own is a nautical striped tee with three-quarter inch sleeves and a bateau neckline. I’m more of a crew or collared neckline girl, but I do love stripes and three-quarter inch sleeves. Slater calls this top “magical” in that it can make every woman look effortlessly chic, eternally young, and casually fit. She also recommends horizontal stripes only on tops and that vertical stripes on pants are the stripe to go with on bottoms. A pant with a vertical stripe down the leg will make you look taller and thinner. Whatever you believe or whatever you choose stripes wise, it’s probably always a good rule of thumb to not have horizontal stripes on the areas you least want to “enhance” and probably want to minimize. Time to go shopping!