Dear reader, I misled you, and I’m sorry. I had said that today we would be discussing what’s new for fall, but then I got distracted by something very close to my heart, which, though not technically new, deserves to be talked about. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today we will be discussing the glorious, the wonderful, the endearing … plaid.
To say that I like plaid is an understatement. Three of my absolutely most favorite garments are plaid: a yellow plaid flannel cowboy style shirt from Old Navy and two pieces my mom made and passed down to me — a jacket-style wool-flannel red plaid shirt and a gorgeous high-waisted circle skirt, also a red plaid.
Why do I love plaid so much? I can’t really say, although I feel it’s in my (fashion) lineage. My mom and her mom have always worn gorgeous plaid pieces, and I wore the traditional kilt I bought in Edinburgh, Scotland when I was seven for as long as I could, until the leather buckle couldn’t close around my mid-section any more.
I feel I should perhaps clarify a few points before we continue: I do not endorse, and highly doubt I shall ever endorse, pink plaid or school-girl skirts worn à la Britney Spears. Also, I must warn you that plaid has the potential to be truly hideous. If you cannot handle the responsibility of the information I’m about to give you, stop reading now, because I don’t want to see you capering about campus with a too-short hem and foolish knee socks, besmirching my beloved plaid.
For those of you who remain, it is for you that I learned more about plaid than I ever even intended. Did you know, for example, that my home state, Indiana, has its own special plaid? It has a navy background with light blue, yellow and white accents. Thank you, Wikipedia, for more obscure knowledge.
But I digress. We need to start with the question — what IS plaid? It turns out the word “plaid” comes from the Scottish Gaelic word “plaide,” which originally meant “blanket,” or the cloth used, pre-kilt, as clothing. The name of the pattern to which I have been referring is actually “tartan,” which you may or may not have heard of. In a classic historical shift of meaning, the object became known by the material it was made from (think “glass” for “cup made of glass”) and now the two are used interchangeably. I will continue to use “plaid” here for simplicity.
Plaid has traditionally been woven — that’s how it becomes plaid — but these days there are all sorts of new fangled contraptions that print on any fabric you like. The pattern is formed via the weaving of different colored threads at right angles to each other (known as the “warp” and the “weft”). The pattern of squares and lines is called a “sett.” These are known either by their thread counts or by the names of clans or regions of Scotland. Check out our friend Wikipedia for the subtleties of clan-tartan relationships: The red plaid worn by grunge-rockers and punks is the Royal Stewart tartan, the non-exclusive tartan of the British royal family. The plaid that looks checked, or is just one color plus black, is known as “buffalo plaid,” and it’s definitely one of the more popular ones.
On the Runway: Ralph Lauren showed (among many other absolutely fabulous pieces) persimmon- and teal-based buffalo plaids in the form of beautiful winter-weight portrait-collar jackets, suit separates and ponchos, and the piece de resistance, a red-and-black shouldered evening gown, shown belted and with a signature black beret. Dolce & Gabbana had the terrific look of a plaid flannel shirt over a t-shirt tucked in just at the waist with jeans and a silk scarf tied around the neck. Preen showed woven plaidd, but also sheer, printed plaid overdresses and blouses.
On your Radar: Charlotte Russe and Forever 21 seem to be the headquarters for affordable plaid right now. Charlotte Russe has plaid vests, bolero jackets and a huge range of structured blouses in many colors. Their best piece is a periwinkle and grey, buffalo plaid tie-neck blouse for $20. Forever 21 has a pair of high-waisted plaid shorts with neon yellow, green and pink stripes that are absurd and to die for. They also have some more normal colors and shapes, like a great wool-blend hooded jacket for $35. Isaac Mizrachi has some absolutely beautiful silhouettes through Target, like gorgeously tailored pencil skirts, a short-sleeve full-skirted double-breasted dress and a boatneck double-breasted three-quarter-length jacket. The problem is, the plaid is hideous. Which brings us to …
What Not to Wear: As mentioned previously, plaid has an inherent potential for hideousness. It could possibly due to the necessary mixing of colors, but I think it has more to do with the choice of those colors. I will attempt to delineate the characteristics of a hideous plaid, but use your judgment. Stay away from light colors — greys, light browns, pastels … Ugh, I can’t talk about it anymore. Buffalo plaids are pretty much always safe, so, if you’re a beginner, start there.
Also, do not wear plaid pants. Ever.
How to Wear It: ALL THE TIME. Sorry, I’m about to get dressed as I’m finishing this up, and all the plaid possibilities are getting me excited. The safe way to wear plaid is with solids, probably black. You can also tuck a plaid shirt into you jeans, and your jeans into a pair of boots. Play with silhouettes and genres: Tuck a masculine flannel into a high-waisted black skirt with a belt. Or pair a plaid skirt with a jeans jacket.
But don’t be afraid of patterns, either. The trick to pattern-mixing is to play with size and weight. Ralph Lauren showed blockier plaids with more intricately striped ones, while Preen paired their sheer blouses with heavier skirts of the same plaid. Pick a tiny polka dot, floral or lace pattern to pair with plaid and see what happens — as always, you can anchor with black. Soon you and I might be moving on to full out plaid-on-plaid glory. See you there!
Next time? Ithaca’s own excellent places to shop.