When we think of check, plaid or tartan, most of us think… kilt, right?
These days, it’s mostly seen on loud obnoxious sports fans on away games, or tourists, or at weddings where the dude has some sort of Scottish family ties and decides he simply MUST honour the ancestors in this way.
Well, first off, when we talk tartan, plaid, and check patterns, we’re talking about 3 slightly different things. So let’s clarify that.
Tartan is a pattern of coloured criss-cross horizontal and vertical bands, where the weaving running vertically is exactly the same as the horizontal. The oldest examples of this style come from way off in Ürümchi – in the northwest of the People’s Republic of China – on some excavated mummies (who may have been Celtic tribal travellers, according to genetic markers) from around 3000 years ago.
Plaid actually referred originally to the oversized wool garments worn mostly by the Highland Scots, also known as a ‘belted plaid’ or ‘great kilt’. It was wrapped around the waist and then draped up over the left shoulder. Nowadays though, it’s a term used for fabrics inspired by authentic tartans, which are made of crossed horizontal and vertical bands in two or more colours.
Check patterns then, are simpler than plaids. They generally consist of two alternating colors, that are symmetrical, made up of crossed horizontal and vertical lines that form equal sized squares. There’s loads of different types of check patterns such as Gingham, Buffalo and Windowpane.
So mostly, when we’re talking about a checkered fabric, it’s plaid that we mean. And it’s incredibly popular in the fashion world. From Alexander McQueen to Vivienne Westwood, designers adore the cross-hatched pattern. Plaid caters for tastes from preppy to hipster to punk. How we got here is interesting…
In the 1500s, tartan became fashionable and particularly popular among royalty, outside of the Scottish traditions. Those early hipster kings and queens just couldn’t get enough of it, by all accounts. In the 1700s tartan got banned in Britain, because those Scottish scamps were looking for their freedom and such, and it was the uniform of the Rebellion of 1745 against the union of Scotland and England. No, this was AFTER Braveheart (that was based on the First War of Scottish Independence, which started in 1296).
In the 1800s, the US company Woolrich Woolen Mills appropriated traditional tartan to design their Buffalo plaid, and it became fierce popular with lumberjacks and outdoors types, an association that still holds today really. Fashionable Plaid really took off in the 1970s, with everything from Daisy Duke’s iconic little knotted shirt, to punks taking the English Queen’s royal tartan and shredding it for their own stylings. Vivienne Westwood picked up on it, Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen later followed suit… and from there it became the fashion staple that we know and love today.
How do you wear yours? Drop into Redlane in Tramore, and we’ll CHECK the box for your professional styling tips. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)