If you take nothing else away from my closet, you will see enough plaids to cover the Highlands. Plaids are my favourite pattern, and I think subconsciously part of the reason I dislike the summer is that plaids are incredibly difficult to wear. My plaid collection is wide-ranging and hits most every variation of the pattern possible. I know that a lot of people prefer to dress completely in solids, and sometimes even solely in black, but I think that plaid is a great “entry” pattern that is easier to wear than people think! These are my tips to wearing plaid and managing your collection.
This is the time of year for plaid! It’s perfect for holiday pictures and parties (my holiday cards this year are different plaids), and is typically a warmer fabric for those colder temperatures. I understand that plaid can feel very overwhelming to people who don’t wear patterns, it can be a lot happening in a small amount of fabric. To me, it feels a lot more ordered than most patterns, though- florals and brocades can feel dizzying, and stripes are often a concern for potentially making you look wider (and/or a wonky) shape. Plaids have enough going on to add some punch to your ensemble without being distracting.
Plaid vs Tartan vs Check
Before you dive into plaid, we should quickly cover the basics of what terms actually mean, as they can be used interchangeably by well-meaning but uninformed companies. Tartan is created by horizontal and vertical bands of crossing fabric that are identical in both orientations (horizontal and vertical), meaning that no matter which way it lays, it will look the same. Plaid is also created by horizontal and vertical bands of crossing fabric that are NOT identical in both orientations; turning it will create a slightly different pattern. Check (or checkered) is a symmetrical pattern of only two colours, like gingham or buffalo. (Greenhouse Fabrics has more info if you are interested!)
1. Find a Plaid That Fits Your Wardrobe
If you never wear purple, I wouldn’t recommend trying a purple plaid as your first foray. Find a plaid that fits into your existing wardrobe! I have a lot of red in my wardrobe already, so it makes sense that I would find a red plaid that works with what I already own. Most plaids have 3-5 colours in them, so I would try and find a plaid with a dominant colour that fits well. The fall and winter are the best time to look, as you can find most any combination of colours if you spend enough time at it.
2. Be Smart About the Piece
If you don’t normally wear a lot of colour, jumping into a bright red plaid shirt or dress can feel very overwhelming and even a little costumey. If you normally wear scarves, try and grab a plaid scarf instead- it gives you the opportunity to see if it feels right to wear, and if you aren’t sure, it’s easy enough to take off and put back on throughout the day. (I bought a floral blouse once, felt incredibly uncomfortable, but then couldn’t escape it until I got home. Bad move, Historian.) Also, if you live in Florida, a thick plaid scarf might not be your best bet, either. Think about what would get the most use in your wardrobe!
3. Try Things On!
This goes for most any piece of clothing out there, but I can’t recommend trying plaids on too much. You may think that a buffalo plaid is too bold for you, but on the sedate duo-colour actually helps calm it down. You may think that a black tartan is too dull, but once on you, the red, green, and yellow pattern livens it up and gives you options to pair with! I have been known to try on five different plaid shirts in the same store and only purchase two because the others didn’t feel “right”. What looks great on that prep blogger that you follow on Instagram may not look right on you, and that’s okay- a quick try on can help avoid the awkward.
4. Be Creative With Pairings
Try and use plaid to branch out! I like to layer plaids with sweaters and/or vests, because I’m a freezey-pants who is always cold no matter what. When you are getting dressed, try on that new plaid shirt with a few different sweaters (no matter if you think it won’t go), you might discover a new unlikely pairing that you love! I was unsure of pairing a plaid with my red Kate Spade Rosette sweater, because it’s a very specific red and there was a good chance that any red would clash with it. However, I paired my white tartan shirt with it, and the minimal red didn’t cause a problem at all- the white stands out, but the minimal red in the shirt ties the two together. The worst thing that happens is that you take whatever off, and try something else.
5. Step It Up
What I’m enjoying right now is the details that are being added to plaid pieces. My red plaid vest has velvet detailing, and it’s just enough to make it feel a step up above a casual plaid shirt without being a formal, taffeta plaid dress. (Woohoo 80s!) Pair your plaid shirt with a longer necklace to dress it up,