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Genue Inc.
July 2, 2015

Scottish Tartan or Plaid?

lumberjack shirtfabric-specialweave-heavy-culloden-340- reid tartanlumberjack dress by DVF

When I think of Plaid; flannel pajamas, woolen blankets, school uniforms and Scottish kilts come to mind. I think square and checkered patterns such as, Gingham and Burberry and it is these images that define plaid. However, this is not correct. Plaid has become another descriptor for a pattern type, but the plaid pattern that many of us visualize originates from a pattern produced by Scottish weavers named “Tartan”.

The difference between the two-
A TARTAN has colored threads running both horizontally and vertically making exacting stripes and forms a grid pattern with 90 degree angles. It is woven in a twill pattern; two threads over, two threads under, which makes a diagonal pattern from the offset rows.

A PLAID (THE PATTERN), STILL A GRID DESIGN; COMBINES WOVEN STRIPES THAT CAN BE COMPRISED OF VARYING WIDTHS AND THREAD COLORS AND DOES NOT HAVE TO PRECISELY MATCH IN BOTH DIRECTIONS.

Another difference comes from the word plaid. A “plaid” originates from the Gaelic word for blanket and describes the folded woolen fabric worn by Scottish men as part of their Highland dress. During the daytime the plaid would be slung over their shoulder and then at night, it was unbelted and opened to use as a blanket.

scottish plaid

So, a tartan and plaid refers to one of several patterns of colored checks and intersecting lines; but historically a plaid referred to a garment and a tartan was the pattern.

One of the first tartans popularized in America was the red and black checkered pattern from the woolen shirts worn by lumber jacks; this pattern became to be known as Buffalo Plaid, leading to “plaid” becoming an accepted word for tartan.

Soon various interpretations of the plaid pattern emerged in fashion and still today it is seen in fashion designs and in the designs of many other products.

That’s all good to know, but moreover, the question is…

HOW DO YOU STYLIZE AND MIX PLAIDS, TARTANS, AND CHECKS, WHEN YOU DON’T WANT MATCHY-MATCHY? AND YES, LOOK GOOD TOO.

Truly, if not for the tartan and the kilt wearing men this question may have never come about. So, giving them credit for this fashion, let’s now turn to modern day’s men attire, which also incorporates square patterns to find an answer.

As a whole, plaid patterns grab your visual attention due to multiple colors and because of the design composition.

    The few guidelines and examples of stylistically matching plaids are:

  • Mix like patterns and keep shapes consistent. (example: checks with checks)
  • Keep the scale size different for each square shaped pattern or it will get too “busy”, which is a look you do not want.

In men’s fashion it is better to keep the smaller scaled pattern closer to your body and layer the larger scaled pattern as you move to outwear. An example would be a man’s dress shirt (smallest scale) – then his tie (middle) – then his suit jacket (largest scale).

– THE NEXT RECOMMENDATION IS TO USE PLAID PATTERNS OF THE SAME TONAL VALUE OR COLOR HUE, AND IF YOU DARE, ADD IN A COLOR THAT COMPLEMENTS THE OTHERS.

men suit with plaid 1suit and shirt plaid

For most it’s true that tartan and plaid patterns come to mind when thinking about fall and winter garments, but summertime is also a time for print combining. So experiment, and have fun mixing plaids, checks, and tartans in lighter weight fabrics.

Here are some summery colored, plaid patterns made with Genue Pro which can be mixed and matched. I think that they go together. Do you?

purple plaid -Genue 1 editedSummer plaid 2 Genue -edited
shirt and tie

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