Plaid is synonymous with hipsters and the Pacific Northwest. It’s known for its grungy look and its practicality as the warmth for lumberjacks. Few people know about the origins of this pattern that has become so mainstream in our culture.
The plaid had its origin in the 1500s in the tartan, a specific woven pattern that differentiated one Scottish clan or region from another. The original definition of a plaid was a Celtic kilt or blanket which served as an outer layer to battle the Highland elements.
The term “plaid” was actually stolen by British and American cloth makers who liked the tartan pattern, used it, and renamed it. Dating back to 1583 there are record of King James V giving his wife pieces of plaid material. Fast forward to the 1700s and tartan was prohibited in Scotland during the nation’s rebellion. It wasn’t allowed again until the end of the century.
The pattern of plaid made the transition to the United States in the next century. The company Woolrich Woolen Mills created the black and red checked plaid we all know so well and it became the most common shirt for lumberjacks.
The company Pendleton was the first company to make a casual plaid shirt for men in 1924. By the 1980s, plaid had been pulled into popular culture by movies. British punk rockers of the 1980s wore Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Stewart Tartan (in the form of shirts and pants ripped to shreds) as an homage to their ancestors, who wore plaid in their rebellion against the British crown. In the early 1990s, the grunge movement full of plaid was getting started in the Pacific Northwest, where bands like Nirvana, the Breeders, and Pearl Jam would make plaid flannel shirts famous.
Since then, plaid has been adopted as a pattern of hipsters and is seen occasionally in high fashion. It has even made appearances on the rap scene and for other popular yet not grungy musicians.
With its hint of irreverence, plaid will most likely continue to be a part of high fashion and street fashion for many years to come.