Punks, grunge kids, hipsters, lumberjacks, and pop icons, you've seen them all wearing it. Plaid has always been a trendy and relevant print in the fashion world since its origins, which go back 3,000 years ago. Unlike any other print, plaid has a tremendous historical importance, as well as a vitality that never goes outdated. It’s one of the patterns that you’ll always see on the street, and for that reason designers have adapted it into so many innovative pieces. How has this symbol of rebelliousness become such a classic print?
The first records of the pattern can be traced back thousands of years ago to the highlands of Scotland, where they received the name of tartan. Now, some purist of fashion could argue that tartan and plaid aren’t the same, and in a way they’re right, but they have the same origins. Tartan was originally used as a thick fabric to protect people from the cold weather, but when weavers perfected their craft, each clan used different colors and weaving combinations to differentiate their own communities. Needless to say, for centuries these groups turned tartan into a symbol of pride and belonging.
Just as it happens in history, when two different cultures interact, there can be appropriation of certain cultural aspects, including fashion. Of course, the famous Scottish kilts made with tartan fabric weren't the exception. By the 1500s, English manufacturers started creating their own versions and imitations of tartan that soon became trendy among the aristocracy. However, for the ancient Scots this pattern wasn’t born just to be a fashion statement, but a symbol of unity, power, rebellion, and freedom.
During the eighteenth century, there was a huge Scottish rebellion against the English monarchy, and tartan became the uniform of this rebellious army that fought for their independence and rights. Just like their ancestors, they embraced the fabric as a symbol of their nationality, and as a consequence, when they lost the war in the Battle of Culloden in 1746, everything that represented the rebelliousness of the Scots was banned, thus, the tartan was a banned print for about a century.
However, this pattern had already traveled to other parts of the world during the colonization of North America, where it was set to stay forever. During the mid-nineteenth century, a manufacturer company in the United States saw the potential of the fabric, not precisely as a fashion element, but as a practical material. Made with flannel, now the renamed pattern, plaid, became the essential piece for outdoor professions, and so, the classic lumberjack outfit. From this moment on, plaid became a key fabric and piece in cultural terms.
During the first decades of the twentieth century the iconic black and red checkered shirt became a classic casual attire, and in the following years, it started being applied to women’s fashion as well. However, the rebellious essence of the pattern was never forgotten, and during the seventies, it emerged once again. The seventies were the decade of resistance and social awakening, and just as the Scots fighting for their rights had taken the tartan as a flag, the youth of this decade adopted the symbolic and historical meaning behind each check and stripe to embrace their cause.
From this moment on, several counterculture movements used plaid as their signature statement piece: punks in Great Britain during the late seventies and eighties, grunge in the nineties, and hipsters in their nostalgic search for the past. No matter the time, plaid will always be a fashionable print. Although sometimes the social and political load of this fabric is forgotten with certain trends, it’ll always represent a free spirit.
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