My first order of business is to apologise profusely for the appalling main title I managed to spew from my horrible pun filled brain. I shall be trying my very best not to do it in future (although I can’t promise). This aside it is now time to consider another key item trend, that has been with us for some time, and is now going through something of a renaissance, developing into something all together new and more diverse. Which along with the introduction of the recent heritage and country trends Is going to add some much needed variation into our all too samey winter wardrobes. I am of course (I’d hope the title has already given you a clue) talking about the ever present plaid or checked shirt.
As I’m sure you are all aware, plaid or checked shirts have been hugely popular for the last couple of years, every year we see a wealth of new – so far as can be seen as new – designs, colours and fits released by both designers and high street stores a like. They have become a wardrobe staple for men and women alike. To which end you could argue that they were part of the first forays into the truly gender transitional wardrobes we see developing now. It seems like every man, woman and child in the country has at least one or two (I personally have two) of this style of shirt in their possession and whether you love them or loathe them, there is no denying their status in the style of the everyday man… and it doesn’t look like they’ll be going anywhere soon.
Plaid isn’t a recent trend however. Since the 70s, when it was part of the punk rock era mixed with Mohawks, Doc Martins (another item experiencing something of a comeback) and ripped jeans, the pattern has featured in the 90s grunge scene – think greasy, floppy hair, oversized shirts, ripped jeans and battered converse – and become very popular with Lumberjacks, although that is less of a scene, more profession. In fact plaid stretches back even further, to ancient Celtic populations between 100 – 400BC, although it was probably used in a more practical sense, and probably with less focus on the colour coordination and shape of an outfit. During the 17th and 18th century it became a stamp of identity for Scotland (although it was termed tartan) which prompted a law from the English, banning its use. Something the Punk rock and Grunge scenes could identify with, promoting their anti establishment themes. But with the history lesson over, we must ask – How do we wear our plaid?
As I have already said, plaid is a design that splits opinion, which goes without saying for many a key item trend or new look. The Camouflage trend covered by Ben Herbert is a good example of how opinion on the street can differ hugely from that of designers. Plaid shirts are a very common item (I’m sure even my nan has one somewhere), there is no real individuality. It doesn’t necessarily provide the same smart lines and formality of say gingham or oxford shirts and despite the huge numbers of designs and colours, they all look pretty similar. So how do you make plaid more individual? How do you incorporate a common print into an outfit and still stand out from the crowd?
A key aspect of the plaid shirt renaissance that I mention earlier is a shift from casual styles to a more formal, tailored cut, creating a whole new wealth of possibilities when introducing plaid into your outfits. A simple and cheap way of incorporating this new idea straight into your looks, without changing your shirt, is to keep the sleeves rolled down and cuffs done up, perhaps even doing up the top button which immediately smartens up the appearance of the shirt in general. This simple change would work very well with the new urban bohemia and heritage trends, as well the more established indie/mod and Geek chic/preppy looks.
If you really want to make a statement and really get into this plaid shirt rebirth, try mixing them up with your work wear. As a fashion focused gentlemen I’m sure that you’re all aware of the basic suit rules, if not then read Matt Allinson’s comprehensive set of articles on how to wear a suit. One of the main things to bear in mind when trying to match a plaid/checked shirt with a tie is to avoid exactly the same patterns, introduce some variation in size or in the case of stripes, their direction. Unless you want to look like the gingham table cloth in a greasy spoon, try to introduce another size of check in your tie, and then pick out one colour in the shirt to complement.
With a plaid shirt you’re better off choosing a solid tie. Again it should complement one subtle colour within the shirt. Of course if you’re feeling brave you can match it with a plaid or checked tie, but as ever, make sure the patterns are not exactly the same as the shirt. Another way of incorporating plaid into your suit without going for a shirt is to use a plaid tie with your block colour shirts, a statement piece, without the fuss. Using a solid tie however, is by far the easiest way to mix and match without taking the risk of becoming a walking optical illusion, the different pattern of the shirt should make the statement, not the effect you have on the eyes of the people you walk past. The same goes for colours, the mixed patterns and the bolder designs will stand out more than your plain white shirt and tie combination, so you don’t necessarily need choose bright colours. In fact, you would do better to choose more muted colours, greys, blues etc which will take the edge off the pattern and retain an air of formality and class.
By choosing to use plaid in this way you mark yourself out from the ranks of the suit wearing masses, you make more of a statement and you continue to develop your wardrobe along the way. When done right, it can be a real alternative to the other plain old shirts you keep dragging out day after day. Best of all, because plaid shirts are so casual, you can dress it back down for a night out after work. If you are going to do this, then ensure you don’t fall back into the everyman plaid look by keeping the tie and just throwing a cardigan over the top (chunky or not). Alternatively, wear your blazer, jeans and brogues to keep that classy edge - a truly transitional item.
Tonal check suits are going to be a big trend this A/W as well…
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