What Is Plaid?
Plaid comes from the Gaelic word plaide and refers to a pattern in which a boxlike design is formed by stripes of various widths and colors running vertically and horizontally on a fabric.
“Plaid” was originally a noun that referred to a long rectangular cloth with a tartan worn by Scottish shepherds. It was draped over the left shoulder during the day, and the shepherds would wrap themselves in it by night.
The word “plaid” in the United States is a synonym for “tartan,” which is a huge cultural icon of Scotland. In fact, in the early 13th century, these tartan plaids were used to distinguish the thirty-three clans of the Scottish Highlands. In that sense, they were some of the first gang insignia in history European history.
There are a ton of terms that are used in lieu of plaid: glen plaid, glen check, Prince of Wales, Prince of Wales check, district checks, tartan, and many others. We’ll go over many of these later with the aim of clearing up the confusion.
How & When To Wear Plaid
Theoretically, plaids can be worn for just about any occasion or event. If you’re expected to wear Highland Dress to an event, then it’s even expected that you’d wear a plaid to a black tie or white tie event.
Plaid can be worn any time of year for most occasions, and it tends to look best during the day. If you’re involved with or attending a daytime wedding, plaid makes for a handsome look that adds a lot of visual interest without overstepping any bounds.
Should you be looking for information on how to dress for a wedding regardless of your role in it or lack thereof, we highly suggest taking a look at our wedding guide.
Despite their fanciness, plaid suits actually work for many conservative businessmen. In the standard black/white, grey, or earth-toned color ways, the plaid comes off as solid from a distance and the details are only noticed once the viewer gets up close and personal.
As such, a glen plaid suit is a common way to add a bit of visual interest to an otherwise staid suit, putting it on the same level as a subtle herringbone weave.
For the man in a business professional office, a plaid suit can work wonders for giving the suits in your capsule wardrobe a break.
A plaid sport coat, like potato chips or MDMA, is highly addictive. Their ornate fanciness up close combines with their simplicity from a distance to create a garment that often becomes the centerpiece of any given outfit.
That they’ve been associated with slimy used car salesmen is unfortunate, but not the fault of the garment itself.
Paired with denim or solid trousers, a plaid sport coat often makes a very bold statement. As such they’re perfect for casual wear or if you work in a business casual office. If you’d like to learn more about the best things to wear if this is your dress code, see our guide to business casual.
Plaid ties are the perfect way to flex some pattern into your wardrobe without being overbearing about it. They functional beautifully in most offices, look smart with wedding suits, and make for great “I’m wearing a tie because I just feel like it” ties.
No matter if they’re silk, cotton, or wool, plaid ties pair beautifully with shirts whose patterns are “line-driven,” or stripes and differently-scaled checks.
For more on ties, see our guides to neckties and bowties. Note that plaid bow ties are a particularly dandy accessory, so be sure to wear it with confidence if you choose to don one.
As an odd trouser, plaid becomes a louder pattern. This is only because it’s not often that men wear “statement pants.” Still, pairing plaid pants with a solid sport coat and shirt makes for an incredible casual look that oozes charm and confidence.
Plaid & Your Body Type
Just like any other pattern, plaids come in various scales, ranging from macro to micro. You want the scale of the plaid to sync with your body type, meaning that in general, small guys should wear smaller plaids, while bigger guys should wear bigger ones.
If you’re unsure of your body type and would like to determine it, take a look at our body type guide.
Different Plaid Varieties
Plaids all share their box-like effect, but there are quite a few different types. Furthermore, the terminology for these various plaids is often misused, even by menswear enthusiasts. Below, we outline the most common ones you’ll see.
Note that these do not cover every plaid in existence. These are just four whose names get thrown around with more reckless abandon than we’d prefer:
This term is often used as a catch-all term for most plaids we see, but it refers to a specific plaid that’s probably the simplest of all of them. “Glen plaid” refers to a four-by-four and two-by-two color effect.
Not to be confused with a glen plaid, a Glenurquhart plaid is the same as a glen plaid but includes a differently-colored overcheck woven into the fabric. This is in fact one of the “district checks” that was adopted for livery wear by nineteenth-century Scottish landowners.
This was a favorite of Edward VIII (before his abdication and subsequent transition the Dukedom Of Windsor) when he was the Prince Of Wales.
It is often confused with a Prince of Wales check due to the then-Prince’s affinity for the pattern, but it is not, in fact, a Prince Of Wales pattern.
Prince Of Wales
It’s true that a Prince of Wales check is quite similar to a Glenurquhart plaid, but they’re not the same. The authentic version was designed by King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales (for reference, this is the Duke Of Windsor’s grandfather) as a uniform to be worn while shooting at Abergeldie House, which is on Scotland’s Deeside.
The pattern is similar to a Glenurquhart check but is about twice its scale. Its colors are a red-brown on a white background with a slate grey overcheck.
Finally, Black Watch tartan is one of the more common blazer styles because it includes navy and green, two colors most often used for men’s blazers. The name refers to The Black Watch, a regiment officially formed in 1881? However, it originated following the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.
First seeing action during the Anglo-Egyptian War in 1882, The Black Watch played a key roll in the early First World War with operations in France as well as Mesopotamia. Today, the Black Watch is still active and has toured in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.
Common Color Schemes & Materials Used
As they’re solidly based in traditional country wear, plaids are most widely available in country-influenced color schemes: Earth tones as both base and accents. this typically means browns, greys, blues, brick reds, and greens.
Business suits in plaid are often times made in a simple black-and-white color scheme, though there may be a subtle, differently-colored overcheck.
Most plaid garments re the ones we mentioned above: suits, coats, ties, and trousers. As such, most plaid garments are made from wool, though it’s perfectly feasible to see plaid in silk, linen, and cotton.
Best Plaid Suits To Buy Online
As mentioned above, we’ve sampled a selection of our favourite made-to-measure plaid suits to buy online. They are listed in no particular order of preference but each provide an insight into the pattern’s characteristics.
- Black Lapel Loro Piana Tasmanian Glen Plaid Suit
- Black Lapel Tropical Wool Glen Plaid Suit
- Indochino Washed Indigo Plaid Linen Suit
- Black Lapel Monterey Glen Plaid Suit
- Indochino Bold Grey Plaid Suit
You can use the menu above to jump ahead or scroll down to discover them all.