Mad for Plaid: Understanding Plaid’s Pattern Variations

A popular and time-tested pattern of crossed horizontal and vertical bands, plaid is easily identified. However, the pattern’s plethora of iterations are often more difficult to pin down. From checks and tartans to ginghams and glens, plaid comprises a collection of ten different patterns in total. For the plaid impaired, the information below highlights the history of plaid and speaks to the spectrum of variations that set its cross-hatched patterns apart.

History

The pattern’s origins can be traced back to 17th-century Scotland, where it was introduced under the name “tartan,” in reference to an outer layer of clothing that was worn by different Scottish clans. The name plaid came to replace tartan after the pattern was replicated by British and American textile manufacturers. Though tartans were the original type of plaid, there are a host of dynamic variations seen today, and tartan itself is now identified as one of plaid’s variants. The driving distinctions between the different types of plaid are determined by the pattern’s repeat. Contemporary plaids consist of crossed horizontal and vertical lines of two or more colors, with many adaptations to shape and structure, bandwidth, repeat, and color.

Argyle is commonly composed of a geometric, crisscross pattern of both varicolored diamonds and intersecting diagonal lines that are set against a single background color. Outlines appear to overlap the diamonds, with corners crossing at their center. Argyle fell into favor after World War I, making appearances on knitted apparel such as sweaters and socks, as well as interior textiles and wallcoverings.

Plaid Argyle
Photography Courtesy of Maharam
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Check consists of overlapping equal horizontal and vertical lines. Also referred to as checker or checkerboard, the pattern typically comes in at least two colors that cross each other to form evenly sized squares, which can vary in size but always remain symmetrical. There are three subsections of the check pattern, including buffalo check, which consists of big checks in two alternating colors that are often red and black; graph check, which features thin, single-colored stripes that cross to form even and small-sized checks; and finally, gun club check, which has a signature motif created by four colors that intersect to create squares of various sizes. 

Plaid Check
Photography Courtesy of Maharam
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Dupplin is distinguished by a complex pattern created by a check placed inside larger checks, which frequently follow a windowpane pattern.

Plaid Dupplin
Photography Courtesy of Pallas Textiles
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Gingham is a checkered pattern that usually combines white with a bright color. Its structured by stripes of the same color—running horizontally and vertically—that are placed over a white background. The pattern debuted across country-inspired clothing and home textiles during the early 20th century.

Plaid Gingham
Photography Courtesy of Silver State Inc.
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Glen plaid has a crossing pattern of small and large irregular checks that are often rendered in muted colors. Its name is derived from the Glenurquhart valley in Scotland, where the pattern was first used during the 19th century. It’s often dubbed the Prince of Wales check, in ode to a British monarch’s affinity for wearing the pattern.

Plaid Glen
Photography Courtesy of Valley Forge Fabrics
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Houndstooth has checks that are broken with notched corners that allude to the teeth of a dog. Gaining recognition in fashion during the 1930s, it had traditionally only been seen in black and white but has since reemerged in other colors, as well as across additional categories including fabrics, flooring, and wallcoverings.

Plaid Houndstooth
Photography Courtesy of Designtex
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Madras plaid originates in a city in East India, which formerly shared its name. Its original inception can be credited to Indian weavers, who often used vegetable dyes and oils to color yarns. The pattern was later adapted and redistributed to Europe and the United States. Madras fabrics often feature bright, vibrant colors with a pattern of stripes that cross each other to form uneven checks.

Plaid Madras
Photography Courtesy of Brentano
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Tartan is a Scottish word that translates to plaid. As plaid’s predecessor, tartan is a preeminent pattern with colors traditionally named for the Scottish clans that they represented. Tartan’s pattern consists of crisscrossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. The overlapping of various colors is used to create new hues. The oldest know tartan fabric dates back over 3,000 years.

Plaid Tartan
Photography Courtesy of Lebatex
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Tattersall is composed of thin bands that cross over in even repetitions, resulting in a recurring sequence of small squares. The pattern is named after Tattersall’s Horse Market, from which horse market blankets donning this pattern were sold during the 18th century.

Plaid Tattersall
Photography Courtesy of JAB
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Windowpane patterns consist of thin stripes, which crisscross to form large checks that are often thicker and farther apart, creating a pattern that resembles panes on a window. Windowpane plaids usually consist of only two colors.

Plaid Windowpane
Photography Courtesy of Designtex
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Exploring the series of stacked and square structures that form the full family of plaid—including argyle, check, dupplin, gingham, glen, houndstooth, madras, tartan, tattersall, and windowpane—offers an expanded understanding of the longstanding and pervasive plaid motif.

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