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Going Plaid: The Six Tartans, Checks and Tatersalls That Matter

  • Najib Benouar


Sure, there’s always been an inextricable link between fall and plaid. (Look no further than your favorite flannel work shirt.)

But this year we’ve been seeing the pattern pop up in a dizzying array of forms—in the US we consider any cloth woven with perpendicular bands of two or more colors to be plaid. You might recognize the more popular ones by name, but you’ve probably seen a few entirely new to you, or others that feel familiar but you can’t quite name—and it’s gotten to the point where it can feel a little daunting.

So we’ve distilled it down to the six you need to know circa 2013, and what you need to know about them.

1008_Plaid_1 Shepherd’s Check: A heartier forefather to gingham and one of the oldest and most simple border tartans (worn by shepherds on the Anglo-Scottish border). Features just two colors of wool—traditionally black and white, sourced from both types of sheep. Sometimes you’ll see the white veer into creams and tans now that wools are being treated. (Throw a third color in there and you’ve got a gun check.)

1008_Plaid_2 Houndstooth: A more rugged variant of border tartan that uses a warp/weft weave and only four strands of wool horizontally and vertically—compared to the shepherd’s check’s six—to resemble a more jagged, tooth-like check.

1008_Plaid_3 Glenurquhart Check: Known also as glen plaid or Prince of Wales check and formed by a twill weave of two light and dark stripes crossed over with four light and dark checks to create a larger pattern of irregular boxes that can come in many different muted colors—though traditionally white, gray and black. It sounds complicated on paper, but when you see it, you know it.

1008_Plaid_4 Tartan: This is what Americans usually mean when we say “plaid,” and it comes in so many forms, it’s impossible to count. It begins with one “sett,” which is two colors—forming a tricolor fabric where the two colors overlap. And for each sett added, the colors bump up quadratically, resulting in the kind of stuff worn by everyone from lumberjacks to royal families to militaries—like the blackwatch you see here.

1008_Plaid_5 Windowpane: This one is pretty self-explanatory: a large, simple check that consists of a base color and another color crossing over it in a windowpane-like pattern. Makes for a handsome suit.

1008_Plaid_6 Tatersall: This doubles down on the windowpane by adding an alternate color in the cross weave (for those scoring at home, that’s three thread colors, with white most commonly the base) and alternating the check more frequently.