Plaid may seem to be an extremely mainstream pattern in 2017, as it has been having a resurgent moment for the past few years on Berkeley’s campus, but it was not always seen as such.
Plaid, in fact, has enjoyed a very rich history during the last century of American fashion. By diving into photographs of vintage clothing, I’ve gained a pretty good idea of what its history is.
In the first part of the 20th century, the pattern was mainly associated with male laborers’ flannel shirts, including farmers and lumberjacks. They would be worn, most likely, by the same types of people who wore blue jeans— originally a working class phenomenon.
In the following few decades, plaid began to gain popularity as an acceptable pattern for all classes to wear, and was commonly found on garments, such as women’s pants and dresses, by the 1950s and 1960s.
The pattern was also associated heavily with school uniforms— specifically skirts. This association was co-opted for a more countercultural purpose in the 1970s, when female punk musicians and fans adopted plaid skirts as a fashion staple.
By the mid 1990s, however, the pattern was associated most heavily with youth culture of two extremes— the flannel-wearing teens and young adults of the grunge movement, and of course the teen girls of Beverly Hills, an image popularized by the film “Clueless.”
Plaid pants, skirts, flannel shirts, and mini dresses were common through the late 1990s, when again the perception of the pattern began to shift with the advent of the 2000s. Many female pop-punk and emo fans began to wear plaid-patterned skirts— which were sold in stores such as Hot Topic, and are still sold at Hot Topic to this day.
However, beginning in the early-to-mid 2010s, plaid as worn in the 1990s— on pants, skirts, flannels and mini dresses— began to gain popularity and has been pretty commonly spotted on UC Berkeley’s campus since.
In the 1990s as well as for the past few years, red and black plaid was the norm in terms of skirts and flannels. While these are still around, more black and white as well as earth-toned plaid garments have been gaining popularity. This summer, a pattern quite similar to plaid— gingham— was extremely popular in the form of black-and-white mini dresses. This fall, black and white plaid pants and skirts are quite popular, and plaid skirts featuring maroon or green are very common as well. Flannels can currently be found in a variety of color combinations— red and black is still popular, but as with plaid skirts, more earth tones such as blues, greens, browns, and tans are definitely present on campus.
This fall, you can transition your black and white gingham summer dresses by pulling a late-90s-early-2000s and layer a solid colored black or white top underneath. Another option would be to pair your plaid pants and/or plaid skirts with a solid color top or sweater as well as a blue or black denim jacket. Add some sneakers or slides for a more casual look, and boots more a more sophisticated approach!