How to Wear Plaids: A Guide For Men

Think of a heritage piece, and what do you picture? More often than not, it’s a bit understated, perhaps somewhat sturdy, and exemplifying classic style. Maybe it materializes as a cozy wool sweater or as a tweed jacket or, more recently, as something as American but ordinary as Levi’s.

It’s a peculiarity that, for the Fall/Winter 2018 season, a heritage pattern like plaid has taken a sharper, darker, and more adventurous turn. What was once small and tonal – think a gingham check – has arrived on a larger, contrast-heavy scale. It’s more punk than preppy, and reveals the overall direction where menswear seems to be headed: That being classic doesn’t have to mean dull.

Yet, whether you think of the Sex Pistols, Grunge rockers, or an ‘80s Boston punk band, the pattern was splashed all over London Fashion Week in the form of Buffalo checks and red-based tartan. Vivienne Westwood, for instance, pulled directly from old-school punk style, while Astrid Andersen gave it a period rave spin. As well, always the bold, Charles Jeffrey Loverboy examined it through a club-kid lens, reworking it for an early ‘90s New York City extravaganza.

But, beyond just the runway, what’s the best approach for everyday wear?

Pay Attention to Color and Weave

Think about what makes the Burberry check print so distinctive. The combination of simplicity and contrasting shades turns it into a versatile, statement-making, branded-without-the-logos pattern that’s complimented scarves and jackets for decades. Nothing about it seems demure, yet it’s a far cry from your run-of-the-mill flannel checks.

So, use this long-standing print as your example. To start, avoid small weaves: At a distance, it should read as plaid, without any subtleties. On that same note, steer away from anything clearly tonal – you know, like multiple blue shades woven with a hint of white. It’s too pedestrian, too corporate, and kind of skittish – essentially, the antithesis of punk rock. Rather, rest on the reds and forest greens of traditional tartan, keep the blocking strong with Buffalo, and always have at least three distinct shades making up the pattern. If not, you’re simply settling for a windowpane print.

Clash Your Plaids

But, back to Fashion Week: As one trend to try, think about clashing your prints. Seem absurd? It was roughly a year ago designers encouraged us to incorporate multiple stripe prints – different colors, widths, and configurations – and believe it or not, it kind of worked. Think about this: If you saw a guy wearing both horizontal and vertical stripes together today, would you turn your head and look?

With fashion, the daring eventually becomes tame, until something just as boundary-pushing comes along. Plaid’s the new variable, but the approach is the same: Experiment with different check sizes and styles, generally staying within the same color grouping for some degree of cohesiveness. The result brings together seemingly disparate prints, with one or more factors pulling them together.

Don’t Be Ordinary

For another association, what types of apparel do you associate with plaid? For guys, the material’s practically synonymous with button-up shirts. Perhaps, for cooler, more relaxed days, it’s a flannel, and for the office, it’s a cotton/polyester, slim-cut shirt with a smaller, lighter print. Maybe, at one point, you considered yourself adventurous and tried it with a scarf, or your workwear – flannel-lined pants and shackets – sports this print solely on the lining.

Thus, with the runway as an example again, the key to FW18 is moving beyond these standard markers. It’s not so much that you want to avoid shirting completely, but with plaid, you can do so much more. Be purely punk by applying the pattern to skinny-cut pants, or give your corporate dressing a new angle with an all-over plaid blazer. Come winter, it’s a perfectly acceptable print for a longer jacket – or even a six-panel snapback, if that’s more your thing. In short, anything you own, from your socks to your headwear, is game.

Be Sophisticated

Plaid, too, brings up images of outdoorsy guys: Maybe the type who spends his weekends at the campsite or ski lodge or, as more of a stereotype, the lumber jack who strictly dresses in flannel, tough jeans, and work boots. FW18, though, turns this on its head: Plaid and checks, rather, are for the sophisticated man.

So, beyond the aforementioned pieces, you want to keep the cut crisp and clean – with less of a slouchy, spacious fit and soft materials. Instead, keep your shirts on the straight, if not slim, side with a defined collar, pants should fall to – not gather around – your ankles, and a structured fit is ideal for any blazer or jacket. The result, while clearly punk influenced, should look planned, rather than thrown on, and shouldn’t have the thrown-together, haphazard appearance of a Grunge rock star. Ultimately, it’s as if a New Waver and punk artist secured a truce, with the final product borrowing from a bit of each.