HAIR & MAKE UP STYLING Gabriella Starbuck
Think of plaid, and images of kilts and WASPs spring to mind; what we may not see is the complex cultural richness this basic geometric pattern has to offer. Plaid originated in Scotland, where wool tartans distinguished between royal families, clans, and degrees of social status. During the British colonization of India, the pattern was transferred to a lightweight cotton from Madras. Adapted to the vivid colors of the vegetable dyes used locally, the Indian take on the Scottish tartans were beautiful, colorful and exotic. Madras plaids became widely popular in the UK and the US in the 1930s, and cotton plaids took on the familiar "Madras" label. The Indian vegetable dyes used in the patterns fade into gorgeous soft colors upon being washed; after an initial negative response to the change by consumers, the faded madras was cleverly marketed as a look of good breeding and maturity. Shortly thereafter, it became the quintessential Ivy league pattern.
Plaid got really interesting in the 1960s and 70s when the rebellious rock & roll set turned to psychedelics and spiritualism and headed into India where the complicated, colorful plaid fabric began to take on new meaning. The mystics of r&r used it to express their disillusionment with reality and their general mental weirdness. In the late 1970s and 80s, when punks, surfers, and skateboarders began wearing it as a mockery of traditional Anglo culture, plaid became an emblem of rebellion - an inversion of the traditional values associated with it. In the 1990s, Seattle's grunge scene took lumberjack flannel plaids, then associated with the working class, and wielded them as an anti-fashion statement (which of course quickly became a new fashion trend).
When displayed in hypnotizing, bright colors, plaid stands out in a crowd like few other patterns can. It clashes, matches, and shocks all at the same time. Wear it to invoke the various cultural connotations it brings to mind, and you can bring about your own Royal Psychedelic Revolution in your day-to-day life.