Is it Plaid or is it Tartan?

What is the Difference Between Plaid and Tartan?

Have you ever been browsing your favorite clothing store, searching for a cozy fall flannel shirt and wondered about these patterns: Is it plaid, or is it tartan? Perhaps you have even wondered: Is there even a difference between these two patterns, or is this a question of semantics? Luckily, we are here to answer all of your plaid versus tartan questions and concerns. Settle in and read on for the answers to these questions and more.

Let us first start with a brief history lesson. The word tartan comes from a Gaelic word that roughly means “across”. This, presumably, is referring to its signature crossing lines pattern. Both plaid and tartan consist of horizontal and vertical lines, usually intersecting at 90-degree angles, creating this classic pattern of overlapping squares or boxes.

Typically, in the United States, we use the word “plaid” to describe anything that looks like this pattern, and “tartan” is a term used more frequently in the British Isles and Canada. In addition to this colloquial difference, the definition of what is “plaid” is a little more loose. Any pattern of two or more colors intersecting or overlapping is usually a plaid. Tartan patterns are much more specific.

Historically speaking tartans are very specific patterns, each associated with the various clans of ancient Celts and, specifically and more recently, Scottish clans. In the United Kingdom, the word “plaid” is usually used as a noun and typically refers very specifically to a rectangular piece of tartan, usually made of wool, that is worn over the shoulder with a traditional kilt outfit. This is worn similarly to the way you would wear scarves in the fall.

Is it Okay to Wear Tartan, Even if I’m Not Scottish?

In a word: yes! Most tartan patterns are not considered protected and there are no specific rules or traditions that prevent outsiders from wearing tartan patterns. Some clans and traditions prevent outsiders from wearing their specific family tartans, but these are likely not commercially available anyway. So if you see a tartan pattern at the store, feel free to flaunt it! There are many universal tartans that were specifically created for anyone to wear. That being said, however, there are some tartan patterns that are Trademarked(such as the Burberry check for example), so designers and clothing companies do need to be mindful of the patterns they recreate and sell.

What Can I Wear With My Tartan?

The coziest time of year calls for the coziest materials in the coziest patterns. Whether it is plaid or tartan, it is undeniably the pattern of fall. A classic plaid flannel is a fantastic way to add an additional layer of warmth to nearly any fall outfit. This style is both trendy and timeless. Wear your plaid flannel shirt over a plain or solid-colored t-shirt, under your favorite denim jacket or fleece jacket. You can even dress your plaid flannel up for work and wear it under your best pressed blazer.

Another great way to work this pattern into your wardrobe is with a pair of plaid pants. A pair of tailored plaid pants, paired with a luxuriously soft cashmere sweater and your favorite ankle boots are a fantastically cozy fall outfit that you can wear anywhere from the office to a dinner date to apple picking on the weekends!

There is also no shortage of plaid and tartan fall accessories. Instead of big pieces like a flannel or a pair of pants, wear this pattern as a subtle accent in the form of a dress scarf, statement bag, or even a hair scrunchie.

How Else Can I incorporate These Patterns?

In addition to being the ultimate clothing pattern for the coziest time of year, it is also a wonderful and festive pattern for home decor. From tartan cups and plates to bedding and towels, there are virtually endless ways to incorporate this fun pattern into your home this fall. Grab a new fuzzy cozy throw blanket in a classic tartan pattern to help make your living room merry and bright this season.

Don’t limit yourself to just fall and winter, though. You can also include this style in your home decor year-round if you so choose. These patterns also make for great accents any time of the year. An entire room of tartan wallpaper may be overwhelming to some or a bit “busy” for the eye, but a single accent wall of tartan wallpaper is a chic and classy way to incorporate this pattern into your home decor.

This pattern is simultaneously timeless and chic, yet festive and cozy. No matter what you call it or where it’s from, plaids are a must-have for everyone’s fall wardrobe.


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