Colgate Couture – Clad in Plaid

Laura Stoloff

Once used to identify clans in the Highlands, tartan has emerged as a major fall fashion statement seen through traditional interpretations at Ralph Lauren and Burberry and the reinvention of the kilt classic at Vivienne Westwood and Thakoon.

Tartan has become a signature fabric, but more interestingly, designers on the Fall 2008 runways played with the mixing of patterns to make plaid less conservative and more avant-garde. Plaid has consistently showed its presence on fall runways, but what differentiates this season from the past is the fusion of plaids, florals, animal prints and stripes that surprisingly merge together to create an alluring look.

Thakoon Panichgul mixed punk and elegance by juxtaposing primary colored plaids with florals, while also sticking straight to tartan by mixing different styles of plaid for a more traditional interpretation. This made for a mix of English-romance and menswear inspired looks with models in gray trousers and long plaid coats. Vivienne Westwood followed suit with her Fall 2008 Red Label, featuring tartan mini dresses with cardigans and matching tartan hats. She also combined plaid micro-minis with large knit sweaters and patent leather pumps.

Ralph Lauren embraced his classic sense of style by taking ideas from his Colorado ranch and bringing them back East to Manhattan. Options for both day and night, Lauren showed a fitted plaid-hunting jacket and then a high-necked plaid gown for nighttime drama. Lauren mixed less with other patterns and instead combined different plaids with similar palettes.

It’s easy to appear dowdy in tartan with a strong likelihood of getting lost in the pattern. And let’s be serious, the likelihood of walking around campus in a mix of floral and plaid from the Thakoon runway proves slim to none. So instead of trying to piece together an entire look inspired from Vivienne Westwood, pick one or two pieces to wear at once. This way, you won’t look overdone and you can scout out less expensive options.

Rule one; keep the pattern to a minimum in a single clothing item or accessory such as a headband, scarf, handbag or rain boots. Too much plaid will leave others dazed and confused. Secondly, pick silhouettes that flatter your body type the most. If you don’t want to flaunt your legs, shy away from tartan shorts and pants. But done right it can look incredibly stylish. Gossip girl star Taylor Momsen wore a pair of Topshop Plaid Shorts paired with black tights and mid calf boots that reflected both traditional Scottish heritage and London grunge. Mischa Barton recently channeled Cher’s plaid skirt from Clueless, pairing it with black knee high socks and booties. This brings the look out of the 90’s and back into the 21st century; who knew the Catholic schoolgirl look would come back.

My favorite plaid item for fall is from A.P.C, sort of like a chic, French version of J.Crew. The Tartan Plaid Cape, made with a mixture of wool and acrylic, is both stylish and cozy. The brown and white plaid, with camel brown side buttons is the perfect getup for long winter nights in the library.

And for those on a budget, the best way to add tartan into your wardrobe is with a plaid shirt, which you can find at almost any store. For a more romantic vibe, Gap’s Cascading ruffle plaid shirt in ivory has a plunging neckline for a hint of sex appeal. Dresses can also allow for versatility. Charlotte Ronson’s wrinkled plaid day dress in forest appears both schoolgirl inspired with a downtown sensibility. Pair this with black tights and a blazer, or even a wool cardigan or chunky knit sweater.

Whether subtle or dramatic, these checked pieces will update your wardrobe for the fall and winter months. Buyers beware; follow the fashion tips above or risk looking like a fashion victim victim rather than a fashion comeleon.