The eternal revolution of check and plaid has once again reared its colorful head, this time fixing its gaze on London Fashion Week. From traditional patterns on classic pieces to outrageously new styles, the iconic print is out in full force. Though still most at home on outerwear, it has worked its way into every possible nook of fashion accouterments, from shoes to headdresses – if you can wear it, it comes in plaid.
Tartan as we know it today, and seen here in so many forms, first rose to cultural significance in 16th century Scotland. Different patterns and colors took on certain geopolitical and social connotations; the plaid you wore could tell others about who you were. During Scottish resistance to British colonialism, all tartans except those worn by the British army were banned, and the pattern gained a rebellious status. This anti-authority character was later embraced by the punk community, and colorful plaid became an essential motif of the punk aesthetic, while alternative icons like Kurt Cobain brought this rebelliousness to the mainstream. Meanwhile, more neutral tones gained a place in the fashion of upper-class and business worlds, with luxury brands like Burberry developing and widely deploying a classy take on the tradition.
Such a rich history provides an exciting and expansive touchstone for the designers of today. Check is not like a color; it is not something we take from the natural world but is something man-made. It belongs to humanity. To design with check, then, is to express something entirely human. In making use of it, a designer responds to a vast human history that has come before and becomes master of the present.
Richard Quinn, Christopher Kane, and JW Anderson modernize it, the latter raising houndstooth to oracular new heights with an astounding use of mask. Burberry owns it. Victoria Beckham pairs it with an effortless sense of sophisticated coolness. Daks revels in the confidence of perfecting a classic.