When Plaid Shorts Became Cool

Walking around Manhattan, you will see plaid shorts, hats, shoes, bags on girls, guys, kids, in mainstream department stores and in advertising. You wouldn’t think so, but plaid didn’t always used to be so cool. The evolution of this pattern is in fact one of great interest to those in the fashion industry. Here I will trace its history to today, where it has become a fashion statement.The word “plaid” itself refers to a patterned wool cloth. Some believe the word comes from Gaellic or a Scots language. When you say “full plaid” it refers to the long skirts (not kilts) that are part of the traditional highland dress uniform, usually worn exclusively by pipe bands. Then comes the kilt – probably the most well-known and internationally recognized piece of plaid clothing. The Scottish kilt, the better known kilt type, dates back to the 16th Century. Each kilt design was meant to designate a separate clan or family for the Scottish. They are worn at the natural waist, just below the lowest rib. Underwear with a plaid kilt is completely optional.Then came Kurt Cobain. Okay, maybe not that quick, but a few hundred years after plaid came about, Midwesterners began wearing flannel. Flannel is made with wool or cotton yarn, loosely spun, similar to a type of fabric originating in Wales. It is worn still today by those who work in cold climates: lumberjacks, farmers, construction workers, etc. Flannel, that has a very similar design to plaid, was not exactly seen as cool. But during the grunge movement of the early 90’s, Nirvana headman Kurt Cobain made flannel – and the plaid design – cool again (at least for a certain part of the American populous). He would wear it to concerts, in videos, and for photo shoots and made it something that was acceptable for the young people who listened to his music and were part of the movement. His widow, Courtney Love recently announced that she was going to auction away his flannel shirts at a Christie’s auction.Following Cobain’s lead came TuPac and West Coast gangster rap. The rapper would often wear a white tank top with a flannel shirt over it. Of course, the shirt was a bit oversized and usually would go down to the knees. These two stars of the music world are a major reason why it is okay to wear plaid shorts today in the streets of New York.Plaid shorts came about in the mainstream stores in fall of 2007. As the summer season was coming to and end, some fashion houses brought out plaid shorts for their resort collection, making them the must-have item of the following spring/summer. Today, plaid shorts are found nearly everywhere that fashionable people shop. As the trend has evolved, plaid shorts are becoming less cool, and other plaid accessories have become the new, hot item.

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