Mad for Plaid: Do You Know Your Tartan from Your Tattersall?

published Sep 13, 2016
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(Image credit: Arlyn Hernandez)

The world of prints and patterns is wide. For instance, what you think is simply “plaid” is far more intricate. All tartans are plaids, but not all plaids are tartans, in fact. There are madras plaids, houndstooth plaids, windowpane plaids, and many, many more. So we beg the question: Do you know one from the other? With fall—the high season of plaid—just around the bend, it might be a good time to polish up on your terminology. As always, we’re here to help!

(Image credit: Arlyn Hernandez)

Buffalo Check Plaid

Best known for being donned by lumberjacks, buffalo check plaid is essentially an oversized gingham print (more on that later) formed by colored horizontal and vertical lines intersecting over white to create even-sized checks.

Tattersall Plaid

The tattersall check consists of evenly spaced thin stripes in alternating colors (usually just two) that, when repeated, create perfect squares. Typically, the background is lighter than the stripes themselves.

Windowpane Plaid

Think of this as a monochrome Tattersall. The thin intersecting lines that create the windowpane-like squares are always one solid color.

Tartan Plaid

When you think of “plaid,” this is probably what comes to mind, right? Tartan is the traditional print of the Scots, and consists of vertical and horizontal or diagonal stripes and lines of different colors (usually deep and rich hues) that cross each other to form different sized checks.

Glen Plaid

Also known as Prince of Wales check, glen plaid is a classic menswear pattern traditionally used for suits (and heavily by Ralph Lauren.) The pattern comes together when a web of broken checks in alternating dark and light stripes cross each other to create irregular small and large checks.

Madras Plaid

Technically, the pillow above is a patchwork madras, but the takeaway is the plaid’s use of bright, summery colors in uneven checks. Originating in the 1800s in an East Indian city formerly named Madras , it’s now a favorite of prepsters (only paired with Sperry Topsiders and popped collars, of course.)

Houndstooth Plaid

Typically found in black and white, this plaid probably gets its name from the pointy shaped broken checks that resemble, well, a hound’s tooth.

Gingham Plaid

See “buffalo check” above, but just on a much smaller scale.

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