Monday, February 7, 2011

Plaid and Its Ambiguity

By Jennifer Liu

Plaid, the meaning of the word itself as well as the use, has evolved dramatically since the 18th century. Originating from Celtic culture, plaid was a cloth with a particular weave that was used as clothing, rugs, and blankets. Different patterns were associated with different clans and plaid clothing was generally used as some sort of uniform and the style of that weave became a symbol of Scotland. Transcending from cloth that holds a strong national pride, plaid also began to show up as a part of punk fashion, representing rebellion in the British Isles during the 1970s. The symbolic meaning of plaid changed from one of authority to one of rebellion and opposition against the ruling class. The definition of the word has also changed from a type of weave to more superficial identifier, a pattern. Plaid had already shifted to becoming an important part of women’s fashion when the punk movement utilized it in the 70s, but recently, mainly in the past 10 years, ladies plaid shirts have become more and more popular. Plaid, by modern definition, is used as a pattern on almost all types of clothing: shirts, pants, pajamas, jackets, etc.

Plaid has moved through many cultures and subcultures throughout history- from the earliest Celtic culture, to the punk movement in the 70s, to the grunge movement in the 90s, and most recently heavily utilized in the hipster subculture today- that it holds a variety of differing symbolic meanings. It refers to power fashion when it was used as an identifier of authority, to fashion and gender identity when it became popular for both men and women, and to the opposition of fashion as well as subcultural identity when wore by groups as a symbol of rebellion against authority.

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