When Scottish gentlemen first donned kilts centuries ago, they probably had no idea of the fashion powerhouse they had launched with plaid.
Through the years, even up to recent designer runway shows, plaid has remained a part of the fashion arsenal, ranking right up there with white tees and denim as a style staple. In the United States, at least, it remains as popular as ever, popping up in stores each year, especially when the weather turns cooler.
"The thing is, everybody can relate to plaid in some way, if it's schoolgirl or punk rock," said Lori Houlihan, owner of Isle of You, a Lexington, Ky., boutique. "So designers can use plaid and appeal to a wide market. Last fall, haute couture designers used plaid a lot, and now you're seeing it trickle down."
For his fall 2007 ready-to-wear collection, Jean Paul Gaultier showed a colorful assortment of high-end plaids: from bright-yellow Mary Jane heels to scarlet trenches and dove-gray designs trimmed in fur.
While the designer's plaids are more on the edgy side, there's something traditional about the pattern at the same time, giving it an amazing versatility and making a stylish addition to almost any outfit, be it bold or classic.
"You can have multiple colors or you can have simple plaids; it's kind of a personal choice," said Michele Casper, a spokesman for Lands' End. "Plaids are fun, they're traditional, but they can add an updated punch to your wardrobe."
Holiday looks including velvet and jewel tones go great with plaid grids of deep rich reds or blues, or pair a solid-colored turtleneck with a simple black and white pattern.
Casper says Lands' End uses several holiday plaids with greens and reds in pajamas and slippers and "outerwear in fun colors to spice things up."
"We definitely over the years have done authentic tartans," she added, "and we've done our own inspired colors of plaid."
J. Crew truly embraced plaid this year, with the stores awash in vibrant patterns: tartan clutches with jeweled buckles, tweedy shearling earmuffs, and elegant red and black silk strapless dresses.
If you've never warmed up to plaid, now's the time to give it a try. Though it might look a bit busy, it's quite easy to wear, even if it is just a bright scarf, Casper says.
"I think it's a great statement for fall and a really great statement for the holidays," she said. "They're fun to wear; I think you should have fun with plaids."