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How to Wear Modern Plaids: Guide For Men

Recently plaid, typically a dull heritage pattern, has taken a sharper, darker, and more adventurous turn. What was once small and tonal – think a gingham check – has arrived on a larger, contrast-heavy scale. The modern plaid is more punk than preppy, and reveals the overall direction where menswear seems to be headed: being classic doesn’t have to mean boring.

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Modern Plaids: Guide For Men
The Kooples Men's Fall 2018

Plaid Inspirations in Streetwear

Yet, whether you think of the Sex Pistols, Grunge rockers, or an ‘80s Boston punk band, the pattern was splashed all over London Fashion Week in the form of Buffalo checks and red-based tartan. 

Vivienne Westwood, for instance, pulled directly from old-school punk style, while Astrid Andersen gave it a period rave spin. As well, always the bold, Charles Jeffrey Loverboy examined it through a club-kid lens, reworking it for an early ‘90s New York City extravaganza.

How Do You Wear Plaid?

But, beyond just the runway, what’s the best approach for everyday wear?

Modern Plaids: Guide For Men
Cerruti Bold Plaid Coat

1. Pay Attention to Color and Weave

  • Be bold with strong color contrast
  • Go large scale, avoid small gingham-like plaids
  • Look for three distinct colors making the pattern

Think about what makes the Burberry check print so distinctive. The combination of simplicity and contrasting shades turns it into a versatile, statement-making, branded-without-the-logos pattern that’s complemented scarves and jackets for decades.

Nothing about it seems demure, yet it’s a far cry from your run-of-the-mill flannel checks. So, use this long-standing print as your example.

To start, avoid small weaves: At a distance, it should read as plaid, without any subtleties. On that same note, steer away from anything clearly tonal – you know, like multiple blue shades woven with a hint of white. 

It’s too pedestrian, too corporate, and kind of skittish – essentially, the antithesis of punk rock. Rather, rest on the reds and forest greens of traditional tartan, keep the blocking strong with Buffalo, and always have at least three distinct shades making up the pattern.

If not, you’re simply settling for a windowpane print.

Modern Plaids: Guide For Men
Clashing but harmonious plaids by Astrid Andersen

2. Clash Your Plaids

  • Keep the color them the same to create continuity
  • Experiment with orientation and size for harmony
  • Make it look deliberate, not accidental

Think about clashing your prints. Seem absurd? It was roughly a year ago designers encouraged us to incorporate multiple stripe prints – different colors, widths, and configurations – and believe it or not, it kind of worked.

Think about this: If you saw a guy wearing both horizontal and vertical stripes together today, would you turn your head and look?

Modern Plaids: Guide For Men
Contrasting sized plaids by G Rubchinskiy

With fashion, the daring eventually becomes tame, until something just as boundary-pushing comes along. Plaid’s the new variable, but the approach is the same: Experiment with different check sizes and styles, generally staying within the same color grouping for some degree of cohesiveness.

The result brings together seemingly disparate prints, with one or more factors pulling them together.

Modern Plaids: Guide For Men

3. Go Beyond Plaid Shirts and Scarves

  • Plaid novelty socks are an easy start
  • Experiment with punk-inspired plaid pants
  • Bold plaid jackets or step up to a full suit

For another association, what types of apparel do you associate with plaid? For guys, the material’s practically synonymous with button-up shirts. Perhaps, for cooler, more relaxed days, it’s a flannel, and for the office, it’s a cotton/polyester, slim-cut shirt with a smaller, lighter print.

Maybe, at one point, you considered yourself adventurous and tried it with a scarf, or your workwear – flannel-lined pants and shackets – sports this print solely on the lining.

Modern Plaids: Guide For Men
Bold plaid suit by A McQueen

The key to modern plaid is moving beyond these standard markers. It’s not so much that you want to avoid shirting completely, but with plaid, you can do so much more. 

Be purely punk by applying the pattern to skinny-cut pants, or give your corporate dressing a new angle with an all-over plaid blazer.

Come winter, it’s a perfectly acceptable print for a longer jacket – or even a six-panel snapback, if that’s more your thing. In short, anything you own, from your socks to your headwear, is game.

Modern Plaids: Guide For Men

4. Lose the Lumberjack, Make Plaid Sophisticated

  • Look for crisp tailoring
  • Keep jackets structured
  • Fit should be slim, not slouchy

Plaid, too, brings up images of outdoorsy guys. Maybe the type who spends his weekends at the campsite or ski lodge or, as more of a stereotype, the lumberjack who strictly dresses in flannel, tough jeans, and work boots.

Modern plaid turns this on its head: Plaid and checks, rather, are for the sophisticated man.

Modern Plaids: Guide For Men

You want to keep the cut crisp and clean – with less of a slouchy, spacious fit and soft materials. Instead, keep your shirts on the straight, if not slim, side with a defined collar, pants should fall to – not gather around – your ankles, and a structured fit is ideal for any blazer or jacket.

The result, while clearly punk influenced, should look planned, rather than thrown on, and shouldn’t have the thrown-together, haphazard appearance of a Grunge rock star.

Ultimately, it’s as if a New Waver and punk artist secured a truce, with the final product borrowing from a bit of each. 


Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born menswear fashion blogger and copywriter. When not writing about men's style he's also an EDM and synthpop enthusiast.