NOT SINCE Bonnie Prince Charlie gathered the Scottish loyalists at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 has there been such a plaid invasion. Stores and malls are popping with plaid and lads and lassies this fall may succumb to the skirl of bagpipes if retailers and designers have any say in it.
What's the furor? Plaids have always been fashionably correct on Maryland moors. There are those winter and holiday parties where she wears a long plaid skirt with coordinating simple top and he wears tartan pants topped with a dark blazer. That look has worked for decades and probably will continue to be seen at gatherings where they know their tartans and wee drams. The look is also working for Ralph Lauren, who has reinterpreted the old-guard look in plaids of his own design. To reinforce the high-brow highland image, Lauren is peddling a high-boy with a plaid front at a price approaching $10,000, something for the folks who want to coordinate their looks with their furniture.
But the news is the designer spin on plaids in color combinations and cuts. Oscar de la Renta cuts plaids big and bold and studs his evening suits with lavish giant jewels. Yves Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche line goes mad for plaid in designs for men and women. Bill Blass pairs a diaphanous evening skirt with a bare vested bodice in a black and white and silver plaid. Just about all the big fashion guns with big price tags touch on tartan.
There's also lots of plaidness on the affordable front. The younger, hipper fashionables can find checkered variations of the tartan look in flippy skirts, pants, cropped jackets and accessories in stores such as Cignal, The Limited, Gap, and Contempo Casuals.
The young can pull off any current look with an attitude. At last week's MTV Awards show, Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses and Christopher Guest, who plays Nigel Tufnel of the heavy-metal Spinal Tap, wore kilts. Tufnel wore a short version, while Rose wore a longer look with white bicycle shorts.
Gives one pause.
But if you're thinking of joining the fashion clan this fall, here are some pointers on plaid patterns:
* There is no such thing as a slimming plaid. Sorry. The way to get around the hip factor is to keep the pattern in the jacket with a narrow, dark skirt or dress beneath.
If you're putting the pattern on your lower body, choose a pleated skirt with hip stitching that will hug the hips. Don't even think about plaid pants unless you're tall, lean and teen.
* Stripes and checks in a plaid are a tailor's nightmare. The intersecting stripes should match and align in a well-constructed suit, which means a higher price point. Choose simple designs for affordability.
* Even though plaids are a mix, there is a dominant color. Step away from the plaid and squint to determine the predominant hue and go with your best colors.
* A little plaid goes a long way. You can brighten your fall by using a tartan in a tam, belt or scarf to punch up basic black.
* If you decide to pass on plaid, think about putting the children in the picture. There's nothing more endearing than kiddies in cute kilts.