Home » Tartan vs Plaid: what’s the difference?

Tartan vs Plaid: what’s the difference?

Tartan vs Plaid: what’s the difference? Do you know?

Fans of patterned fabrics may well know these two terms, but for most of us, it can get quite confusing to get to grips with the difference between tartan and plaid. You may have already incorporated these patterned fabrics into your interior design, as it is commonly found in luxurious bed linen, cosy blankets and opulent curtains. But, do you know what type of fabric has really graced your living room, and whether it’s plaid or tartan?

Reminiscent of Scottish traditions, this unique coloured check fabric is steeped in history, being referred to with different words depending on the part of the world it’s been found in.


Tartan vs Plaid: what's the difference?


Tartan vs Plaid: what’s the difference?

So, let us delve into its rich origins and discover the intricate details that set plaid and tartan apart.


What is tartan?

A commonly used term across the globe, tartan is a type of fabric that comes in a particular pattern of criss-crossing horizontal and vertical lines, creating a set of coloured check boxes. The key element of tartan is that it is linked to a specific historical family or clan, and is used to identify this traditional lineage, through its linework and colours.

All tartans are officially registered with the Scottish Tartan Authority, and historically were reflective of the local region, with each family incorporating their favourite designs, and even using the local plants and flowers to create the dyes and colours of the fabric.

Tartan is predominantly found in its traditional form even to this day, woven from wool or a wool and linen mix, and is typically used to made make kilts, as well as other Highland wear, accessories and clothing.


What is plaid?

The main difference when it comes to plaid, is whether the term is used in the UK or the US, however the word itself originates from the Gaelic word for blanket or wrap. This alludes to the fact that in Britain, plaid refers to a particular piece of tartan fabric, that comes in the form of a long rectangle, which is worn over the left shoulder of a kilt outfit. It is paired with a plaid brooch, and can come in various styles. You’ll mostly find a plaid worn by the groom at a traditional wedding of Scottish heritage.

However, hop over to the US, and you can purchase some plaid, as it’s the term that describes the patterned cloth, and is not used as a word for a particular piece of clothing. It’s almost interchangeable with the term tartan in this way, and describes fabric of intersecting checks of two or more colours. However, while tartan refers to a respective historical clan or family, typically of Scottish origin, plaid does not have this association.

In the US, plaid became main-stream in the 1990s, as the grunge look became the latest trend, and this type of fabric was a prominent pattern on the runway. As it was not associated with a Scottish clan, or have any ancient origins, in this case it was referred to as plaid.


Tartan vs Plaid: what's the difference?


The difference in pattern

As well as what the term refers to, tartan and plaid also have different patterns. Tartan features a repetitive pattern of lines, which do not change throughout the whole length of the fabric. This type of pattern is called a ‘sett’. Historically, the setts were important in terms of length and colour, as this is what would set the tartan apart from other clans, and most importantly tell the difference between friend or foe.

On the other hand, plaid does not incorporate a sett pattern, and it is not a requirement for one to be present. As they are not representative of a particular family lineage, they can be irregular in pattern.


Tartan vs Plaid: what’s the difference? is a feature post 


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