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There’s so much more to fashion than meets the eye, but sometimes that can be confusing. I never understood the difference between gingham and plaid. I mean they’re both patterned blocks of color—why bother naming it differently?
Little did I know though, gingham and plaid are actually two different types of patterns with some history behind both. To help you get a better understanding of what’s what, and what you can wear and where, I’ve outlined below the main differences in the designs.
Origins of plaid
Plaid has its beginnings in the country of Scotland. Before the English conquered Scotland and outlawed any type of tartan wearing, Scotland clans adopted the plaid pattern to signify who came from which clan. Eventually the pattern began to be identified as plaid, which is what the wooly material was called, rather than the word “tartan,” which is a better descriptor for the pattern and not the material used.
Origins of gingham
Gingham is less culturally significant, more so representing something across the world populations. It was created in Dutch-colonized Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. With world trade, the design became extremely popular in Britain as well as the United States of America. In Europe, gingham represented more of a pure lifestyle giving off connotations of innocence. In the United States, on the other hand, gingham became synonymous with cowboys and farmers, thus becoming synonymous with the country culture of America.
What are the main differences between the two?
There are two big differences when it comes to gingham and plaid. The first lies with what we see and the second lies with what we feel. Let’s discuss the first big difference which is the difference between the patterns themselves.
Now I know I mentioned that plaid and gingham are just colored squares and blocks, but there are actually deeper differences than that. That was definitely my way of simplifying the look in my mind. Plaid will have a main base color with horizontal and vertical lines of varying colors and sizes. The base color is usually a darker color such as a dark red or green with the lines being more lighter and discernible.
Generally, plaid is worn in more casual situations, but the right fit can show up in more casual formal occasions with its iconic checkered pattern. At its heart though, is a rebelliousness which is why it became so popular during the grunge scene of the 90’s. Nowadays it’s a pretty popular mainstay of the business casual attire, a more casual print on a formal button down will balance out the seriousness of the look.
On the other hand, gingham strictly uses white as its base and only one other color. The vertical as well as the horizontal lines are equal in shape and size creating a succinct checkered pattern. This is what gives gingham its clean and cut look. The evenness of the design is probably what made it so popular amid European cultures as well as American country culture. Whereas a plaid pattern has more versatility with different sized lines and colors, gingham will be more uniform in the way it looks with the consistent squares that make up the checkered pattern. This also means that gingham dress shirts lean closer to business formal than business casual and is something you can get away with wearing inside of a suit.
The next big difference is the material that both of these patterns are usually printed on. In early history, plaid was predominantly manufactured on wooly fabrics (remember that it’s called plaid because of the materials that it was made from). Given the history, tartan plaid was featured on kilts which also worked to keep the men warm in the cold and rainy weather. Nowadays, the plaid pattern is featured on more stretchy fabric such as cotton, but the name has stuck. Both are long sleeves and can be great when gets get cool, making both it great for both Fall and Winter clothing.
Gingham on the other hand, was always manufactured on a linen cotton type of fabric and that hasn’t changed much throughout the years. Nowadays gingham is associated with a more retro and vintage look, but also trending now towards preppy and garden style looks.
Overall the history coupled with the patterns themselves are very interesting. Plaid is usually featured on comfortable and reliable clothing that can be suited for any casual occasion. Gingham still remains a tad more formal in that respect and can be worn to outdoor parties and picnics. The clean design can be utilized during the warmer months, given the light type of fabric it is usually manufactured on.
Either way, you can’t go wrong with any of these patterns. It might add versatility to your closet to have both of these patterns in some shape or form. Just remember not to mix these patterns because trust us when we say that they don’t go together. Always balance out a pattern such as plaid or gingham with a simple and neutral color. It’s better to be balanced out then a hot mess of colors and patterns.