Plaid Attack

You see it everywhere you turn. Plastered on sportswear, evening wear and accessories. Featured in department stores and fashion ads.

It’s plaid and it’s prolific. Maybe too prolific.

Designers in the upper echelon--London’s Vivienne Westwood and New York’s Oscar de la Renta among them--are pushing plaid for day and evening. Ralph Lauren took the concept from ready-to-wear to sheets, luggage, even furniture.

More affordable plaid ensembles by Ellen Tracy, Liz Claiborne and Donna Karan’s DKNY collection are lined up on rounders.


But will shoppers go for the idea? Retailers obviously expect so. Bullock’s set up a special “Mad for Plaid” department in several of its stores--Beverly Center, South Coast Plaza and Sherman Oaks Fashion Square. Contempo Casuals is stocked to the gills with plaid offerings. Nordstrom’s Brass Plum department features a sprinkling of plaid, including handbags.

Yet, consumer opinions about the trend are mixed.

“I’ve always liked plaid, I appreciate its ethnic origins and think it looks very rich when done in tasteful colors,” says Rita Barron, manager of Tops, a Malibu art gallery. She plans to buy some of the new plaids in what she calls “the Ralph Lauren” vein.

Other women plan to avoid it.


“I can’t help thinking of the guys on the golf course. I just wouldn’t wear it, except maybe to work in the yard,” says Linda Silva, 31, a new mother who lives in Claremont. She sees the look as best suited to preppy college kids.

Even the experts advise: Use plaid sparingly.

“To me, plaid is a tailored woman’s print,” says Patty Fox, fashion producer and consultant for Fox Studio. Fox, who plans to incorporate the pattern into her fall wardrobe, believes accent pieces work best. A plaid shawl, recycled from her closet, adds interest to solid-colored sportswear, she says.

Los Angeles designer Karen Kane, who also picked up the “Mad for Plaid” phrase in naming a group from her fall collection, sees plaid as appropriate for jackets and tops, not for pants or skirts.


“Plaid bottoms tend to make even slightly overweight women look heavier,” explains Teri Koklas of the Kane design staff. Kane’s collection, in stores at the end of September, features three plaid jackets: a bomber-style number, a shirt jacket and a longer field jacket. Despite experts’ warnings, the taste for tartan is so strong that even swimsuit companies plan to introduce plaid-accented pieces. But Los Angeles-based Catalina does not.

“We want our customers to look their best on the beach and plaid doesn’t do it for them. It doesn’t flatter a woman’s figure when it goes over the curves,” says Joyce Braun, vice president of merchandising for the ladies’ swimwear division. She predicts a short life for the trend.

“Something like a big plaid shirt for $40 from The Gap is good,” she says. “And when it dies, it dies.”