Rad Plaid!

It is a strange-looking word that has a strong sound and is the final pattern in the triumvirate that has been established as key elements in Circus inspired fashion.  Having already covered stripes and polka dots in previous articles, this guide is all about plaid.  Not to be confused with flannel, as that is textile not a pattern, plaid is created by intersecting lines on a solid background which is usually one or two colors.  The thickness and amount of lines vary, creating a wide variety of combinations that can be overwhelming to some.  Unfortunately plaid has a bad reputation of being associated with elderly people, and of course it often a stereotypical component of punk wear.  Going further, Tartan plaid is indicative of Scottish heritage or a Catholic school uniform; it has been seen in couture and walking the runways.  Though I would only suggest wearing a full suit of plaid if one was doing it for a performance, it is also possible to create looks that are contemporary and unconventional without being antiquated.

As mentioned, there are numerous types of plaid that could leave one feeling swamped when picking something that is going to be flattering.  Primary colors are always the fail safe and can be paired with neutrals such as slate grey or smokey black; adding select accessories should be based on achieving harmony between all of the pieces to avoid appearing crowded.  Much like the other patterns, plaid can be found on nearly everything from jackets and sneakers to hats and ballgown dresses, yet coordinating it into something that represents the inspiration it claims is an entirely different feat.  Hitting up the local thrift store and piling on whatever can be found on the racks might be a style, but it is certainly not one I would associate with myself or any of the individuals who have been presented as notable figures in general Circus culture.  Though I am a proponent of encouraging people to be creative and that everyone should be able to wear whatever they want, citing something as influence also means paying tribute to the canons of Circus fashion.  There might not be any real rules, but as always the following guide can be sourced for those who would like to embrace the style without proverbially or figuratively stepping on any toes.



A plaid shirt is one of the best basics anyone can have because it is versatile enough to generate several outfits without having to spend much.  While it is commonly affiliated with burly bearded lumberjacks, equally hairy but skinny hipsters and kids with moppy hair that all look the same, quality fabric and custom touches can easily separate you from that pack.  Lucky 13 is one of those recognizable purveyors of alternative fashion, partly because they emblazon their name on clothing such as the Dark Water Button Up, where a red/black/taupe plaid is the background for custom artwork.


Dead Threads produces collections for those who seek originality without having to compromise, and their fitted pink plaid shirt is an example of how details distinguish the difference between a generic garment and street style.  The stark black collar, cuffs, detachable straps and accents give a hard edge to a color that is often reserved for ‘girly girls’, whatever that is.  Rock this top with a pencil skirt, denim capris or a mini skirt and patterned leggings.


There is no doubt that Vivienne Westwood has secured her place as the reigning queen of British punk fashion, and the best way to pay homage to such an innovator is by featuring this beautiful Anglomania Jaket, which combines a classic cut with the typical quirky style of Westwood’s work.  The jacket is ideal for day to evening wear and can easily be a standout piece for updating your look.



Monochromatic color schemes are fundamental for the leading lady aesthetic, and the vintage inspired details such as three-quarter sleeves, over-sized fabric covered buttons and a poly/cotton blend makes this black and white coat a garment one can wear from Autumn to Winter.


If outwear is too intense for your first time wearing plaid, a fitted vest might be more comfortable and is made casual with a tank top and jeans, or it can be dressed up with a silk blouse and pleated skirt.


There cannot be a discussion about plaid fashion without bringing up one of the paramount symbols of punk, which happens to be bondage pants.  They are often tight fitting, accented with zippers that do not really serve a function purpose and D-ring from which one can clip on hanging straps.  This half red and half yellow pair were found on Crust Punks Distro, where one can also purchase studs, patches or other tchotkes to customize the pants.  Or you can wear them with suspenders, a white shirt with light blue stripes, dark blue tie, vintage black dinner jacket and a snazzy pair of freshly polished loafers.


Though the thought of wearing plaid golf trousers might evoke images of white haired men with wrinkled skin wasting their life chasing a ball around lush green lawns, Nike makes them fashionable and functional in a grey and white plaid with tailored fit.  Plus if they can withstand all the action of a golf course, they should be sturdy enough to bounce around a basement for the local punk show.


The retro styling of this houndstooth plaid pencil skirt is a classic piece that can be worn to the office or cocktail hour, depending of course on how one chooses to accessorize.  A buttoned blouse and sensible pair of heels will prepare you for long hours of busy work, while a corset belt, peasant top, back seemed stockings and ruby red pumps can keep you dancing all night long.


Pleated plaid skirts seem to be divided into two distinctively annoying categories that designates them as befitting a sexy stripper or conservative librarian, neither of which actually represent Circus fashion.  To avoid being cast as someone’s school girl fantasy come to life, begin with a wool twill dark plaid skirt from Vivienne Westwood’s Anglomania collection, then add a graphic print top, leather jacket, opaque tights and pointy toe ankle boots.  Now you are ready to strike a pose or kick some ass depending on what the occasion calls for.


If the phrase “plaid dress” incites nightmares of shapeless sacks donned by house wives who really let themselves go, I have one that will pique your interest – Plaid Taffeta Mermaid Prom Dress.  Ignoring the “prom” part, this strapless dress has a fitted bodice accented with a bow, draped body, tired skirt and a lace-up back which makes it far beyond homely.  The black and white color scheme makes the plaid pop without melting the eyes and lends itself to silver accessories.


Another popular alternative fashion label has been offering plaid garments most likely since it’s inception, so it is no surprise that Lip Service has this ultra chic Plaid Ruffle Prom Dress as one of its current Internet Specials.  The rich purple hue is accented by black ruffled trim which even extends to the eyelet straps, and those type of subtle details are what makes these clothes stand out from the competition.


On my very first visit to the Mecca of alternative fashion in New York City – that being Saint Marks – I was introduced to the legendary Trash and Vaudeville, which is where I saw something I did not think could possibly exist: a plaid ball gown.  There was something elegant about the way the pattern flowed, and I had visions of wearing it decked out in sparkling jewels, pinup perfect makeup and tumbling curls as red as the fabric, perhaps with the sides of my head shaved.  This garment symbolized the oxymoron of being a ‘rich punk’ that helped form the basis of what has evolved into Carny Trash Aristocracy, and so I was delighted to find Lip Service offers the Destructive Tease Ball Gown, though it seems to only be available in red plaid.  Not too fond of the black zipper in front, but I do like the detachable spiked bracelets and see potential for adding more studs.


Some might prefer a touch of plaid to get used to incorporating the pattern into regular wear, and these purple plaid pumps are definitely simple enough to coordinate with a sleek black cocktail dress or a retro lavender suit.  The round toe and lace trim create soft lines that are accented by the stiletto heel and hidden platform.


Red multi colored plaid forms the base of this sizzling Betsey Johnson peep toe pump.  Red patent trim is punctuated by brush gold studs, while the thick strap and oversize buckle add a bit of zest.


The most important thing to keep in mind when putting together an outfit is to have fun with it and have the confidence to carry yourself with a composure that will turn heads for all of the right reasons.  What others think or say is completely arbitrary, and I wonder when society came to a point where it feels so comfortable voicing opinions to complete strangers about their choice of clothes.  Apparently any level of manners is completely nonexistent when one steps into public, and certainly there are going to be rude remarks when one decides to go against anything that is mainstream, popular or being perpetrated as the latest trend.  Taking advantage of the latter can benefit your wardrobe if you are seeking something that might otherwise be difficult to find, but you must also remember that quality always reigns over quantity and that even the best stylist knows when to edit.  In closing, I have assembled a gallery of images that I feel encompasses the essentials of Circus fashion in a way that is fresh, chic and attainable without being garish.

1 – Houndstooth Plaid Suit, 2 – 1970s Window Pane Check Suit

3 – Cabernet Checkered Suit, 4 – thelingerieaddict.com

5 – 1950s Red Plaid Dress, 6 –  High Waist Steam Punk Skirt


3 comments on “Rad Plaid!

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