A Primer on Checks and Plaids

Molyneaux plaid suit 1966

Molyneaux plaid suit

The checks and plaids trend was hot last year and is still going strong for spring/summer 2018.  And, like every other fashion trend  it is a revival,  since pretty much every decade had its version of a plaid trend.

Frankly, I’ve always loved them.  Plaid and check patterns are timeless. They never really go out of style.  But every once in a while designers decide to feature them in their collections, and the next thing you know they’re everywhere you look!

Recently I was searching online for a vintage plaid coat or jacket for myself and I noticed lots of people using the terms “checks” and “plaids” interchangeably.  And I was getting confused as I always thought they were two different things. So I decided to do some research which resulted in this little primer on checks and plaids, along with a cheat sheet to help identify the most iconic patterns.

So here’s the skinny-
The difference between a check and a plaid boils down to this. A check pattern is a simpler pattern than a plaid pattern.  Usually one to three colors at most, with the colored threads evenly woven on the loom to create a series of squares or box shapes.

Plaid on the other hand plaid can consist of many colors and the threads are woven in a more complex pattern creating rectangle AND square shapes. The term “tartan” was the original term used to describe what we now, in the US, call plaid.  We now use the term tartan to refer to a very specific type of plaid pattern and plaid to refer to all patterns with that type of weave.

Or as famous interior designer Scott Meacham Wood says

“All tartans are plaid, but not all plaids are tartan.”

Though  I think in the UK , what Americans call plaid, they still refer to as tartan. Hopefully someone from the UK will clarify this for me.

Checks Plaids Cheet Sheet


From left to right-

Glen Plaid– A woven twill design of large and small broken checks. usually in black, grays and white or other muted neutral tones.
Tartan Plaid– A plaid textile with Scottish origin. Think kilts and clans. Can be many different color combinations.
Madras Plaid– Handwoven dyed cotton fabric that originates in Madras India.  Usually in bright colors.  It’s a hallmark of the summer “preppy” look.
Buffalo Check-This famous red and black check was invented by Woolrich Woolen Mills in 1850.  Appealed originally to lumberjacks and other outdoorsman.
Gingham Check-Any color woven crosswise usually against a white background to create a small checkered pattern. Mostly in cotton, but also synthetic blends. A classic summer look.
Windowpane Check-Fabric with widely spaced lines intersecting to form a window like pattern. Usually a single color against a solid background.
Tattersall Check-Smaller than windowpane checks, and often of two or three different lines of color intersecting. Usually darker colors against a lighter background. Originated from horse blankets.
Pin Check- Pin sized stripes intersect to form the tiniest check pattern. Appearing as dots to the eye.
Houndstooth Check- Two tone weave also referred to as dogtooth, because of the broken/jagged check design.


Here are some photos from a couple of my 1966 and 1967 Vogue Magazines.   They feature the plaid and check trend that was very popular back then. I really like the British Mod influence on these outfits. That was the era when London dominated the fashion scene.

1966-Seymour Fox Windowpane check coat

Seymour Fox windowpane check coat


Donald Brooks tattersall check suit

Donald Brooks tattersall check suit

George Carmel windowpane check coat

George Carmel check coat

Kasper for Joan Leslie houndstooth coat

Kasper for Joan Leslie houndstooth coat

Bonnie Cashin check coats

Bonnie Cashin check coats

Jack Sarnoff pink plaid suit

Jack Sarnoff pink plaid suit

Jacques Tiffeau yellow plaid coat

Jacques Tiffeau yellow plaid coat

Pauline Trigere plaid wool dress

Pauline Trigere plaid wool dress


So there you have it. You’ll never get your plaids and checks mixed up again!

Either way, what do you think of this trend? Love it or hate it?






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By | 2018-02-06T08:39:14-04:00 February 2nd, 2018|Fashion|5 Comments

About the Author:

Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.


  1. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell February 12, 2018 at 10:29 am

    I know, Vix. Those boots are fab. And thanks for clearing that up for me. I had a feeling Brits used tartan and not plaid, but wasn’t sure. Tartans are used in parochial school uniforms over here still.

  2. Avatar
    Vix February 12, 2018 at 3:41 am

    That first outfit, so intrinsically mod, isn’t it? I’d kill for those boots.
    We Brits always refer to it as tartan, I don’t think I was familiar with the term, plaid, until I started reading American blogs. It’s not a design I’m drawn to, here tartan is often part of school uniforms and by the time we’re adults we’re fed up with the sight of it! xxx

  3. Avatar
    Kathrine Eldridge February 6, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    I agree that checks and plaids are timeless! Thanks for explaining all the different patterns. Love these vintage fashions!


  4. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell February 3, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Oh yes, Suzanne. I’ve seen some of your lovely plaid outfits! Hope you find the “cheat sheet” helpful 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Suzanne February 2, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for that breakdown Theresa! I can use these tips when I’m writing my descriptions in my Etsy store.

    I’m a huge fan of patterns period so of course I love these.


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