Who would’ve thought that the cross-hatched plaid pattern will suddenly make a comeback in the fashion limelight? Locally at least, that is, thanks to the country’s newest trendsetter President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.
Known to be a no-nonsense alpha male who prefers to keep things straightforward and simple, “The Punisher” still hasn’t traded in his trademark OOTD of short-sleeved plaid shirts (paired with jeans and boots) ever since he won the presidential elections in May. And from the looks of things, the 16th Chief Executive of the Philippines has no plans of doing so. For as Davao City’s top tailors or designers scramble to make him non-itchy barong tagalog choices for June 30, cheeky Pinoys half expect him to don a rolled-up long sleeved version of his checkers when he takes his oath of office in Malacañang.
For many of his supporters though, the plaid shirt is now a fad. After all, the tough talking leader has never been spotted wearing anything else but this in a variation of colors, even as he welcomed businessmen and diplomats to his beloved city these past weeks.
As such, the plaid polo shirt may just become his official work wear as he occupies the highest seat in the land.
But how did this kind of shirt inch its way into the wardrobes of workers across the world, and eventually to the unconventional politician’s closet?
According to Aesthetic Crit’s “A History of Plaid,” the plaid first made its mark in fashion in the late 17th century as a signature in Scottish society. Mostly fashioned in kilts, the plaid actually became a symbol for rebellion against England, and eventually banned for decades under the Dress Act of 1746.
The plaid resurfaced again in 1782, when the pattern became legal once more, and even in vogue as material for women’s formal gowns.
Meanwhile, during the 1850s, the style made a leap from Europe to America. A Midwestern company by the name of Woolrich Woolen Mills gave the plaid’s popularity a boost when they originated the Buffalo plaid for men to wear in the great outdoors. The shirt particularly appealed to lumberjacks too.
Eventually, the “Borrowing from the Boys” style was unfolded in the 1970s. An American TV show, The Dukes of Hazzard, showed the men suddenly making their wives and girlfriends wear their plaid shirts. With this, the plaid became ubiquitous throughout the decade, adorning everything from suits to interior design elements. Though originally imbued with sweet, rustic connotations, the plaid shirt became part of a more sexualized look when the again, The Dukes of Hazard’s Daisy knotted hers above the waist and wore it with daring hot pants. ["How did plaid become popular?” by www.bustle.com, 2015].
The plaid was able to reach the runway as well. Bustle further reported that in 1995, couture designer Alexander McQueen took up Marc Jacobs and Vivian Westwood’s gauntlet by infusing his collection with plaids, naming the collection “Highland Rape” in reference to Scotland’s mistreatment by the English in 1800s.
But, after several decades of developing into one of fashion’s most favored patterns, the plaid returned to its insurgent origins as a form of liberated, devil-may-care style. As such, rockers took to wearing plaid flannel shirts, used by bands like Nirvana, The Breeders, and Pearl Jam in the early 1990s. It was considered the “unofficial symbol of the grunge movement” in the early 1990s.
In recent years, however, the plaid had strong resurgence all over again. It even became associated with the Hipster culture whose nostalgic style was referenced from the ‘90s era and way back to the lumberjack fad.
With such an interesting and exciting history, one wonders if Rodrigo Duterte actually knows the origin of his favorite piece of clothing. Especially those turning points in the pattern’s history where it was used to symbolize an attitude of going against the grain as many believe he is doing now.
One thing is for sure though, the plaid will continue to evolve as fashion always does. And who knows? While the plaid may be considered an un-presidentiable look today, it may just turn out to be the cloth that wraps great leaders in the future. Change, after all, as the man had promised, is about to come.