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Difference Between Tartan and Plaid

Tartan vs Plaid

Tartan and plaid were originally meant to describe different types of clothes that were popularized by Scottish culture. The two words are now used to refer a patterned cloth and are synonymous and interchangeable in usage. It’s funny to see men wearing skirts, but in Scotland it’s part of their traditional costume. Okay, so maybe not an actual skirt but a kilt. A kilt is a traditional dress of men and boys in Scotland and is usually knee-length with pleats at the rear. A kilt is made of a woolen cloth with the tartan pattern. Now you may not see it often, but traditionally, there is also an upper half that is draped over the shoulder and worn as a cloak. This is called a plaid. Nowadays, the two terms, tartan and plaid, have become synonymous. They now refer to patterned cloth, whose pattern is the crisscrossing horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors.


Tartan originally referred to the type of cloth, and not the pattern. It is derived from the French word tiretain, from the verb tirer, which is a reference to woven cloth. Even as late as the 1830s, tartan was described as a plain cloth without any pattern. It was the Scots who introduced the patterns to the woven cloth, and over time, tartan became known what it is today: a patterned cloth. In this modern age however, tartan is no longer limited to textiles. It is also used in non-woven mediums such as paper, plastics, packaging, and wall coverings. With these new uses for tartan, it became known as the pattern itself.


In America, the word plaid is commonly used to describe tartan. Plaid is derived from the Scottish Gaelic language and originally means blanket. Plaid was the rectangular woolen scarf or cloak draped over the left shoulder of Scottish Highlanders. Today, plaid refers to any cloth with the tartan pattern. Plaid is also a term commonly used in fashion. In recent years, it has become quite fashionable to wear plaid, most common are plaid shorts. Schools also adopted plaid for their uniform skirts, as popularized by movies involving preparatory or Catholic schools.

Difference between Tartan and Plaid

Tartan is the patterned woolen cloth that the Scottish traditional dress is made of, and plaid is only a part of that dress. Since the tartan has now became known as the pattern, its use has extended to non-textile purposes. Plaid, on the other hand, has flourished in recent years in the clothing industry. The two terms, however, will always remain a testament and a symbol of Scottish tradition and culture.

In brief:

1. Tartan and plaid are both taken from Scottish culture and is a huge part of their history.

2. They are, in modern times, interchangeable in their usage. They have now become to refer to the patterned cloth.

3. Originally tartan refers to the type of cloth and it need not to have a pattern. Plaid was originally known as the rectangular woolen cloak draped over the shoulder.

4. Tartan’s use is not limited to the textile industry, as it is now being used in non-woven mediums.

5. Plaid has flourished in the clothing industry and has become quite fashionable to wear.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/jawn.wahturz.5 Jawn Wahturz

    I’m still confused…

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