Glen Plaid: A Sartorial Change Up



The national pastime’s All-Star break was two weeks ago, and the teams that are still in contention for the playoffs are looking to shore up their lineups for the home stretch run. One more power hitter or an extra arm in the bullpen could make the difference. Most baseball aficionados would tell you that come playoff time it will all come down to pitching. Great hitting brings out the crowd, but great pitching wins championships. Whether or not that is altogether true, it is likely that the pitchers who have more in their repertoire than just a 95 mph fastball or mesmerizing curve ball will get more outs in the clutch. What you really need to win more of the close ones and the big game is a well-disguised change up.

A change up is an illusion: a pitch that looks like a fastball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, but is actually moving much slower. If the batter was looking for a fastball he will be fooled and swing early. Sartorially speaking, if a navy pinstripe or charcoal solid suit is a fastball, then the reliable change up is, surely, a black & white glen plaid. While the desired effect is not to fool, the intent is to lighten the mood, soften one’s appearance or to appear more relaxed and approachable.

For the man who is usually seen in darker colors and/or simpler patterns, the look is unexpected and refreshingly different. Eric P. from the San Francisco bay area says, “The thing I like the most about my black and white plaid suit is the fact that every time I wear it I get nice comments. I also like how many different combinations I can wear with it.” While a glen plaid suit has been an essential part of a well dressed man’s wardrobe for several decades, such was not always the case. The “change ups” inclusion in the list of essential suits required a shake up.

The shakeup that occurred in the 90’s when casual clothing found its way into the boardrooms of big business was not the first or only time that the rules of propriety and style have been turned on their head. Prior to the 1920’s, the line between urban and country (rural) clothing was clear and solid. It may not have been double yellow, but certainly wasn’t dotted. A glen plaid suit would have been reserved for wearing outside of the city and never in the evening. It required none other than Edward, the Duke of Windsor, to blur the distinction.

The Duke was said to prefer a style he called “dress soft.” With that came a fondness for the soft hand of flannel cloth, suede shoes, and the pattern historically known as the Glenurquhart plaid. The Glen Urquhart plaid (also called the Glen plaid, or ‘Prince of Wales check’, as popularized by Edward, when he was Prince of Wales) was originally a woollen, Scottish tartan cloth with a woven twill design of small and large checks creating a box-like effect.

The name is taken from the valley of Glenurquhart in Inverness-shire, Scotland where the fabric is thought to have first been used in the 19th century by the New Zealand-born countess of Seafield to outfit her gamekeepers. However, the term “Glen plaid” did not appear in usage before 1926. It was thought that the name took hold because the pattern resembled an aerial view of the glens of the Scottish landscape.

Over time, the pattern became a popular suiting, since it can look dressy, depending on the scale and intensity of the pattern. As a general rule, when the scale of any pattern moves from small to large, the garment becomes more casual. It is also good to remember that if the plaid is bold enough to use as an odd jacket, then it shouldn’t be tailored as a suit. Likewise, if it is subdued or fine enough to worn as a suit, it is generally too muted for an odd jacket. This is, once again, a good time to lean on your faithful clothier!

What’s your favorite “change up” look?

Sartorial Solutions,

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