Trends - Pleased by Plaid

The Rugged Look Is Increasingly Popular

Pleased by PlaidIn the early 1990s, the grunge look, stemming from the music scene in the Pacific Northwest, took the country by storm. Grunge bands from Seattle (including Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana) established an anti-conformist, non-fashion look that included unbuttoned plaid shirts combined with loosely-fitting thermals, concert tees, ripped jeans and black combat boots. It was primarily inspired by the traditional blue-collar workers of the Pacific Northwest, including lumberjacks and longshoremen, and started an entire fashion movement known as Casual Chic.

Since then, plaid shirts have come full circle. They're a ubiquitous garment in preppy environments, and retailers from Abercrombie & Fitch to J. Crew and H&M offer them for men and women. Haute couture designers like Kiton, Brunello Cucinelli and even Louis Vuitton feature them on the catwalks; now they're worn fully buttoned and are more form-fitting than their early '90s counterparts. They include professional details, like spread collars, and the nicer ones can even be paired with patterned or solid ties and worn under suits.

The promotional industry has also taken advantage of the popularity of plaid, including military and outdoor retailer Rothco (asi/83708). "Demand for plaid has been, in a word, tremendous," says John Ottaviano, director of sales and marketing for the supplier firm. "Our sales were up 50% in 2012. We are having better sales than in the grunge era in the '90s."

The supplier carries a heavyweight buffalo plaid flannel (4739) and a Sherpa-lined buffalo plaid flannel jacket (3739), in red, blue, white and green.

The popularity of plaid means the style can be pitched for a variety of apparel applications for men and women, including imagewear and youth markets. "Plaid is very trendy and youthful, but it's also classic at the same time," Ottaviano explains. "We have strong demand in the U.S. as well as overseas. It's great in the music market, restaurants and any youth-oriented businesses." In fact, says Ottaviano, plaid's popularity in 2013 means the inventory needs constant replenishment, especially following a hot sales start to the year. "It's been a challenge keeping goods in stock," he says. "We are so confident with it that we're adding yellow plaid to our mix. We foresee strong sales throughout 2013."