Tartan vs Plaid: Difference and Comparison

Varying patterns among clothing items are not new. Regular clothes, sheets, blankets, etc., are commonly available in check-style patterns.


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While there are many types of check patterns in the market, all of them look nearly similar, and differentiating between them can often be confusing. Two such patterns are Tartan and Plaid.

Key Takeaways

  1. Tartan is a pattern of crisscrossed horizontal and vertical bands originating in Scotland and associated with specific clans.
  2. Plaid is a generic term for any fabric with a checkered or striped pattern, not necessarily linked to Scottish heritage.
  3. Although often used interchangeably, tartan refers to a specific pattern, while plaid is a broader term for various patterns.
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Tartan vs Plaid

The difference between tartan and plaid is that tartan is a Scottish clothing pattern in which a decorated design is always repeated multiple times over the clothing. On the other hand, in plaid, this phenomenon does not always exist. Furthermore, the word Plaid has various meanings varying from community to community.

Tartan is a clothing pattern that originated in Scotland in the late 16th Century. It was initially used with woven wool only, but the pattern is now used with other clothing materials as well.

Tartans always carry a historical significance with them and are officially recognized in Scotland.

Plaid is a long piece of tartan with checked patterns most commonly used to make highlander dresses and styled military uniforms in Scotland.

However, in North America, Plaid is considered as a synonym for Tartan only as the clothing pattern is mostly similar.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonTartanPlaid
DefinitionIt is a rectangular checked pattern.It is a homonym that carries multiple meanings.
OriginIt was originated in the 16th Century.It was originated in the 17th Century.
RecognitionIt is officially recognized by Scotland.It is not officially recognized by Scotland.
SignificanceIt carries historical significance.It carries no such significance.
UseIt is used in making Scottish Kilts.It is used in making highlander dresses.

What is Tartan?

Tartan is a clothing pattern that originated in Scotland. The pattern consists of crisscrossed, vertical, and horizontal bands in multiple differentiating colors.

Tartan is most commonly used for Scottish Kilts. Initially, tartan was used in woven wool only, but it is now used with multiple materials of clothing.

Tartans always carry a history that ties this clothing pattern to a Scottish community or clan. Tartans are historically recognized in Scotland. The clothing pattern needs to be certified through a registration process in Scotland to be identified as a tartan.

Over the years, namely, three color variations have been made to the tartan pattern:

  • Modern Tartan Color: It describes a tartan that is produced using chemical dye instead of natural dye.
  • Ancient Tartan Color: It describes a tartan that is produced using lighter color shades. These represented the ageing of fabrics over a long period.
  • Muted Tartan Color: It describes a tartan that is produced with a mixability of shades between modern and ancient tartan colors.

In North America, tartan is often interchangeably used with plaid, but when referring to their origin, both tartan and plaid are two different patterns of clothing.


What is Plaid?

The term Plaid originated in the 17th Century. It is a long piece of tartan with checked patterns most commonly used to make highlander dresses and styled military uniforms in Scotland.

Furthermore, the word Plaid carries varying meanings from nation to nation. Nevertheless, the origin of plaid is Scottish, where it is differentiated from regular tartan patterns.

The major factor differentiating plaid from tartan is that it does not have any historical significance. In Scotland, it does not represent any particular clan or community.

On top of that, it is not officially recognized as well by the nation. Thus, plaid later on developed into a confusing term with various meanings.

In North America, plaid and tartan have the same meaning. The words are often interchangeably used with one another, which is considered fundamentally correct, as plain and tartan are also recognized as synonyms in American English.

It simply refers to the clothing pattern that defines tartan in Scotland.

In the Scottish sense, tartan is a type of plaid but with historical significance. Most of the other check patterns fall under the category of plaids too. Hence, plaid is much more versatile in its meaning when it comes to clothing.


Main Differences Between Tartan and Plaid

  1. Tartan refers to only a particular clothing pattern, whereas plaid is a homonym and is a more versatile term.
  2. Tartans are historically significant and are tied to clans or communities. On the other hand, plaids are not historically significant.
  3. Tartans are officially recognized in Scotland, whereas plaids are not.
  4. Tartans have a repetitive decorated design throughout the clothing, whereas plaids do not.
  5. Tartan is commonly used for Scottish Kilts, whereas plaid is used for all clothing items.
Difference Between Tartan and Plaid
  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00043125.1988.11651387
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