Plaid: it’s what hipsters and Steve Urkel have in common. The similarities probably don’t stop there (he seems to be a fan of ankle-grazing skinny jeans), but the plaid shirt is what brings these trendier-than-thou kids together with the nerdier-than-anyone TV icon. Oh, and it also includes Scots.
Plaid has its origin as far back as 100 B.C., when it was created by ancient Celtic populations. This makes plaid older than Jesus, but younger than dinosaurs, and we hipsters all love things that are vintage but not too passé. Although the print had been around for centuries, it didn’t take off as an icon until the late 17th century as the signature apparel of Scotland. Although their plaid came in the form of kilts and not trendy button-downs, plaid became a sign of rebellion against the English so much so that authorities banned it after the Scottish rebellion of 1746.
Although less a rebellion against English tyranny and more a rebellion against general society, plaid has also become a signature piece of the lesbian community. By the 1960s, plaid had already made its way from skirt to shirt and was associated most closely with men in the physical labor force. As the women’s liberation movement was taking off, women — especially lesbians — reclaimed the plaid shirt as a statement against the arbitrary assignment of certain articles of clothing to the masculinity. Plaid, they said, was not just for lumberjacks, but also for women, and especially for women who like women, so take that, patriarchy!
Gender barriers were broken down farther in the 1990s, when plaid was not just for Scots, but also for anyone participating in the grunge scene. Dissatisfied men and women of America wore oversized flannel shirts over what was probably that Nirvana smile face tee. Just like skinny jeans in punk culture, grunge produced a style that rebelled against what The Man thought to be uncool and cool-ified the plaid shirt all over again while tearing down the establishment, just like their predecessors.
In the early 2000s, plaid made an emergence on a different kind of music scene. And when I say scene, I mean scene. Thanks to a certain Mr. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame, plaid was the choice uniform of all three-chord-strumming, plastic-framed-glasses-wearing sensitive kids with the emo bangs sidesweep (also born at this time: the hipster asymmetrical haircut). If you think I’m being a bit too harsh, I’ll be the first to admit right now that in eighth grade, I bought my very first plaid shirt as a tribute to the great Conor Oberst. The fact that my asymmetrical haircut appeared for the first time has nothing to do with it though.
So here we have another hipster trend that has emerged from a culture of rebellion. Sure, emo culture isn’t the kind of rock ‘n’ roll, “fight The Man” rebellion that we hipsters would all like to associate ourselves with, but no one can argue against the fact that it is indeed a dissent from the mainstream culture. So are we hipsters the badass face-painted Mel Gibson-like (before he became offensive) freedom fighters of the mid-1700s? Not exactly. But in flannel, we are warriors against winter chill, and in wearing plaid we bravely fight against anyone who may mistake our trendiness for nerdiness.