Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Tirade on Tartan

Not to generalize, but Macalester loves plaid.

It could be a nod to the Scottish roots of our alma mater, it could be an influence of the hipster movement, or it could be a combination of both of these things. Macalester is certainly a place of varied fashion sense, and plenty of students pride themselves on their individual style choices. But as is the case when it comes to style, there are trends. And here at Mac, plaid is in.

In the more technical vernacular of the textile craft, the particular pattern of criss-crossed, multicolored horizontal and vertical bands is known as “tartan.” Tartan is the pattern most commonly associated with plaid, although there are other patterns as well, such gingham and tattersall. (Did you know that?)

My brief skim of tartan's entry on Wikipedia reveals a rich and surprisingly controversial history, so much so, in fact, that I won’t exert much energy trying to summarize it here. You should know, however, that tartan has been used to identify individual Scottish clans since the mid-19th century: each clan’s tartan has a unique pattern and colors, and the MacAlister clan (our college's namesake) is no exception. As such, tartan holds a lot of meaning at Macalester.

Since becoming a Macalester student, I’ve also noticed that tartan follows me around. When I was studying abroad, I visited friends who were studying in Berlin, and in one of the museums, I found an exhibition on (surprise, surprise) the history of tartan:

Whether or not students wear it out of Scottish pride, there’s no denying that tartan and all other forms of plaid are customary on campus. The plaid flannel shirt is a classic look. Our spirit wear shop sells bowties with the MacAlister tartan. The word tartan is even part of the campus Wi-Fi password (don’t tell ITS that I told you!). Tartan and plaid are everywhere!

I’ve come to realize that I love plaid. Since coming to Macalester, the amount of plaid in my wardrobe has increased significantly. I own eight plaid shirts, all of which I purchased after arriving at Mac. When shopping at a flea market the other day, I picked up a shirt that caught my eye. However, I had to resist purchasing it, asking myself, “do I really need another blue plaid button-down shirt?”

Thankfully, the plaid epidemic is one of which we’re all well aware, and we can lovingly make fun of ourselves for it. Case in point: Last week, my choir secretly planned for everybody to dress in plaid as a prank for our director. Through the entire 1.5 hour rehearsal, he didn't notice until someone broke it to him at the very end. 

Plaid is the best.

—Alex Yang '13