From school uniforms to expensive handbags to bow ties—plaid is a pattern that seems to sneak into all types of clothing and accessories. It’s a pattern that has been around for hundreds of years but never manages to look outdated. It’s a pattern that’s marked eras in history in the Scottish highlands to the grunge music days of the 90s.
The newest fashion exhibition at Philadelphia University shows the scope of plaid throughout the last two decades. “Plaidmania: From Royal to Renegade” includes collections from students from 1993 to 2012.
The idea for a plaid-themed exhibition came from Clara Henry, director of the fashion design program at Philadelphia University.
She said she has always loved tartans and plaid and wanted to “curate an exhibition with a theme that is relevant today.”
Showcasing generations of student work
“The exhibition shows the broad range of alums—a retrospective of student work. It is representative of the use of tartans and plaids. It spans from Scotland to rebellion, used from monarchy to Axl Rose,” Henry said.
“[This exhibition] is celebrating fashion in the city,” she said. This is the time of year when all the collections are out, from Paris to New York to right here in Philadelphia.
Plaid goes back to tradition, lineage, and class. Families could be identified by the tartans they wore. Henry noted that plaid still has an element of social rank, giving the example of Burberry purses.
Jen Sondheimer was the only current student featured in the exhibition. Sondheimer, who will graduate in May, was asked to include a dress that was designed for a class she took last fall in her junior year. The challenge was to make a dress for the “Red Dress Competition.” The event was sponsored by the American Heart Association to raise awareness of heart disease in women. The dress made it to the top 20 selection.
Sondheimer said she needed a contrasting color or element for the dress, so decided on a plaid pattern.
“Plaid is classic. It has a structural element but is also so versatile,” Sondheimer said.
Continuing the trend
Jennifer Duncan, graduate of 1995, is a designer originally from Warminster.
Duncan’s collection was the center of the exhibition. It was made during her senior year. Duncan was inspired by her family heritage to create a collection. Her last name is Scottish and her father was a full-blooded Cherokee. She designed pieces that incorporated both backgrounds. She used the plaids and tartans of Scotland and the skins and natural elements of Cherokee heritage.
Duncan was called by Philadelphia University and asked if she still had the collection. She said pulling all the pieces out again brought back memories of the year. She worked many hours to create this collection. Every piece was hand sown.
The collection won first place in the 1995 City Paper Style War Competition. She also won an all expense paid trip to Paris in ’94. Her collection was shown in a competition held at the Carrousel du Louvre Fashion Mall. She said it was an amazing experience to be able to show a collection in Paris at a young age.
“Plaid is significant and relevant today. It’s happening and very much on trend. All American designers have it in their current collections,” Henry said.
The “Plaidmania: From Royal To Renegade” exhibition runs through the end of October. The exhibit is free to the public and open weekdays from noon to 4 p.m. It is located in Hayward Hall, 4201 Henry Ave.