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How to wear plaid in fall 2021, according to stylists

Plaid can look good on everybody — stylists share their tips for how to rock it.
Illustration of a H&M Crop Sweater Vest, Woman wearing Shape Up Trouser Pants, and 3 Woman wearing different plaid fashion
TODAY Illustration / Saks Fifth Avenue / H&M / Free People / Edward Berthelot / Contributor / Getty Images / Jeremy Moeller / Contributor / Getty Images

Fun fact: Plaid generally starts trending for fall and winter because it was historically made of woven wool, and is, therefore, a great fabric for chillier temperatures. Although all types of fabrics can be found sporting plaid's criss-cross and check designs, the original woven wool comes from a long history of being a Scottish cold, wet weather staple, according to New York-based stylist Gloria Cospito.

Another reason for the sudden surge in plaid can be attributed to the rise in popularity of the punk and preppy trends — think '90s fashion inspired by Nirvana and "Clueless," with plaid being a strong player in both styles. “Plaid is a really versatile pattern — unlike some [other] trendy items — and most people have a plaid item in their closet and can integrate the print to match their individual style,” explains New York-based stylist and fashion editor Audree Kate Lopez. “No matter if you're a minimalist, feminine, preppy, punk, maximalist, trend-driven, young or older, plaid can be a staple in your closet, just like a striped shirt or denim jacket.”

How should you wear plaid in 2021?

Another key reason plaid is trending? It can be showcased in many different ways, from dainty and neutral plaid prints to oversized, colorful plaid and checkered prints, too.

  • Try plaid as accents or accessories. If you’re nervous about wearing too much plaid, start out small and incorporate it into your wardrobe with a bag, hat, boot or headband.
  • Embrace the oversized '90s aesthetic. “The oversized look will take it from country to city chic,” explains Lopez. Start by looking for an oversized plaid shirt, shacket or structured blazer.
  • Don't be afraid to mix different plaids in your outfit. “Pair a plaid print dress with a plaid coat or a plaid top with a plaid bottom,” suggests Cospito. “Just be sure that there is an anchoring commonality that helps the two plaids make sense together, such as similar color palettes or the same plaid pattern (tartan and tartan, buffalo check and buffalo check, windowpane and windowpane, etc.).”
  • Balance out the look with other chic pieces. “I love the idea of dressing up plaid by styling a plaid blazer with a satin slip dress and heels for a date night or fall wedding guest look,” Lopez says. The stylist also recommends pairing the pattern with a leather or suede legging and boots, or a skinny flare or straight leg light wash denim (very '90s!) and a fitted neutral top.
  • Pair an oversized plaid with a micro plaid. “The oversized pattern will become the statement piece [while] the micropattern will act as a neutral,” says Cospito.
  • Don't be afraid of color! This season we will see colorful plaids in kelly green, pink, lavender and bright blues, according to Lopez.
  • Try a matching set. The look is still very trendy, so try out a plaid suit for work or a matching plaid knit set for a casual look. You can also then style these pieces separately throughout the season for more wear.
  • Throw on a plaid coat. If you are not generally a pattern person but want to tiptoe into the trend, this outerwear pick will never go out of style. “Choose one in a neutral colorway and you will have a classic coat you'll continue reaching for years,” explains Cospito.
  • Look for a plaid that fits your personal style and matches a good percentage of your closet. “This will make it easier to style out the trend for the season. It can be quickly used as a layering piece during the colder months and will become a staple and core item in your wardrobe,” says Lopez.

What else should you keep in mind while styling plaid?

Plaid is just alternating colors interweaving at right angles to each other, so keep the colors of the pattern in mind when choosing your look for an occasion.

“Don't wear red to a wedding, and don't wear a bright plaid to a somber gathering,” suggests Cospito. “Also, keep fabrication and style in mind, as well — a plaid flannel top isn't appropriate for a black-tie event and an off-the-shoulder gingham sundress may not be the best choice for a job interview."

Best plaid clothing for a preppy aesthetic, according to shoppers

Channel your inner Cher Horowitz and style a matching plaid skirt set or toss on a sweater vest for a cool take on the preppy trend.

H&M Crop Sweater Vest

My Accessories London '90s Shoulder Bag

Cider Crossroads Plaid Sweater Vest

For Love & Lemons Cher Cardigan

For Love & Lemons Cher Crop Sweater Tank

For Love & Lemons Cher Mini Skirt

Best plaid clothing for a cottagecore aesthetic, according to shoppers

We saw the rise of cottagecore in 2021, particularly prairie-inspired nap dresses with feminine details. These are a few plaid pieces that hit the mark on the trend this fall.

J.Crew Smocked-Neck Top

Likely Payson Plaid A-Line Dress

Polo Ralph Lauren Plaid Ruffle Shirt

Best plaid clothing for a grunge aesthetic, according to shoppers

Nirvana meets '90s sitcom character and every high schooler — the '90s grunge trend is as hot as ever right now with oversized plaid shirts, light wash denim, silver jewelry and band tees, according to Lopez. “Take a more elevated approach to the style with a mixed print plaid shirt, plaid moto jacket and trench coat.”

Buckle Brushed Wool Blend Plaid Denim Jacket

Halogen Houndstooth Check Knit Moto Jacket

Shape Up Trouser Pants

The Ragged Priest Error Pants

Rails Brando Patchwork Plaid Shirt

Best plaid coats to replace your outerwear, according to shoppers

2021 and 2022 trends are all about making a statement, so ditch the black puffer coat and add a plaid coat to your wardrobe for fall.

Forever21 Faux Shearling Plaid Coat

Who What Wear Brown Plaid Peacoat

Fleet Street Plaid Oversized Notch Collar Coat

Eloquii Yd Plaid Robe Coat

Madewell Padded Jacket in Plaid

Best women's plaid shackets for fall, according to shoppers

The shacket is the most talked about fall item right now. It's a great transitional item because it's made with a thicker layer, but it's not as heavy as a winter coat.

BB Dakota Eldridge Plaid Jacket

GAP Plaid Shirt Jacket

Eloquii Plaid Shacket Coat

Good American Plaid Shacket

N:philanthropy Renzo Jacket

Rails Steffi Jacket

Best women's plaid blazers for fall, according to shoppers

Plaid blazers are a great layering item for fall. It can be worn anywhere from the office to a casual night out with friends. “You can go for a more '90s shoulder pad blazer [or] something more fitted. We have been seeing a lot of two-toned items this past year, so a mixed print blazer will be hot this season,” explains Lopez.

Nasty Gal Check Print Oversized Shoulder Padded Blazer

A New Day Plaid Blazer

Treasure & Bond Mix Plaid Double Breasted Coat

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