They say plaid is making a comeback this year, these days, soon. I can't wait. I have plaid nostalgia. In the late '40s and '50s everyone, from schoolchildren to golfers to grown women, wore plaid: dresses, blouses, boys' shirts, men's trousers and shirts, winter coats. Whether this was international fashion or a local fad, I cannot say. My mother, Eileen, loved plaid. She made all of our dresses when we were young, and all of the boys' shirts for school (no one wore t-shirts in those days, except during summer sports), and a lot of what she made for us was plaid.
Not all plaids are the same. There are one-way plaids, mirror plaids, and others whose names I've forgotten. Knowing the type of plaid is not at all useful if you go to the specialty shop and buy your plaid skirt or blouse. But if you are buying the fabric to make your own garment, then you'd better know what you're doing. A well-made plaid garment must have matched seam-lines. The red stripe of the sleeve's plaid motif must run into (match) the same red stripe of the bodice. A one-way plaid requires much more fabric in order to effect all these matching patterns at the seams; in order to buy the required amount of fabric, you need to know the type of plaid. Perhaps this gives us a hint about why plaid's popularity has declined.
But nowadays only seven people in North America still make their own clothes. Everything is bought ready-made. In the Third World factories where our clothing is now produced (to our shame), overseers and designers are responsible for pattern and fabric lay-out. It is not up to an individual seamstress any longer. It is safe for the return of plaid.
You do know that you can't make a plaid t-shirt, of course (unless you stamp-print a plaid pattern on the knitted fabric). So the rise of the ubiquitous t-shirt also led to the decline of plaid.
In our house, the first day of school involved an obligatory new plaid dress for me and my sisters, and new plaid shirts for each of the three boys. Eileen stayed up late those hot August nights finishing our clothes for the First Day. I don't know why she created this stressful rule. Was it because she was Catholic? Because she was Irish? Because she loved to sew (and to match plaids)? Or just because we didn't have the money to buy new dresses and shirts for the first day of school? But she was a demon for matched seams—not that anyone but her would have noticed if plaid seams didn't match. And those were the days when no garment would have a machine-stitched hem. All our hems were hand-sewn.
Which leads directly to the non-plaid story of the First- Communion dress of my little sister, Mary Eileen. The stunning dress that our mother made for that very special occasion took a little longer to finish than Eileen had anticipated. According to family legend, Mary Eileen arrived late, after all the other seven-year-olds had marched up the centre aisle of St. Joseph's Church and were seated demurely in the two front pews. Mary Eileen ran up the aisle, in tears because she was late, embarrassed, and angry (have a nice First Communion!). Her mother ran, crouching, right behind her, frantically hand-stitching the last few inches of the hem. Or so the story goes.