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Checks and balances

December 16, 2007|Melissa Magsaysay | Times Staff Writer

When Sarah Jessica Parker showed up at last year's Costume Institute Ball at the Met swathed in a tartan Alexander McQueen gown, her reputation for being able to pull off anything (including a tutu and heels) took a slight hit. It looked like the woman had forgotten her bagpipes.

Tartan, black watch, buffalo check -- plaid is not the easiest thing to wear without looking like a professor or a piper. And with all the plaid items out for the holidays -- and the major, bold plaids in the fall collections -- it's highly likely there will be more than a few SJP moments this winter.

A stylist who knows and loves plaid is Andrea Lieberman. Having dressed Gwen Stefani and a few of her Harajuku girls in big, fun plaid by Vivienne Westwood for Stefani's first solo album, Lieberman is familiar with the fabric and enjoys using it to add even more character to the personalities she dresses.

"Plaid has an air of eccentricity to it," she says. "That's one of the things that makes it so great." But for the holidays, over-the-top Westwood is probably a bit much. There are plenty of great, subtle plaids that can add a festive touch (or a punky edge) to your winter look.

"Plaid can go from having a total Rasta feel to royalty," she says, "depending on the color, texture, style, size. It's also very punk rock. It can connote so many different things; it can really speak to so many different feelings."

And whether you bring out the plaid just this season or all year long, remember Lieberman's Basic Rule of Plaid: One item at a time. Converse is making a preppy plaid sneaker that looks rich in brown, and Brooks Brothers decided to put four different kinds of plaid down just one pant leg. A plaid accent is easier to control and will keep you from looking like a human grid - just balance it out with a solid. So, throw a plaid scarf around a dark turtleneck and team it with some skinny jeans and black patent ballet flats. The look is chic and controlled, with the plaid adding just the right amount of prep.

If you do wear a plaid item of clothing, it's important to consider the shape -- its and yours. Forget '70s bell bottoms, and keep lines clean and modern. "I love '60s Hitchcock-style shapes, such as fitted little pencil skirts or Sophia Loren-like fitted dresses," Lieberman says.

As for which tartan you choose, simple black watch may be the easiest to wear. Black watch is a large, navy blue and hunter green check that is far from flashy.

"If you're going to get a blazer or jacket, then keep it to a black watch plaid or a classic Chanel-like tweed, because those are plaids you will want to wear past Christmas or the holidays," Lieberman says.

"Otherwise get a small accessory that you can easily throw on just during the holidays and store in your closet during the year."


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