From And Just Like That To Bottoms: Why Plaid Is Film & TV’s Go-To Look Right Now

In the second season of And Just Like That, an unexpected troupe of supporting players popped up to enhance the storyline. No, I am not talking about the exes or the much-anticipated Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) cameo — instead, it was the plaids, tartans, and checks prints that caught my attention. “Plaid is the new black,” quips Molly Rogers, who co-costume designs the Sex and the City sequel series with Danny Santiago, when I ask the reason behind including the fall-forward fashion trend throughout the 11-episode series. 

When Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) causes George (Peter Hermann) to crash his bike, she’s dressed in a vintage Vivienne Westwood lilac plaid coat. Over on the Upper East Side, Lily (Cathy Ang) trades her mom-approved, prim pink Chanel for ‘90s-esque grunge checks to explore her teen angst and emo songwriting skills, while said mom (Kristin Davis) wears a vintage green-and-navy tartan cape for school pickup. “It’s one of those patterns that’s alive and it photographs so well,” says Rogers. 

For raunchy comedy Bottoms, costume designer Eunice Jera Lee likewise included plaid while referencing looks from the ‘90s and early-aughts teen films. On the first day of senior year, best friends Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) nod to Clueless’s Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) in a yellow plaid Maje top and a sunny argyle knit by Glamorous, respectively. In the scene, the duo’s coordinating patterns establish them as the cool clique. “In all these Y2K films, whenever there was a girl group, they were all very uniform,” says Lee, quoting the famous line from 2004’s Mean Girls: “On Wednesdays we wear pink.” 

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(l-r.) Havana Rose Liu as Isabel, Virginia Tucker as Stella Rebecca

and Kaia Gerber as Brittany in

BOTTOMS

An Orion Pictures Release

Photo credit: Patti Perret

© 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

In Only Murders in the Building, a mélange of plaids, windowpane checks and tartans have adorned the murder comedy since 2021. The motif conjures imagery of classic detectives, like Sherlock Holmes’ houndstooth hat and Nancy Drew’s school uniform skirt. “It’s a very versatile pattern,” says the show’s Emmy-nominated costume designer Dana Covarrubias, who also likens the grid-like print to the windows of the titular Manhattan high-rise. 

Once again, the pattern pops during some of the key moments in season three. To meet an old nemesis, Mabel (Selena Gomez) bundles up in a Stand Studio houndstooth-print coat, inspired by the bold costumes of Guys and Dolls, to pay homage to the Broadway-themed plotline. For a murder scene that kicks off the season’s events, Covarrubias dressed in Mabel in a green-and-white faux-shearling coat by Apparis, which too references ‘50s-era plaid suits from the Broadway musical but also wouldn’t look out of place for fall 2023. 

Only Murders in the Building — “The White Room” – Episode 304 — Charles’s stage fright reaches unimaginable heights, involving a break from reality and multiple baby dolls. Mabel is confronted by a mysterious individual from her past with a pivotal proposal. Mabel (Selena Gomez), shown. (Photo by: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

“This season, specifically, plaids emerge with heightened relevance as fashion establishes a new code of classics, much of which is rooted in tailoring, which work so well in menswear plaids and patterns,” says Kate Bellman, women’s managing fashion editor at Nordstrom. Hannah Watkins, head of prints & graphics at trend forecasting agency WGSN, echoes this, pointing to Marc Jacobs’ spring ’23 and Daniel Lee’s Burberry debut for fall ’23, which included grunge takes on the trend. “Punk and grunge stories are particularly resonating with youth, as they tackle feelings of rage towards the current polycrisis in society,” she says.

As the youngest member of the crime-solving group, Mabel brings a rebellious vibe with her plaids, which boost her smart retorts and friendly pushback when engaging with Boomers Charles (Steve Martin) and Oliver (Martin Short). “It’s almost like a little bit of punk rock,” says Covarrubias, who referenced Vivienne Westwood’s signature tartans and the ‘70s punk music movement.

Back in Bottoms, Lee similarly drew from the fashion trend’s anti-establishment roots. When Isabel confronts her philandering boyfriend, star quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), in the high school cafeteria, Lee wanted “Isabel to step into her power in that moment as this feminine, strong figure.” To achieve her “PTA mom mixed with Stepford Wife” look, Lee dressed Liu in a pearl button-lined, pink-and-white checked bouclé skirt suit from Reformation set to show that “she really means business.”

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(l-r.) Ayo Edebiri stars as Josie, Rachel Sennott as PJ, Zamani Wilder as Annie,

Summer Joy Campbell as Sylvie, Havana Rose Liu as Isabel,

Kaia Gerber as Brittany and Virginia Tucker as Stella Rebecca in

BOTTOMS

An Orion Pictures Release

Photo credit: Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc.

© 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

At the opposite end of the popularity spectrum, P.J. (Rachel Sennott) dons “[Kurt] Cobain grunge”-referential oversized flannel as her armor. “It’s her safety blanket to shield any kind of insecurity she has,” says Lee, who repeats the look in scenes portraying uncertainty. “P.J.’s so sartorially confused, she’s a bit of a style chameleon,” continues Lee. At one point, P.J. attempts to emulate Brittany’s cute yellow top, but with vintage tartan pants in a drab mustard. “She’s not confident at all in that moment.” 

“Plaid is bold, but it can also be subtle,” says Rogers. In And Just Like That, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) wears plaid at her lowest and highest points. In the midst of a breakup and divorce, she’s swathed in a hodgepodge of tartan and checks on a boxy wool jacket and fringed scarf, both by Cotélac, as she abandons the townhouse she previously shared with Steve (David Eigenberg). “She was bouncing around between apartments, and that combo just looked like a real Miranda mish-mosh,” says Rogers. Later in the season, Miranda turns the narrative around when she dons a chic blue-and-red checked wool coat by Marella for what she thinks will be a hot date.

In the AJLT season finale, Carrie makes an out-of-character decision to venture into an uncertain future with her former fiancé Aidan (John Corbett.) She lets go of all “expectations” at a dinner party in a stunning checkerboard beaded dress from the Oscar de la Renta Fall 2023 collection, which she pairs with Wilfred leggings and sparkly Rene Caovilla pumps for an also-unexpected — but very Carrie — outfit.

Rogers and Santiago — who just debuted an eBay boutique of designer pieces inspired by AJLT fashion — say that they weren’t intentionally weaving checks and plaids into the wardrobes as symbolism. They were just drawn to the prints while shopping contemporary offerings and scouring vintage for the season’s wardrobe. “You just like that combination, especially on Carrie, who [is someone who] can wear a plaid and a houndstooth together,” says Rogers.

So whether you’re feeling rebellious or uneasy, or anywhere in between, this fall, follow your instinct to wear plaids in your own way to tell your story. Costume designers do.

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