Plaid has always been the de facto uniform for those of us who play outside. You spot it at campsites, on the river, and in mountain-town bars. All the major outdoor clothing brands sell the pattern in various iterations. There’s a good chance a few plaid shirts are hanging in your closet right now.
But did you ever wonder where plaid comes from and when it came into style? These were the questions Jeff Ladra thought about as he designed plaid shirts for Pladra, his new apparel company. Over the past three years, Ladra has been researching these questions, and the result is The Plaid Handbook where Ladra traces plaid all the way back to Northern Britain and Ireland around the fifth or sixth century BC. He then follows its path through the 1800s and the rise of the lumberjack trade, up to the Beach Boys, punk rock, and finally into the present, where the selection is bigger than ever.
To celebrate plaid’s long history, here are seven of our favorite tops.
Topo Designs Work Shirt ($130)
Denver-based Topo Designs uses thick, 100-percent cotton flannel for its Work Shirt, which is perfect for chilly summer evenings in the mountains. Kudos to Topo for the big, blocky prints and bold color choices.
Ibex Jackson ($145)
The pearl snap buttons of the Jackson hint at Western roots, but with a straight seam across the back, the rest is totally city. The all-wool fabric—plenty thin for the warmer months—has a little stretch, making it perfect for bike commuting.
Patagonia Bandito ($90)
Ventilation channels across this shirt’s curved yoke, gussets under the armpits, and an anti-odor treatment make the Bandito the airiest, most technical shirt on our list. It’s ideally suited to long days on the trail. Bonus: It’s made from a recycled polyester fabric.
Pladra Elli ($120)
All of Pladra’s plaids, including the Elli, feature animal graphics under the cuffs, behind the collar, and around the tag. This version of the Elli includes a bear, but other shirts have different animals.
Flylow Handlebar ($90)
This shirt looks and feels like it’s made from cotton, but it’s actually 100 percent synthetic, so it wicks moisture supremely well when you’re out having fun or chopping wood.
Burton Brighton Flannel ($60)
Turns out Burton makes great warm-weather kit, too. We’re fans of these flannels because of the old-school patterns and the name’s reference to Utah’s Brighton Ski Area.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing Shorthorn Shirt ($200)
The Shorthorn is an old-school classic that’s long been a favorite with cowboys and rodeo hands. Levi’s knows you don’t want to break yours in while riding a bull, so this style comes with a preworn feel.