It’s not farfetched to suggest Queen Victoria and Kurt Cobain didn’t have much in common. However, it turns out they shared a love of plaid. There was something about the checkered design that spoke to their fashion sense.
The Western Reserve Historical Society’s Cleveland History Center examines the popular pattern’s impact on society and pop culture with its new exhibit Mad for Plaid, which opens June 1 in the Chisholm Halle Costume Wing. The exhibit features fun, modern pieces from celebrities, classic gowns from beloved Clevelanders, traditional kilts and more.
CoolCleveland talked to Cleveland History Center director Angie Lowrie about Mad for Plaid.
CoolCleveland: Wow, an exhibit on plaid. How unique. Are all of the items from Cleveland?
Angie Lowrie: Not all of them are Cleveland-related. There are a number of Cleveland connections. Some of it is just fashion. So we’re going to have a variety of themes within plaid. We’re going to look at royal style and how Queen Victoria’s influence of plaid drove fashion. We look at kilts and the tradition of wearing kilts. Some of it people may know, but I think there’s a lot of things about the tradition that’s kilt-wearing that people may be surprised by. This is where we had the Cleveland connection. There’s a business here in Cleveland called the Kilted Bros. They actually have two tartans that are both on the official Scottish Register of Tartans. One is called the Pride of Cleveland and one is the International Bear Pride tartan. They originally did that here in Cleveland and that’s a pretty big deal in the world of tartans. Of course, the Pride of Cleveland is in Browns’ colors. That’s kind of fun.
CC: It’s funny how plaid means something different to everyone.
AL: Of course, some people might think of the traditional holiday plaid, winter plaid. And there’s Burberry plaid, the grunge-rocker plaid like what we saw Kurt Cobain wear. Also, we have things on loan to us from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that will speak to that. There’s the Americana plaid or what we’ve been calling the urban woodsman. So guys wear plaid with their flannels. Many people grew up with the schoolgirl plaid, private school. There are plaid jumpers that many of private schools are wearing. We have some of those in the show as examples. There’s all kinds of plaid, and we’re going to show that in a variety of styles.
CC: How does fashion play into the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Cleveland History Center?
AL: The Western Reserve Historical Society has a premier costume and textile collection. There are more than 23,000 hanging garments in the collections and some of them are made by Clevelanders, some of them are worn by Clevelanders. Our mission is to tell the story of Northeast Ohio, but it’s taking that in the context of the American experience. So we’re not just a Cleveland history museum but Cleveland’s place in national history.
CC: Considering the breadth of offerings at the Western Reserve Historical Society, the notion of a fashion display may catch some people off guard. Do you feel as though the Cleveland History Center is still somewhat of a hidden gem in Northeast Ohio?
AL: Yes, we that hear often. The goal with what we offer is that we’re highly accessible to a variety of learning styles and a diverse area of interests and backgrounds. But our goal is a person is going to find themselves here. Our permanent exhibit, “Cleveland Starts Here,” is really an extension of our brand promise. If visitors to Cleveland, long-time residents and new residents want to know more about the city or to better connect to their city, they should start here. When they do get here they’re going to find something personal to them. It could be that Christmas dress or schoolgirl dress. It could be a ride on the Euclid Beach Park carousel. It could be exploring the interactive map where they can see where they grew up. It could be their first car they drove when they were 16. We have such a rich, diverse, huge collection. We have more than a million items in our collection. It would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t find themselves either personally or through an area of interest.
CC: Just confirming, folks taking in Mad for Plaid should be wearing plaid?
AL: You don’t have to wear plaid; plaid is optional, but it is certainly back on the runway and even in living rooms. It’s hard to go anywhere nowadays without seeing it somewhere.