Throughout mankind’s history, the direct link between manliness and plaid has been a dominant theme. From the Tartan prints of the dirty but undeniably mannish Scots to the sap-scented flannels of the red-blooded lumberjacks, a male individual’s vitality has always been measured by the amount of plaid he dares drape on his chiseled frame.
While examples of plaid have been discovered that date as far back as 3000 BC, the Scots have generally been credited for the popularization of this printed fabric—mostly wool—since the 3rd or 4th century AD. There is no doubt these folks were tough. For centuries the Scots adhered strictly to a diet of sheep and whiskey, and endured some of the harshest weather conditions in the known world while wearing only wool skirts and soot. In 1746 the British government actually banned the wearing of plaid in an attempt to suppress the rebellious Scottish culture. This attempt at psychological castration had little effect on the Scots, who displayed their wares and their heritage more proudly than ever.
Decades before your grandmother settled on the particular plaid davenport that really tied the living room together, lawless bandits and genteel cowboys alike were taming the Wild West in colorful plaid prints. With nothing but a can of beans and a harmonica to keep them company during the long, cold nights on the prairie, these untamed souls faced hardships every day that would make the toughest modern American fill his trousers with a pungent mixture of inadequacy and shame. What better way to show a wild, buckin’ bronc that you mean business than sliding your taut, muscled frame into tartan flannel and barking absurd exclamations like ‘Giddyup’ and ‘Yee-haw’?
The term ‘lumberjack’ was dropped from the lexicon in the mid-1940s, when loggers began using machinery to clear forests. In other words, you weren’t tough enough to be called a lumberjack unless you could level a forest by hand. Just think about that for a second. Of course, plaid was the uniform for these badasses. And despite the introduction of logging machinery, plaid is still well earned today. Recently, a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of American jobs called logging the most dangerous, and the Wall Street journal called logging ‘pure danger.’
In Europe in the late ‘70s, plaid was a sign of propriety and wealth—two things that punk culture was less than fond of. In defiance, punks across the continent donned plaid and jabbed metal objects through extremely sensitive areas of their bodies. About a decade later, plaid again found its way into American culture with grunge. While not necessarily all that tough, grunge rockers certainly were angry, and their swearing, borderline homelessness, and unchecked use of hard drugs put a genuine scare into countless suburban housewives, who blamed the music when they discovered that their children were ‘on the pot.’
While not entirely limited to wearing plaid (we noticed that Luke was more fond of plaid than Bo was), the Duke boys knew to throw on a flannel when it mattered most, like right before a high-speed backwoods car chase that would inevitably end with an airborne muscle car and the destruction of government property. Interestingly, while most of America thought The Dukes of Hazzard was a comedy, it in fact was later revealed to be a documentary film set in the mountains of North Georgia. Looking back, it’s obvious—that kind of unbridled badassery could only be achieved by fearless American heroes and a precise combination of country music, V8 muscle, and plaid.