How to Recreate Grade School Cafeteria Favorites for Your Adult Palate
Today's lesson: how to make cafeteria food that actually tastes good. Back-to-school season can trigger a flood of nostalgia, but a fair share of bad memories too. For instance, unless you exclusively ate packed lunches in elementary school (or were educated in another country, perhaps), you probably recall some truly awful cafeteria food. Some of it still appeals—tater tots are never not delicious, and a good old PB&J sandwich always hits the spot. But a lot of other school lunch staples were highly suspect. And yet, looking back at them is a funny thing.
Catholic school. Clueless. Scottish Independence. If there's one thing that unites these three very different areas of history, its plaid. The perpendicularly striped pattern has become a distinguishing visual that identifies an individual's belonging to a specific group. Throughout time, plaid has been used by varied and disparate social circles, presenting a sense of duality to the print. The road from plaid’s inception to it becoming the hallmark of private school fashion shows how its cultural symbolism has evolved over time, bringing about new meaning with each generation. A history of the pattern breaks down how certain groups have utilized it over the course of three centuries as a cultural emblem.
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In the 18th century, tartan kilts were a major part of Scottish culture. Tartan (what Americans today would refer to as plaid) is actually the pattern; large pieces of fabric with the tartan pattern were called plaids. These plaids were used as cloaks for traveling during the winter months because they were thick and could keep in body heat. Much of the travel for Scottish men during the mid-1700s was in coordination with the Jacobite army, a group of men with anti-British sentiments. Considered a symbol of the Jacobites and Scottish culture in general, plaids and tartan textiles were banned in England in the Dress Act of 1746 except for uses by the British military.
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Over a century later a specific group of Scottish people emigrated from their homeland to the United States, heading west to the prairie lands. These pockets of settled Scots would begin working in the forests as lumberjacks, bearing the tartan pattern. American folklore would come to memorialize the print with the legend of Paul Bunyan, a giant lumberjack who is often depicted wearing a red and black plaid shirt. The print's association with the outdoors was furthered with the establishment of clothing lines like Woolrich John & Brothers and Pendleton, solidifying the popularity of tartan as a uniform for working men.
Back in Europe, the Burberry plaid rose to fame in the UK around the late 1920s as the pattern lining everyone's favorite trench coats. The British brand soon found its way overseas, appealing to rich American socialites who clung to the latest European fashion trends. At this time, plaids utilized muted tones, but by the 1940s, Pendleton had created a version of plaid in brighter colors, with red being the most popular. Textile manufacturers also found more inexpensive fabrics for making clothes, as well as ways of making plaid patterns with thinner, less expensive materials than the traditional wool, making plaid more readily accessible in fashion.
Mulled Wine Is the Drink of the Fall—Here’s How to Make It
Next time you cozy up beneath a plaid blanket and want to reach for a hot toddy, consider making mulled wine instead. Here, our step-by-step guide for how to make mulled wine.Sweater weather, PSLs, and bonfires are all a sign that fall is here. Next time you cozy up beneath a plaid blanket and want to reach for a hot toddy, consider making mulled wine instead. This warm, spicy, boozy beverage is super simple to make and perfect for a crowd. Make a big batch, leave it on the stove (or in a crock pot!) to stay warm, and let friends fill their glasses with a ladle or two full of mulled wine.
Plaid soon became a popular choice for Catholic schools looking to implement uniforms, and would also become adopted by secular private preparatory schools. By the end of the 1960s, plaid skirts were a visible indicator of young women attending private prep schools. Plaid's association with these uniforms aligned the pattern with privilege and piety as students of these prep schools embodied a cultivated image of the “proper young woman”—whether or not that was the truth.
This came to a halt when plaid was reclaimed by American teens. Movies like Heathers and Clueless were instrumental in memorializing plaid as a part of prep culture in the early '90s, and reiterating a youthful version of bourgeois style. Capitalizing off of this, designers like Lanvin and Oscar de la Renta sent looks down the runway that spoke to pop culture's revived interest in plaid. Lanvin’s Fall/Winter 1989 collection showed a matching purple plaid coat and bucket hat. De la Renta’s Fall/Winter 1991 collection featured his muse Linda Evangelista in a vibrant red plaid look.
While fashion embraced the '90s-inspired plaid trend in recent years, the pattern is currently making a preppy comeback. Brands such as Chanel, Chloé, and Celine worked plaid into their Fall/Winter 2019 collections in bourgeois styles, while Christian Dior saw a take on the trend inspired by the precursor to punk. The designs are congruent with the taste of the high-brow women who first appropriated the trend as a mark of privilege.
Different generations have shown the versatility of plaid through its appropriation by various social groups. Subcultures and mainstream society alike have found ways to incorporate plaid into their preferred fashion. Thus, the same print that was once the calling card of a rogue group seeking independence from the British Empire is now the pattern adorning elite and educated women. From prep to punk to bourgeois to grunge, everyone has had their way with plaid.
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