Glen plaid is a euphemism for a Glen Urquhart plaid or Glenurquhart check, which is a woolen fabric with a woven twill design of small and large checks. Glen plaid colors are usually comprised of black on white, gray on white and/or muted colors. The signature pattern has two dark stripes over two light stripes alternating with four dark stripes over four light stripes, forming a crossing pattern of irregular checks. It doesn’t sound like too much does it? My, but oh, it looks “smart”.
The name is taken from the valley of Glenurquhart in Inverness-shire, Scotland, where the checked wool was first used in the 20th century by the New Zealand-born Countess of Seafield, aka Nina Caroline Ogilvie-Grant to outfit her gamekeepers. Tally-ho! Release the hounds! Thus, Glen Plaid has an association with gentrified sportswear. The name Glen plaid does not commonly appear before 1926, and becomes popularized somewhere in the mid 1930’s, but examples of Glen plaid are found as early as 1908.
Glen plaid is sometimes nicknamed the Prince of Wales check, as it was popularized by the Duke of Windsor when he was the Prince of Wales. Style icon Cary Grant favored Glen plaid suits, as did his predecessor Humphrey Bogart. Ever the Scottish iconoclast, James Bonds’, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig are seen in their films donning Glen plaids. Pee-wee Herman is famous for his light grey Glen plaid suit, and US President Ronald Reagan was considered "un-Presidential" in a gray-and-blue Glen plaid suit when on a European trip in 1982.
A man in a Glen plaid suit will always stand out in a crowd of grey, navy and black suits. Glen plaid seldom disappears from popularity. It’s a perennial staple of the well dressed man's wardrobe. Glen plaid seems not to be subjected to fads or trends. Granted, in the 1970’s there were some loud, if not aggressive Glen plaids that dated very quickly, but over all, a restrained Glen plaid is a classic, otherwise would our Tom Ford ever fail us?
A Glen Plaid Memory
In 1981, or so, they were re-casting Michael Weller’s wonderful play, Loose Ends. It was for a national tour. I was asked to read. I had studied the part of the lead, Paul Baumer in my classes at HB Studio with William Hickey and not to miss a trick, with Stella Adler. I was the right age, about twenty-four. I knew the scene backwards and forwards, and I knew the text like the back of my hand. Regardless, I was well aware that nothing is for certain in the unpredictable world of the theatre.
The audition was scheduled at the Nola in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel. The Ansonia Hotel, once he most desirable addresses in all of New York, where Ziegfeld had a penthouse was at that time a rundown transient hotel, where psychic, Alice Woodbury now held court. For five dollars Ms. Woodbury told me to buy freesia, and that good things were coming my way, but not until after the next phase of the moon. Huh? What?
The Nola was always a madhouse with multiple castings going on at the same time. I found the Proctor, an officious theatre queen, who gave me my sides, and warned me not to stray too far because he was only going to call my name once, just once (repeating for emphasis), when I was up. Obediently, I complied and sat quietly, preparing emotionally to be told that my wife, Susan does not want children, and in fact, wants to abort our baby. I had all my actions plotted, motivations secure, knew what my needs were, and already devised a little sense memory to force up some tears. Stanislavsky would be impressed.
The Proctor called “You, you with all the credits, you’re up!” and pointed in the direction of several concurrent auditions in the main rehearsal hall. Clearly lost, and sensing my confusion, he interjected before I could even inquire, “The guy in the checkered suit, now go!” There was no guy in a checkered suit, let alone a blazer, there was a guy in a Tattersall, a guy in a pin stripe, there was even a guy in a herringbone, but there was no checkered suit. I surveyed the scene, and spotting what I thought might be the Casting Director inquired, “Do you mean the guy in the Glen plaid suit?” “Yeah that’s what I said…checkered, checkered means plaid!” was his retort. Note to self: never debate with a Proctor.
Playing the part of a court jester, seated behind two card tables was a schlubby assistant in an “Engelbert Humperdinck on Broadway” tee shirt, eating a ham sandwich. Seated next to him was m’ lord, the Casting Director. Atractive men are like Kryptonite to me. Yes, indeed, indeedee do! Dressed in a perfectly impeccably tailored Glen plaid suit, probably fitted by Carlo at Brooks Brothers. The shoulder were peaked, and the jacket had side vents that revealed a navy acetate lining. The pants were cuffed, and the creases pressed so tightly that his pleats weren’t wrinkled from hours of sitting. The lapels were notched, and the cuff buttons were kissing. The breast pocket was stuffed with a colorful scarf, a signifier reporting, yes, I am gay in case it wasn’t obvious. It was text book style and I’d easily give him a B+. Too attractive for words, I was left to wonder, why is this gentleman not on the stage. He gives me the once over and his eyes scan me like a bar code reader.
CASTING DIRECTOR: (reviews resumes) You have great credits, but this time we’re really looking for a blonde (Kevin Klein, a brunette, was cast originally)
ME: I could act like a blonde
CASTING DIRECTOR: Cute.
ME: No really, I could be a blonde in as early as thirty minutes, ash, champagne or strawberry. They sell Clairol at Walgreen’s.
CASTING DIRECTOR: We’re looking for a natural blonde.
ME: In New York City? The last time a natural blonde was on stage Mary Martin was hooked up to wires.
CASTING DIRECTOR: I just don’t see it.
ME: I should have known.
CASTING DIRECTOR: Pardon.
ME: Well, at first glance I thought to myself, now there’s a man with taste, style, someone who can discern whats what; you know discriminating, but...
CASTING DIRECTOR: But…but…but…
ME: It’s not you…It’s the Glen plaid.
CASTING DIRECTOR: My suit?
ME: The suit, oh don’t get me wrong, It’s very nice…but…
CASTING DIRECTOR: But what?
ME: Now that we’re up close, I see the problem.
CASTING DIRECTOR: With the way I’m dressed?
ME: The shirt and tie are all wrong. You might have a keen eye and ear for casting, but…
CASTING DIRECTOR: What’s wrong with my…
ME: First, If you don’t mind me saying so, the striped shirt is too pronounced, the width of the stripes is disproportionate to the size of the plaid, and that tie, it’s….its distracting
CASTING DIRECTOR: I paid 45.00 for this tie. It’s a Countess Mara.
ME: Shame on her! She shouldn’t have sold it to you, diagonal stripes on a striped shirt, underneath a plaid? What was she thinking? Maybe Jeff Acquilon could pull it off on the cover of GQ, however…
CASTING DIRECTOR: Do you do costumes or something?
ME: What you need is a pale blue pique shirt with a spread collar and a solid tie in aqua marine or better yet...Safire.
CASTING DIRECTOR: I do?
ME: Yes, you definitely do, it says I have confidence, I don’t need to try so hard, so don’t mess with me. Now here’s what you need to do, after the call today get yourself to Saks and ask for Martin on four, tell him that you know Leeander, and you need him to pick out something along the lines of a Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Omar Shariff kind of thing.
CASTING DIRECTOR: Okay! Okay already, I’ll let you read.
ME: No, the romance is over. It will never do. You’ll never see me as Paul.
CASTING DIRECTOR: Can you sing and dance?
ME: I can, but Loose Ends is a drama, it doesn’t call for singing or dancing.
CASTING DIRECTOR: No, but I’m casting a road company of Pippin next week.
ME: It just isn’t my day! No, it will never do I know Bob (Fosse) and he’ll never permit it.
CASTING DIRECTOR: You know Fosse?
ME: Not well, but we had a terrible row over Gwen (Verdon) and he…swore to…
CASTING DIRECTOR: You may not be a Paul or a Pippin, but I think I just found my new best friend.
ME: You get that Glen Plaid thing corrected first, and I tell you what, don’t call me, I’ll call you.
Into and out of my life that day went a man in a Glen plaid suit. Whatever did become of him? He went to Hollywood.