Designers who look to what's being worn on European streets for inspiration can't help but notice the penchant for plaid this fall. In the small district of stylish shops in Milan, the ladies were decked out in plaid kilts and pants in nontraditional color combinations. Paris, too, has gone quite plaid-mad, brightened with plaid pantyhose, shawls and mufflers, shirts, as well as the expected designer plaid suits and coats.

But only in London were there plaid hot-water-bottle covers and boots and neon tartans. Within five minutes on a street corner near Kings Road one could watch a parade of big plaid shirts, plaid dresses, plaid socks, plaid headwraps, ties and shawls.

Some plaids have returned as part of the thrift shop revival, kids dressing as their dads did in 1950s plaid pants -- but this year pairing them with other, different plaids. Other plaids are preppy hangovers, worn in antipreppy ways -- as in a tartan shirt cut with huge lapels or a plaid shirtdress caught at the hip with a reptile print belt.

Paris designer Jean-Paul Gaultier takes established classics and "knocks them apart" to get a fresh look -- his followers wear mismatched plaids and mixed-up tartans in scrunched-up jackets and baggy pants. Other designers, such as Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent, have taken a far more classic view of plaids.

What happens on the streets of Europe is often a preview of what will happen later in Washington -- plaids will surely abound here by next fall.