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When it comes to plate shopping, how formal you are will determine how much money you spend. We say this because plastic—yes, plastic—is in style again. You’ll hear it called melamine, and it’s made into plates with colorful, wonderful patterns designed to mix and match. However, if you’re the kind of person who wants everything to look perfectly uniform, or would feel seriously weird about serving filet mignon on plastic plates, then shell out for porcelain or earthenware (ceramic).

Look for sets that can be used with many different textiles or with pieces you already have (we don’t think everything has to match). It also doesn’t hurt to check with the manufacturer to see if it offers replacement pieces on discontinued patterns.

Welmade Fine Bone China

Unica Home, $85 for four pieces

Once only spotted at Grandma’s, china is now unfussy and dishwasher safe. Bone china is the most durable, with a creamy base color, but it’s made with a labor-intensive process (mixing bone ash with clay), so it’s pricier. The Welmade lace pattern crockery is bold, with the traditional lace-trim motif over the entire plate.

Classic Century Dinnerware

Crate and Barrel, $252.95 for a 20-piece set

Large housewares stores like Crate and Barrel carry neutral styles that make great foundation pieces. The sensuous earthenware Classic Century Dinnerware from the “mother of modern,” industrial designer Eva Zeisel, is one of our favorites. A CHOW staffer had it on her bridal registry.

Thomas Paul Gothic Dinner Plate Set

Velocity, $61.60 for eight plates

Designer Thomas Paul is credited with helping resurrect melamine dinnerware from the 1950s and ’60s. Cheaper and picnic friendly (but not microwave safe), the lines often only feature plates. So make sure your selections look good with monochromatic pieces you may already have: We paired Paul’s Gothic plates with a cheap mug and bowl from CHOW’s test kitchen.

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