This paper is concerned with a fundamental assumption in the theory of plasticity: the direction of plastic strain increments is independent of the loading (stress) increment direction. This assumption, also known as plastic flow rule postulate, works quite well for metal-like materials. However, geomaterials such as sand present deformational mechanisms that are distinctive from those of metals when they are loaded. As such, we hereby examine the validity of this postulate for granular media accounting for their discrete nature. This is accomplished by analysing the mechanical behaviour of a cubic assembly of polydispersed spherical articles using a particle flow code. An extension to Gudehus' response envelope to three-dimensional conditions is used to study the incremental character and influence of loading direction on the behaviour of these materials. It is found that plastic flow in granular media is governed by both current state variables and incremental loading direction and magnitude, especially under non-axisymmetric stress conditions. The flow rule postulate of plasticity remains valid only in axisymmetric and biaxial conditions. We also verified that the plastic response might be significantly influenced by the stress path (or history) taken prior to loading. These findings raise the question of whether or not classic elastoplastic models based on the above postulate will have serious shortcomings, especially in true-triaxial conditions. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.