Tartan is a symbol of Scottish identity. To some it may appear as a dysfunctional style, however every tartan is embedded with intentional arrays of colours and patterns. Every tartan has its own story and unique identity as do those who wear it. Here are some interesting facts you may not know about tartan!
1. Illegal Tartan
Following Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat at the Battle of Culloden and failure to restore the Stuart dynasty line to the throne, the British Government imposed the Act of Proscription in an attempt to assimilate the Scottish Highlands and ultimately end the Clan system. The Act banned all aspects of Scottish national identity, including playing bagpipes, speaking Gaelic and wearing tartan. However after nearly four decades of Scottish oppression, the Act was repealed in 1782, and from then onwards, tartan became the national dress. It was Sir Walter Scott who resurrected many aspects of Scottish identity. When he arranged the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822. This was of a great significance as no monarch had visited the country for nearly 200 years. But what was more striking was the fact that an English King was wearing tartan and pink stockings!
Due to the Act of Proscription, many men found themselves being at a huge risk especially in the eyes of the law. Imprisonment was always looming on the cards for the wearing of tartan but there was one thing the act did not forbid, there was no rule against showing tartan in art and due to this a large number of portraits of wealthy Scots dressed in tartan can be traced. Although subtle, this was an incredibly clever form of Scottish resistance to British rule and ultimately a key element in keeping the tradition alive.
3. A Tartan for the Occasion
In the beginning, the patterns embedded in the tartan were linked to geographical areas rather than the clans themselves. This was due to the fact that the tartans were coloured with vegetable dyes and other natural substances. It was not until the years following the Jacobite rebellion that the distinctive patterns became associated with certain clans. Today tartan still remains an important feature of a Scottish clan and each comes in a set of distinct styles. Dress tartan is worn for formal occasions or dancing and are generally more vibrant, whilst hunting tartan is usually a mixture of greens and browns and ancient tartan is soft and light in tone and often comes from natural dyes.
4. Fit for a King and Queen and Prince
Nowadays you can walk into many specialist tartan stores and choose whatever tartan you wish to wear, however for the British Monarchy it’s a little bit different. The Monarchy wear the Balmoral tartan. This was designed for Queen Victoria by her husband Prince Albert. Queen Elizabeth wears the Balmoral tartan, and can also grant permission for other members of the royal family to do so. If you want to try your hand at designing a whole new tartan, it needs to be approved by the Lord Lyon King of Arms and logged in the Scottish Register of Tartans. Recently, a purple tartan was created in tribute to the legendary singer Prince. It is no longer exclusively woven and can be used for all sorts of items, objects and clothing.
5. Getting dressed is never an easy task
Looking at a kilt you would think it’s a very easy item of clothing to put on, but at one time it was quite the opposite. Traditionally the kilt was made from a rectangular length of cloth about five feet across by 15 feet long. To make a plaid, the wearer would have to lie on the floor on top of the pleated material using a belt to gather it around his waist. The material below the waist would fall to his knees, still pleated, and the remainder would be brought over his left shoulder to be fixed with a brooch. Thankfully, modern kilts have the pleats sewn in and require far less hassle!
6. Worn by celebrities and featured in Vogue
For contemporary kilts, then be sure to visit 21st Century Kilts in Edinburgh Thistle Street. Featured in top fashion magazines like Vogue and worn by celebrities across the world, Howie Nicholsby’s creations are made on-site and are definitely worth all the fuss. If you want to have traditional kilt made-to-measure, Geoffrey Tailor on the Royal Mile is both expert and reliable. You can find ready-made kilts in many specialist stores. The Tartan Weaving Mill near Edinburgh Castle also has exhibitions where you can see demonstrations of weaving and buy from a huge range of tartans.
7. ‘Outlander’ even has a specially commissioned tartan
‘Outlander’ was originally a series of novels by author Diana Gabaldon combining fantasy and history. The novels follow a WWII nurse in 1945 who finds herself transported back to Scotland in 1743 during the rising of the Jacobites. Due to the popularity of the series, it was turned into a British-American television adaptation and has since then gained an even bigger following. So much so that it’s actually possible to purchase the Outlander tartan, from shawls to scarves to kilts, all in 100% wool.
8. Tartan Day
That’s right!, there’s an entire day devoted to tartan. Tartan day falls on the April 6th the date Scottish independence was secured with the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. However, it is mostly celebrated outside of Scotland by ex-pats or those of Scots descent in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Argentina. For example, since 1998 in New York it is not only a Tartan Day that is held but a Tartan Week. The New York Tartan Day Parade is usually held on the Saturday nearest Tartan Day. The 2018 20th Annual New York Tartan Day Parade will be held on April 7th. Throughout this entire week across these countries, there will be a great celebration of Scottish identity and culture.