What Is Tartan?

February 24, 2021

What Is Tartan?

When you think of Scotland what comes to mind? One of the first things, after the Loch Ness Monster, is likely kilts and tartan. How did tartan become such an indelible part of Scottish culture and modern knitwear?

What Is Tartan?

Tartan is a patterned cloth that consists of colored horizontal, vertical and criss-crossed bands. Originally the pattern was seen in wool but is now made in a variety of fabrics as well as other materials like paper and plastic. It is most often, and most notably, seen in Scottish kilts. Tartan is often mistakenly called “plaid” in North America, but they areessentially the same thing. The pattern has taken off in modern times and has made its way into just about everyone’s wardrobe in one way or another!


The Different Styles

Different patterns and color designs are registered in Scotland at the Scottish Register of Tartans. You can search through the registry and find tartans of every color combination imaginable - and even register one of your own!


There are thousands of kinds of tartan, the most popular being Royal Stewart Tartan, popular in punk fashion in the 70s, and Black Watch Tartan, a dark pattern seen in fashion around the world. Another well known example of tartan is the famous and instantly recognizable Burberry Check pattern. Tartans are often a staple in cold-weather fashion like scarves, shirts and sweaters.


As long as the print follows the traditional practice of warp and weft, tartans can be created in any color palette you can imagine.

Natural Dress Royal Stewart Tartan Scarf
A Royal Stewart scarf in a natural color palette. A classic Royal Stewart tartan mini ruana.

 

The Origins

The first known tartan is called the Falkirk tartan and dates back to the 3rd century AD, named after the Scottish location in which it was found. More modern tartans started appearing in Scotland after the 16th century with different patterns and colors representing inhabitants of different regions. Tartan became an important part of Scottish culture starting in the 17th century in the Highlands, even being worn by the military. In the 19th century tartan was made the national dress of the whole of Scotland, not just the Highlands. From there different patterns and colors were used to differentiate and celebrate different clans.


Tartan Day in North America

In North American tartan, as well as Scottish culture, is celebrated every year during Tartan Day on April 6. The celebration was created in the late 1980s in Canada to celebrate Scottish culture and the millions of their own citizens who claim Scottish ancestry. It was adopted in 1998 in America as an official holiday. Australia has its own Tartan Day Celebration every year on July 1. Celebrations often include a parade and encouraging people to wear their favorite tartan!

 

Shop our latest selection of Tartan scarves now!




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