Looking at the Autumn/Winter collections for the major fashion houses, Isabel Marant, Balenciaga, Etro, Chanel, even fashion’s current darling Vetements, in which tartan features heavily, it is clear that fashion has an on-going love affair with this pattern. This got me thinking:
What is tartan?
What is its story?
Do you have to have Scottish roots to wear it?
Are there universal tartans for everyone?
How can I wear tartan?
I think we all recognise tartan when we see it. A traditional woollen fabric woven in checkered or striped patterns. The resulting blocks of colour repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines (these are known as a sett).
The oldest piece of tartan dates to the 3rd century AD. Found near Falkirk in an earthenware pot, it was covering about 1900 silver Roman coins! It had a checked pattern of undyed wool which consisted of dark brown and light brownish green. The original tartans were all like this – simple checks of one or two colours, with the the dyes being sourced from nature – plants, roots, berries and trees that grew locally. Unsurprisingly, people who lived in the same area would wear the same tartan and in time it became associated with the so-called clans. These clans were tight-knit communities especially prevalent in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland under the control of a powerful chieftain. They presented a formidable opponent to the British Crown and in 1746 the UK government sent up thousands of troops to to disarm the Highlanders and quash their power. Part of their strategy involved the passing of the Dress Act of the same year which banned the wearing of tartan, a law which was vigorously enforced.
The Dress Law was eventually repealed later in that same century. There was then a renaissance in the wearing of tartan and it eventually became adopted as the national dress of Scotland. Different categories of tartan also began to emerge: there were the so-called dress tartans, hunting tartans, district tartans and even corporate tartans. The most exclusive tartan of all remains the personal and private tartan of her Majesty the Queen. This so-called Balmoral tartan is one that only she and members of her immediate family can wear and can be worn only with her permission. Interestingly, the only person outside the Royal Family who may wear this tartan is the Queen’s Piper. So, from humble roots, the evolution of tartan has continued and the number of tartans is increasing by approximately 100 every year. But there’s no need to be Scottish or have Scottish relatives to wear tartan. Custom advises that the individual should choose a pattern which is somehow associated to the person’s background, but if you don’t have one, you can still choose a universal tartan, such as Freedom, Highland Granite, Flower of Scotland and Heritage of Scotland amongst others. It is increasingly worn by women and men of all ages at weddings, formal dinners, parties and celebrations of all kinds such as the forthcoming highlights of the Scots’ calendar – Hogmanay and Burn’s Night!
Tartan has also migrated into the world of fashion and how! High-end and high street, tartan is a perennial favourite of the designers and, as mentioned in my introduction, it featured heavily in many of the catwalk shows for Autumn/Winter 2017. Think of the celebrities who have wowed in tartan – Emma Watson’s red carpet appearance in tartan and, my personal favourite SJP, (who played Carrie in Sex and the City) wearing her beautiful Highlander Fling dress.
Italian Tartan Blanket Scarf Pale Blue Brown & Cream
Of course, you don’t need to dress head-to-toe in tartan. Just a gentle reference can be all that may be needed. A simple accessory which references the trend is often enough. That is the beauty of a scarf – you can very easily tap into a fashion by accessorising with a simple and very versatile accessory but without committing to a whole new wardrobe and, let’s face it, who’s brave enough to go for tartan, however beautiful it is, from head to toe? What is needed, sometimes, is just a nod to a trend without going completely overboard. Take a look at Scarf Room‘s beautiful tartan scarf collection for inspiration. This blog showcases some of our favourites, taken outside this cold winter’s morning. This reminds me – another benefit of our tartan scarves is that in this snap of very cold weather you can be warm and glamorous at the same time!
Happy New Year! Ciao bellissime. A presto!