Outlander is back, so it seems only fitting to do a Scottish themed FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Nothing is more instantly associated with Scotland than a tartan kilt. There are a lot of myths surrounding the history of this national fashion, so lets set the fact straight.
In about the
8th Century BCE, the pre-Celtic Hallstatt culture of central Europe
created a simplistic check-patterned fabric. As the Celtic culture
developed, so did their tartans, and when they spread to Scotland, their
fabrics went with them. The earliest known tartan in Scotland was the
3rd century Falkirk Tartan, a simple gingham-like check pattern which is
still very common today, particularly in menswear. The pattern took
several more centuries to develop into what we now think of as tartan.
It wasn’t until the late 16th Century that the pattern became popular
Many people believe that this is when clan
tartans began. While this is incorrect, it is an understandable mistake.
Towns and villages would have a very limited number of fabric makers,
possibly just one, and these fabric makers would each create their own
distinct tartans. Since families tended to stay in the same area for
generation upon generation, they would wear the same few tartans. It was
more a matter of limited access to different tartans, instead of
“official” clan tartans. Additionally, tartans from the same region
tended to have the same color scheme, due to the natural dyes available
in those regions. Therefore, it was often possible to identify where a
person came from based on the colors of their tartan.
big turning point in the history of tartan was when Scotland and England
officially unified at the beginning of the 18th Century. There was some extremely bad blood between England and Scotland, to say the very least (which, evidenced by the recent
election, still remains to this day), but the tension was amplified by
the fact that Parliament had dethroned the Stuart House, and placed the
Hanover House as monarchs. The Jacobites, who supported the Stuarts,
rebelled repeatedly for decades in an attempt to restore the throne. The
Jacobites and their supporters proudly sported tartan. In an attempt to
squash their cause, the government instated the Dress Act of 1746,
which banned tartan completely, with the exception of the British
Highland Regiments’ uniforms. Eventually, for a variety of reasons, the
Jacobite Rebellions ended, and with the persuasion of the Highland
Society of London, the Dress Act was repealed in 1782.
big turning point for tartan was during the Romantic Era, beginning in
the 1820s. It was dubbed Romantic for a reason, as the poets, novelists,
and artists began romanticizing history. Sir Walter Scott wrote about
the Jacobites, and King George IV visited Scotland, then had his
portrait painted in full Highland Dress. Shortly before this time, in
1815, the Highland Society of London began to put together an official
registration of clan tartans- the start of official clan tartans. Tartan
officially became a craze when in 1848, Queen Victoria purchased
Balmoral Castle. Scottish fashion swept the nation, and the pattern
remains stylish to this day.
As for kilts, to put it very simply,
they began in the 16th Century as a large piece of fabric draped over
the shoulder. It was so long, that soon men began to wrap the long end
around their waist. This was known as a “belted plaid.” It was often in
tartan, but not always. Basically, the kilt was developed and perfected
from there. The pleats were added to make the garment more polished, and
less bulky. So sorry, Braveheart fans, but William Wallace never wore a kilt.
Want to learn more about the history of tartan and kilts? Check out these books:
Scottish National Dress and Tartan, by Stuart Reid
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Tartan, by Iain Zaczek
a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next
FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!
A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight-any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breath-taking.