Tartan: The Fabric of Fashion

As we look ahead to Tartan Day on April 6th and marvel at photographs from the V&A Museum’s tartan exhibition we ask ourselves, what is the timeless appeal of tartan?

Tartan is often seen as a uniform worn only by rugged, masculine Scotsman (Sam Heughan in Outlander is a favourite in the House of Cheviot office) but in recent years there’s been a huge rise in people from all walks of life and backgrounds embracing plaid, including Madonna. Who can forget the Queen of Pop performing in a statement kilt during her Reinvention Tour? Unlike so many fashion trends that never transition from catwalk to high street, tartan has managed to bridge the gap between high fashion and popular, affordable stores such as Next and John Lewis to name but a few.

Sam Heughan in Outlander. Image Credit: Scottish Daily Express

As expected in the fashion world, tartan is not normally chosen for its traditional connections but purely for its eye-catching appearance. From her early days in design Vivienne Westwood was a fan of plaid clothing and influential in shaping the fashion of the 1970s punk scene. She is thought to have sparked a trend within the fashion elite and influenced other designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Jimmy Choo and the late Alexander MacQueen.

As we all know, traditionally tartan is associated with Scotland and kilts. For many there are few sights to beat the Scottish national dress in all its glory. It is one of the of the most distinctive national costumes in the world and a great way of proudly proclaiming your heritage. Highland dress captures the pride and romance of Scotland’s history and should not be seen as fancy dress. If you want to enjoy the privilege of wearing the kilt (please don’t call it a skirt) do remember there are certain traditions and etiquette that should be followed (we’re not referring to what is or what isn’t worn under the kilt). That being said, there is room for creativity and individual style. For inspiration take a look at Howie Nicholsby of 21st Century Kilts who has spearheaded a revolution in modern kilt wearing. Kilts, whether traditional tartan, quirky denim or offbeat leather, are now seen as cool and fashionable. They are regularly seen on catwalks around the world as well as being worn by Hollywood’s biggest stars, most notably Vin Diesel.

With many grooms, both north and south of the border and overseas now opting for Highland dress instead of a suit, tartan is even addressing the imbalance of the wedding-day spotlight. Who’d have thought it would be the grooms receiving appreciative murmurs on the big day? It’s the tartan effect!

Leon wears our Clansman Argyle hose with his kilt.

At the recent Paris Fashion week designers went mad for plaid which means high street shops will once again be filled with affordable imitations while kilt wear is also on the rise, not just in Scotland but all over the world. We know this because we can’t knit our luxury kilt socks quick enough – they’re flying off the shelves and into the sock drawers of kilt enthusiasts (most impressively HRH King Charles).

Tartan, once dubbed the fabric of fashion, is certainly here to stay. Embrace it!

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