design & fashion

{history of tartan & plaid}

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{history of tartan & plaid}

Couldn’t very well return from a beautiful trip to Scotland without writing about tartan and plaid . . .

{history of tartan & plaid}

Tartan is associated the world over with the kilt, the national dress of Scotland, and the history of both goes hand in hand.

Tartan is a material that can be woven from many colours and was originally a sort of uniform for distinguishing the many clans in the Highlands and islands of Scotland and can be traced as far back as the middle of the 5th Century to Ireland, where the Scots originated.

The very first form of tartan is nothing like its modern day counterpart, being a type of shirt that ended just above the knee, known as léine in Irish Gaelic. It is generally accepted that it was made of linen, and although the earliest references to this garment describe it as light-coloured, it may have been of a darker yellow shade which led to the English describing it as a saffron shirt.

In later times, coloured stripes were incorporated into the léine to indicate the rank of the wearer–the first attempts at what is now known as tartan. For instance, a High King wore seven stripes, one of these being purple, the colour of royalty.

With the new abundance of a growing number of sheep herds in the land, the plaid grew from being little better than a rug to a long piece of material between 12 and 15 feet in length, which the Highlanders would pleat round their waists in folds and pull over their heads like a hood and use as a blanket at night.

By 1730 the patterns had evolved from simple stripes and patterns into what today would be called tartan, from the French word tartaine.

After the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, the English Army routed the Highlands, destroying the Highlanders’ way of life, banning clan tartans and destroying cloth-making equipment, including sett-sticks. Yet even at their lowest ebb, the Highlanders rebelled, wearing trousers of their tartan, subtly woven.

Football (soccer) teams, even countries have commissioned their own tartan, emphasising the importance and emotion that the people of Scotland attach to tartan and the sense of kinship that has been an integral part of Scottish culture.

{images: 1+2: Holt’s Women’s Fall 2007; rest: Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2008 RTW via Style.com; bottom, Burrberry; copy: special thanks to the BBC}
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