The History of Tartan

Where does Tartan come from?

While tartan is a pattern often associated with Scottish culture, Tartan-like textures date back to the 7th century AD and were initially found in Central Europe, not the UK! But those ancient Celtic populations eventually brought them to Britain with the Falkirk Tartan being the first documented instance of this pattern in the 3rd century AD.

Tartan has had an illustrious history since then: featuring in the first permanent colour photograph, heading to the moon, and growing to include about 14,000 patterns. You’ll often see tartan used as part of a kilt, which is the traditional dress of Scotland, but it’s also now used on a variety of items such as scarves and ties.

So what’s the difference between Tartan and Plaid?

Well, they’re kind of the same thing. They’re both fabrics with a crisscross pattern of two or more colours, the only difference is that tartan is named, often to identify a certain community.

Initially, tartan patterns could be used to help identify people from different regions as local plants used to dye fabric determined the colours of the fabric. Later, clans began to adopt tartans so that you could identify members of a clan by the pattern they wore.

Plaid on the other hand doesn’t have associations with regions, clans, or any other history.

What are some of the most famous tartans?

In 1746, tartans and other aspects of Gaelic culture were banned for a while and the use of tartan reduced significantly. Though the ban was lifted in 1782, the tartan didn’t regain popularity until 1822 when King George visited Scotland and decided to wear a tartan kilt.

This renewed interest in tartan items, and soon the royal family began to design their own tartans. The Royal Stewart Tartan, created by Queen Elizabeth II in 1831 and the Balmoral Tartan, created by Prince Albert in 1853 are among the most popular patterns.

Even during the Dress Act, the military was allowed tartan allowing the Black Watch regiment to still wear theirs, making this another very well-known tartan pattern today.

Now, many US states have adopted official tartans and Canada has an official national tartan, so the favourite may vary depending where you are in the world.

But since the Scottish Register of Tartans began in 2009, so many more patterns have been added to the official list. There’s truly a tartan for every outfit and every occasion now.

Check out our 100% Wool Tartan Scarves to find one that works for you!


Want to know more about the history of tartan? Check out our infographic that lays it all out chronologically:

Infographic detailing the history of tartan in chronological order. Old man of Storr is in the background.

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