Tartan is one of Scotland’s most famous cultural exports, but there is more to tartan than its Scottish symbolism.
Patterns of interlocking stripes on clothing are known by many as “plaid” but this is in fact tartan. The word ‘plaid’ actually originates from the Scottish Gaelic ‘plaide’ which means ‘blanket’, and it refers to Highland dress where such material was used to form a ‘kilt’ - a word connected to the Scots language.
Tartan has been dated back to 3000BC in some parts of the world while the earliest known tartans in Scotland came in around the 3rd or 4th century, so why is it such a powerful Scottish symbol? It comes down to Scottish Highland culture and how after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 the British Government passed the Act of Proscription which forbade the use of tartan to suppress Scottish culture. This makes its prominence in Scotland today symbolically powerful when we reflect on its history.
Here are seventeen facts about tartan you (probably) never knew about the Scottish garb.
1. Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband) designed his own tartan
One of the most exclusive tartans ever made is the Balmoral, which dates from 1853. Designed by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. Featuring grey with red and black, the twisted black and white yarns are said to be reminiscent of the granite seen in Aberdeenshire’s Royal Deeside, where Balmoral is located. This tartan is one of few which can only be worn by members of the Royal family and the Queen’s personal piper with permission from the monarch. Photo: Submitted
2. The Royal Stewart Tartan was Queen Elizabeth II's personal one
Royal Stewart Tartan has long been known as the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II and the royal House of Stewart. However, during the 1970s the colours gained a significant alternative meaning as the preferred colours of the UK punk scene, who were keen to diminish the image of Victorian state power it presented by tearing it up and wearing it in unconventional ways. Photo: Fiona Hanson
3. A 'tribute tartan' exists for Princess Diana
Diana Princess of Wales has her own Memorial Tartan, which is a pale blue and white design mated to heavily pronounced black and red grids. The “Princess Plaid” features the colours of the Union Jack and was created as a sympathetic tribute and variation of the Royal Stewart colours. Photo: Submitted
4. Tartan Day falls on April 6
April 6 is not just famous for being the date of Scotland’s independence via the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 - it has also gained notoriety as Tartan Day throughout the northern hemisphere in particular. In the US in 2008, an annual April 6 Tartan Day was proclaimed by President George W Bush, in the photograph above you can see the late Sean Connery in attendance back in 2002. Photo: via WikiCommons