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Tartan: The undying symbol of Scotland

Tartan has undeniably become a symbol of Scotland and its proud people. If you were to walk into any Scottish souvenir shop, most of the items being sold there would carry a tartan pattern. But why has tartan become synonymous with all things Scottish? That is what this blog will explore a bit further. 


Tartan can be described as being “A colourful woven wool cloth which consists of bold colours and criss-crossing horizontal and vertical stripes.” Tartan is often seen at special occasions such as weddings, and is typically seen in clothing items such as kilts, ties or bags. Oftentimes, certain patterns and colours are linked to which clan the wearer comes from. Clans are families sharing a common ancestor and oftentimes, different clans would wear their clan colours. Today, tartan is widely recognised across the world as a Scottish emblem. 


The history of tartan reaches back to as early as the third or fourth century AD in Scotland. It was famously worn in the Highlands of Scotland on a simple, large piece of wool cloth which was tied around the wearer and held in place with a belt: a kilt. The wide use of tartan on kilts may have contributed to the confusion between the terms tartan and plaid. Although the Gaelic word for a large length of material, such as a blanket, is “Plaid”, it is not synonymous with the pattern. Still, kilts were known as a “belted plaid”, so the confusion is somewhat understandable. Of course, tartan is not only seen on kilts but on many different types of clothes or accessories as well, although the kilt is perhaps the most famous Scottish item of clothing which bears tartan.  


In 1746, the British government thought tartan to be such a strong symbol of Scottish culture that it outlawed tartan along with the gaelic language and bagpipes in an effort to stop Scottish culture from flourishing and leading to rebellion against the crown once more. Wearing tartan became forbidden under the Act of Proscription following the battle of Culloden in which the Jacobite army tried to fight to reinstate a Scottish king on the British throne. The Jacobite army wore tartan kilts as part of their uniforms, further establishing tartan as a symbol of the rebellion and of Scotland. Wearing tartan remained illegal for 35 years following the Act of Proscription.  


Tartan is still seen as a symbol of Scottish culture today. It is mainly worn at special occasions such as weddings, at ceilidhs or at Highland games. Although it is more a fashion statement than a political statement today, tartan lives on as an emblem of the Scottish people and its strong culture. 

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