"The Scottish tartan is not as old as you think"

Scottish tartan is the epitome of Scotland – and yet the tartan as we know it, with all the clan and other variations, is a "relatively" recent phenomenon.

The Scottish tartan familiar to us today was made popular by the great Scottish romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott when King George IV visited Scotland in 1822 – the first British monarch to do so since Charles II left in a hurry in the mid 17th century.

George IV's visit was a staged event. He wore a Scottish kilt in a specially created tartan – and, just like today when a celebrity does anything different fashionwise, suddenly everything Scottish, and in particular Scottish tartan, became what today we would call "in".

From that point on it became trendy to have a tartan, and it is really only since this time that the clan tartans we see in the many books of Scottish tartans now available on the market were developed.

A tartan is not like a coat of arms, which – despite the roaring trade online and offline in "family coats of arms" – can only be used by a single person at any given time, as opposed to any member of that family.

Anyone can use any Scottish tartan if they choose, although obviously most people will seek to find the tartan associated with clans or families to which they have an affinity or an affiliation. There could actually be quite a number of these, depending on the names in your Scottish family tree.

New tartans are in fact being created all the time, for all sorts of purposes. Even a Scottish mineral water was recently given its own tartan!

A notable example, which I came across locally at the Loch Carron Woollen Mills shop in Minnigaff, Newton Stewart (Dumfries and Galloway in Southwest Scotland), is the Princess Diana tartan. The profits from sales of items made in this tartan go towards causes dear to the heart of the late Princess of Wales (or Duchess of Rothesay, as she was known in Scotland).

When you are in Scotland there are a number of interesting places to visit with regard to buying articles of clothing with a Scottish tartan, such as scarves, skirts, travel rugs or blankets, handkerchiefs etc.

These include

  • Loch Carron, in Minnigaff, Newton Stewart, and in the Borders region

  • Edinburgh Woollen Mills in Moffat, also with outlets e.g. in Dumfries

  • Oban

    You'll also find it worthwhile visiting some of the factory outlet "parks", such as

  • Gretna Gateway on the border to England (just off the M74 motorway north of Carlisle)

    And of course the big department stores and shopping centres (malls) in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

    You'll find more information when you click on the links on this page, but if you have any special questions – or if you have an insider secret of your own you'd like to share – just use the contact form to let us know what you know or would like to know about a particular source or a particular Scottish tartan.

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