More than a Cloth

Talking about Scotland, what is the first think comes up to people’s mind? I believe Scottish clothing. Indeed, the unique texture, the variety of Scottish Plaids, and not to mention Scottish kilts, all of them are having the meaning behind their outlook. When those Scottish clothing are being wearing, they begin to show people the culture, and the history of Scotland.


I was quite interested in their traditional wearing when I arrived in Edinburgh at first time. In London, the elders usually wear English style coat and hat especially in the day when is not too hot. And the youths in London nowadays prefer to wear jeans and jacket in their daily life just like what we wear in collage. However, when I was walking on the street of Edinburgh, despite that most people were in the daily cloths, I still noticed that few of men were in the skirt-like wearing. That is kilt.


First of all, for the men wearing, people would never call is skirt but kilt, even though they are basically same things, people still think it is not respectful if we call that men wearing “skirt”. In Scotland, people will call is Kilt, and the Kilt is kind of the symbol of Scottish culture. The name Kilt originated in the Scottish Gaelic language and was first populated in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century. The kilt is very long overall and the front one can be picked up on the shoulder. And the reason why the appearance of a skirt is mainly because it is comfortable to wear, and it is convenient to move. In the old days of the past, textile technology was limited, and the weather in the highlands was cold. People used unimpregnated fabrics that were soaked in oil to waterproof them and wrap them directly on the body, thus resisting the cold climate. At that time, people used belts to fasten the cloth around the waist and wear a robe that was worn on the body. When they were taken off, they were used as blankets and they were highly practical. Therefore, they were gradually popularized.

Moreover, the different plaids on different kilts have the function of communication. During the time in Edinburgh, we went to Kinloch Anderson, a Kilt Shop and Hire located in Leith, Scotland. In there, with the introduction of staffs, I learned more about the Plaid on those kilts, or that should be called: “Tartan”.

Before the lecture about Tartan, I used to think that these patterns are randomly matched. Indeed, as a foreign visitor, without understanding of the culture behind, the only difference I could tell was color. But after the introduction in Kinloch Anderson, I realized that the Scottish grid was not that simple. Each pattern has its own name, fixed pattern and color scheme. The most amazing thing is that they may belong to a tribe or a royal family, and there are interesting stories behind them. People in Scotland also have a department called “The Scottish Register of Tartans”, and all the new tartan design should be send to there to get registered.

Tartan actually contains the history of the independent struggle of the Scottish people! In 1746, the James D.C. issued the Dress Act, which banned Scottish warriors from wearing Tartan’s clothing and wanted to strengthen their control of Scotland. The garment law was abolished in 1782, after which Tartan became a symbol of Scotland. Moreover, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the war in Scotland was endless. Worriers usually Distinguish between enemy and themselves by looking the tartan on their kilt. Unlike the battlefields in other countries where people usually use flag as the symbol. Scottish solders use their own cloth as a tool of communicating each other.

Royal Stewart

Each tartan design has its own meaning and emblem. For example, people always could see this red and green tartan, which is called “Royal Stewart”, was actually the Queen Elizabeth special Plaid. It originated from the Stewart family of the Queen Mother of today. The Queen’s subordinates also wore this checkered fabric. Another example is this tartan called “Clan Stuart”. It originated in the 12th-13th century. The creator was formerly the Granite of the Scottish Highlands. It was originally called the Clan Tartan Check and was later referred to as the Tartan Check. Based on their meaning it is easy to figure out that a traditional Scottish clan usually had its own tartan style back in days. It was not just clothing style but was representation of certain clan and family.

Clan Stuart

As people change their taste for clothes, the textile owners of the nineteenth century sensitively discovered the value of Tartans, especially the need for family-specific tartans in the market. Together with members of different clans, they invented many new tartan designs. At this time, Tartan was losing the function of communication of specific family was becoming a carrier of Scottish culture to overseas. On the shirts that people could find in American markets, the flags of some Canadian Provinces, all have some symbolic tartan’s elements on them. And now there are increasing numbers of cloth designers would add Tartans elements into their design, and tartan is also not limited to Kilt but had been added on different wears. Like Scottish cashmere scarfs with different Tartan designs on them.

In human’s history, so many cultures had been abandoned no matter how people tried to save them. Like my previous paper about Welsh language, when it runs out of its energy without adding new elements, it will be vanished in history. On the other hand, the Scottish cloth style gives a great example about how to transform from traditional to popular fashion. It was these designers’ avant-garde moves that made the Scottish Tartan fashion and tradition, completely broke the previous pattern, made the Scottish Tartan popular, and spread from now on, achieving the current results. And Tartan itself was also transformed from a communication tool for different families to the carrier of Scottish culture.

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