San Diego Scottish Highland Games

2024 Highland Games June 22-23

2024 Highland Games June 22-23

History of tartan/the kilt

The tartan or the kilt has come to signify a natural and unmistakable masculinity, with a long history of outside intervention and deliberate reinvention. The origin of this has the basic garb of the Highlander, Scotsmen and non-Scotsmen to embrace it as uniform, formal and semi-formal wear, and casual wear every day. The kilt’s ability to remain recognizable even as reacting to change in circumstances and consumer demands has been instrumental in the maintenance of its popularity across the successive generations and, increasingly, throughout the world.

The kilt was originated in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, known for the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders as the “little wrap” Feileadh beag that involved the “big wrap” feileadh mor, or belted plaid, the first identifiably “Scottish” costume that emerged in late sixteenth century.


Pre-medieval origins

Today tartan or kilt is mostly linked with Scotland: however, the earliest evidence of the tartan is found far afield from Britain. In the history, E.J.W.Barber described the Hallstatt culture of Central Europe, that is linked with ancient Celtic populations and flourished between  the 8th and 6th centuries BC, produced by tartan-like textiles. Some of them were discovered in 2004 near Salzburg Austria.

Early modern tartans

The tartans we know about are not thought to have existed in Scotland before 16th Century, by the end of 16th Century, that includes the several references to striped or checked plaids. At the end of 17th and18th centuries, any kind of uniformity in tartan is thought to have occurred.

The absence of early Clan Tartans

These are generally regarded that “Clan Tartans” date no earlier than the beginning of the 19th century and this is an example of invented tradition. Contemporary portraits show that although tartan is an early date, the pattern worn depended not only on the wearer’s clan but also on his or her present affiliation, place of origin or current residence, or personal taste.

Georgian royal patronage

With the royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, it increased the popularity of tartan. George IV was the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland in 171 years. The festivities surrounding the event were originated by Sir Walter Scott who founded the Celtic Society of Edinburgh in 1820.

Victorian royal patronage

Queen Victoria and her husband visit her uncle Prince Albert after twenty years, to make their first trip to Scottish Highlands. The Queen and Prince bought Balmoral Castle in 1848 and hired a local architect to remodel the estate in “Scots Baronial” style. Prince Albert personally took care of the interior design where he made good use of tartan.

Modern registration of clan tartans

The naming and registration of official clan tartans began on 8th April 1815, when the Highland Society of London (founded in 1778) resolved all the clan chiefs each “be respectful solicited to furnish the Society with as much of the Tartan of his Lordship’s Clan as will serve to Show the Pattern and to Authenticate the Same by Attaching Thereunto a Card bearing the Impression of his Lordship’s Arms.” Many of them were not sure about the tartan but they were keen to comply and to provide authentic signed and sealed samples.

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