Whenever I used to hear the word “tartan”, an image of a beautiful piece of plaid clothing would appear in my head, but then I would get a bit confused. Does tartan mean plaid? Is tartan a type of plaid? Is plaid a type of tartan? Today I want to shed a little bit of light on tartan, in case any of you happen to be in the same boat. As with any historical subject, there may be some discrepancies – please let us know if you have any tartan facts to share! :)
The terms “tartan” and “plaid” seem to be interchangeable in the modern day — but they have not always been one and the same. While plaid is often used to describe checked patterns of all kinds, tartan tends to be a bit more specific.
There is estimated to be up to 7,000 different tartans in existence, with about 150 new designs created annually! Originally, tartans were constructed using woven wool, although now they are made with a variety of materials. Alternating bands of colored threads criss-cross perpendicularly to one another, and are woven in such a way that causes diagonal lines to form where different colors cross. This gives an illusion of new colors, although they are actually just a result of the crossing of the threads.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer as to where tartan originated – some say western Asia, central Europe, and more — but much of its historical significance lies within Scotland, where tartan was worn as early as in the 17th century. Most Scottish clans actually have multiple tartans attributed to their name, and many even have “official” tartans.
We are certainly loving tartan-inspired patterns this fall, whether it’s slipping into a delicate tartan dress, or finishing a casual look with a flannel tried around our waist.
Follow FP Brigette on Twitter.