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How to Choose a Tartan

When picking the Tartan for your Scottish Highland Kilt Outfit it can be quite a daunting task as there are over 14,000 Tartans to choose from. In this guide we make it easy for you to find the perfect Tartan for your Kilt – don’t worry if your family name doesn’t have a linking pattern, there is a Tartan for Everyone!

Tartans for Scottish Kilts

Where to start!

Choosing a Scottish Tartan For Your Kilt
How to Choose a Tartan for your Kilt - There is a Tartan for Everyone!

1. The first place to start when looking for a Tartan is with your family name. Simply type your name into our Tartan Finder and see all your matching tartans! Often you will find that your own name is not part of a clan which has a Tartan, if this is the case don’t worry! There are still many routes to go down to find your perfect Tartan!

2. You can search for Tartans relating to other family names (Mothers Maiden name, Grand Parents names, Uncles and Aunties names etc.) to give you a choice of tartans. Just type the name into our Tartan Finder!

3. Sometimes it is the case that you will find that your surname will not have a Clan Tartan of its own, but will be linked to a ‘Sept’. Sept’s are surnames that, while not having their own clan, are associated with another clan. For example, instances of the name Reid can be associated with clan Robertson. Members of the Reid family should therefore wear Robertson tartan. When you use our tartan finder it will bring up any relevant Sept matches and link to the tartans.

4. If you tartan search has no clan tartan or Sept matches, don’t worry! There are many regional, national and County tartans that you could find a link with! For Irish names there are tartans for each Irish County, as well as an Irish National Tartan that can be worn by anyone with a link to Ireland. Tartans such as the American National Tartan and German National Tartan are other examples of national tartans with connections to those countries. There is a range of ‘Tartans for Everyone‘, generic designs in a variety of colours that are free to wear. You can also design your own tartan, or have it designed by Houston’s Owner, Ken MacDonald!

Popular Trends and Styles

As with any item of clothing, fashions change over time and different style come into vogue. In recent times there has been a surge in the demand for Grey and Purple Tartans. (You can see a range of Purple Tartans here, and Grey Tartans here) Houston’s owner Ken MacDonald has designed a range of tartans incorporating a colour palette that matches today’s trends. The Bute Heather Tartan range offers a wide variety of grey and purple tartans, each with a flash of colour running through the design.

Autumn Bute, Ancient Bute and Grey Bute Kilts
Grey Bute, Ancient Bute and Autumn Bute Heater Kilts, Tartan Designed by Ken MacDonald

Grey tartans are known for their ability to match with any style or colour of jacket, making them ideal for both formal and casual wear. With a subtle flash of colour through a grey tartan it can create a sophisticated look to your Highland Outfit.

Royal Links

Royal Balmoral Tartan
Royal Balmoral Tartan, Designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria

Grey Tartans have Royal links going back to the reign of Queen Victoria, when her husband Prince Albert turned his hand to Tartan Design. Queen Victoria loved Scotland, regularly visiting her stately home at Balmoral.

The Royal Balmoral Tartan was designed by Prince Albert in 1853, to be worn by the Queen and members of the Royal Family, with permission from the Queen. This Royal Tartans only other approved wearer was the Queen’s personal Piper.

Grey Tartans have often been linked with Royalty for this reason.

We hope this guide helps you to find a Tartan that you love. Remember, there are no Tartan Police, and anyone has the right to wear any Tartan!

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Highlandwear Kilt Kilts Scotland Scottish Clans Scottish History tartan traditions

History of the Kilt – Part 4 – Resurgence in Popularity of Tartan and the Kilt

After the dark times of the 1746 Dress Act which saw the wearing of Tartan, Kilts and Highland wear outlawed in Scotland, the 1800’s and beyond saw a reversal of fortunes for the Kilt.

The 1746 Dress Act was repealed in 1782, with a representative of Parliament proclaiming:

King George IV in a Kilt

“Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies.”

After the restrictions on Highland wear were removed, Highland Societies were setup with the aim of promoting the wearing of the Kilt once again.

A great boost was given to the image of the Kilt and tartan by the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822, where he arrived kitted out in a full Highland Outfit (See pictures).

Not only was George’s trip to Scotland the first time a reigning monarch had visited Scotland since 1650, but the tartan pageantry surrounding the visit meant that the popularity of the Kilt and it’s association with Scotland were raised to a new level. It was exactly the shot in the arm that Kilts and Tartan needed to get them back to being part of Scotland’s national identity.

King George VI was advised by Sir Walter Scott to purchase a Highland outfit for his visit. He duly obliged and purchased an outfit from George Hunter & Co., outfitters of Tokenhouse Yard, London and Princes Street, Edinburgh, for £1,354 18s (a sum equivalent to £110,000 today). His Kilt outfit was crafted with a red Royal Tartan, which is similar to what we call the ‘Royal Stewart Tartan’ today.

King George IV in Full Highland Dress of his visit to Scotland
King George IV in Full Highland Dress of his visit to Scotland

While some looked on the visit in a bad light, the overall reaction was positive. Kilts were once again an iconic symbol of Scotland and linked once again to the Scottish Identity.

The popularity of tartan with Royalty continued during the 19th century with the reign of

(Royal) Balmoral Tartan, designed by Prince Albert

Queen Victoria. Victoria often dressed her children in Kilts and in 1853 her husband, Prince Albert, designed the (Royal) Balmoral Tartan. This tartan was worn by the Queen and other members of the Royal family with her permission. The only other person allowed to wear this tartan is the Queen’s personal Piper.

The grey of the Royal Tartan Balmoral have recently came back into fashion. The historical ties of grey tartans to the royal family and modern fashions make these tartans popular choices. Houston Kiltmakers exclusive Bute Heather Tartan range, designed by owner Ken MacDonald, uses a base of grey with a dash of different colours to create contemporary tartan designs which is are easy to blend with todays wedding colours schemes .

Kilts popularity has increased since the reign of Victoria, in the next part we will look at Kilts through the 20th century, wearers during the two World Wars and on to the present day.