One of the most enduring symbols of Scotland has to be its national cloth - tartan. |
The romantic figure of the Scottish Highlander, proudly wearing a kilt in his clan's own distinctive tartan colours, is known the world over.
|However, tartan is in fact a relatively modern development - original highland dress was not the kilt as we know it, and the kilt-clad highlander in his clan colours is essentially a Victorian myth!|
Originally Highland dress consisted of a large piece of cloth wrapped around the waist to form a "skirt" and then draped up and over the torso. It wasn't until the 18th century that the top part was discarded in favour of just the "skirt", which is what we now regard as the kilt.
|In addition, up until the 18th century the cloth that was used bore little resemblance to modern tartan - most Highlanders were poor and so would dress in plain brown cloth. Only wealthy Scots would be able to afford a patterned tartan cloth, and even then there was no association between a clan and its tartan.|
In addition, during the turbulent 17th and 18th centuries, the English government felt that the Highlanders posed a threat to the Union of the Crowns. As a result they led an extensive campaign to suppress Highlanders and their culture - which included the banning of the Highland national dress.
So how did a piece of clothing that wasn't a kilt, that was made of brown fabric and not tartan, and that was banned for so many years become such a popular symbol of Scotland?
The birth of tartan as we know it can, in fact, be traced to a specific event - King George IV's visit to Edinburgh in 1822. The visit was the first time a reigning monarch had visited Scotland in over 200 years and so there was a great deal of significance attached to the event.
The writer and poet Sir Walter Scott was put in charge of organising the King's visit, and as part of the occasion he decided to hold a "Highland Pageant". For this Scott arranged for the participants to be dressed in tartan kilts, each clan with a different pattern of tartan - and so the myth was born.
The King was so impressed with Edinburgh that he too decided to wear a kilt, and so tartan became instantly fashionable. English society went crazy for all things Scottish, and tartan was especially popular as a symbol of Scotland.
The popularity of Scotland, and of its national cloth, has endured - as is evident in the huge number of shops selling tartan this and tartan that! So no doubt if you are visiting Scotland as a tourist you will leave with your own little piece of cloth.
There are also plenty of places where you can buy your own kilt, and if you have a link to a clan you should be able to get one in your very own clan tartan.
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