Updated: Apr 7, 2021
I am currently living (quarantining) in Scotland and since I can’t hike the Highlands right now I have decided to explore the country's fashionable history. I did some research on three classic and famous prints that got their start right here in bonnie Scotland!
Enjoy this read and, as always, click the numbers in square brackets to check out all the references!
Obviously the first one we think of!
Tartan is an ancient print with the oldest known Scottish tartans dating back to the 3rd or 4th centuries A.D. [i] It is mainly associated with the Highland region of Scotland but has been worn traditionally in other parts of the country as well. Tartans were first made with only two or three colours, dyed using plants, berries, and other things found in the area. These tartans were worn by the local people and so became associated with them, later becoming their “clan tartans” [ii]. Over time tartans have become more complex with a wide range of colours to choose from.
Many owners of larger estates would have tartan weavers create custom patterns using colours commonly found on the estate. This fabric would then be used to make uniforms for their staff (how chic!).
Royals were known to use tartan as early as 1471 when King James III bought the cloth for himself and the queen [iii]. The Highlands region has been exporting the fabric since the 16th century but it had a dip in popularity by the end of the 1700s. Many people believed this was because the British parliament banned tartans from public but this is only partially true. "Highland Dress" (most famous piece would be the kilt!) was banned in the Dress Act of 1746 which meant people ended up wearing much less tartan even though the cloth itself was never banned [iv]. In 1822 there was a “great tartan revival” where the popularity of the print took off again and a registration process for tartans was created [v].
Many contemporary designers love tartan including Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, and maybe most famously, Burberry.
Chic and preppy, a sock and sweater staple
Here for the mismatched socks
The inspiration for argyle originally comes from Argyll, Scotland where the Campbell Clan had a family tartan with a similar square print [vi]. Scottish Highlanders also wore socks that had a similar diamond pattern which were often called “tartan hose” [vii].
In the 1920s luxury company Pringle of Scotland used the tartan and socks as the inspiration for the diamond motif we now know and love! It was initially worn by the Duke of Windsor and apparently all the stylish people of the day loved it. Since then it has been a popular staple around the world and designers like Molly Goddard, Victoria Beckham, and Chloé have used versions of it in many collections.
Also popular with dogs
Not just for your dad’s ties!
Your dad is pretty stylish though
This mesmerizing design is originally a Persian motif that can be traced back to the Sassanid Empire from 221 A.D. [viii] It was designed as a representation of the Cypress tree and signifies life and eternity in Zoroastrianism (one of the world's oldest religions) [ix]. The pattern spread all over Asia and South East Asia and could be seen everywhere from royal outfits to carvings on buildings.
Ornate ceiling of a mosque
In the 1600s paisley started to show up on shawls that the East India Company brought throughout Europe [x]. The price of these scarves was extremely high so in the early 1800s weavers began using the print to create more affordable accessories [xi]. The main producer of these shawls was a little city just outside Glasgow, Scotland called, you guessed it, Paisley! There is a Thread Mill Museum in Paisley that once made paisley cotton thread and was established in 1812, click here to get the details on visiting!
Paisley has endless design possibilities
The pattern continued to remain popular until it exploded in the 1960s, mainly because of The Beatles. The band rocked paisley (pun absolutely intended) constantly and John Lennon even painted his Rolls Royce with it [xii]! It has continued to be a symbol of Rock n’ Roll and bohemian vibes and has been used by most major fashion houses like Yves Saint Laurent, Etro, and Hermès.
Personally I love a good print and the fact that these classic and beautiful ones are all from my adoptive home just makes them that much better!
Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
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