Tartan and the Scotswoman

Carolynn & Helen in beautiful MacGregor of Cardney Tartan

Carolynn & Helen in beautiful MacGregor of Cardney Tartan

Submitted by Carolynn Black
Source: Scottish Tartans Society, Comrie, Perthshire, Scotland, 1976

Ladies today [Ed:1976] wear their own clan tartans or their husband’s clan tartans as sashes, stoles, dresses, skirts, coats and anything else that takes their fancy. The only limitations are what they can find ready-made, or new, or afford to have tailored. Very occasionally a MacGregor tartan jacket or shirt appears from Portugal or Hong Kong, but most of us have to use our imagination with the woolen material made in the Scotland Mills.

A good tartan garment is a real investment, as the price of wool and the skills that go with making the finished tartan material, go up year after year regardless of the official rate of inflation. A look back at old pictures shows very little tartan worn by women, if by tartan we mean a mainly colored checked cloth. The mass of bright blues, greens and reds were reserved for men, while women seem to have worn checked material with thin colored stripes on a white ground.

If you have visited the Tartan Museum in Comrie, you will have seen the magnificent arasaid they wore, a masterpiece of weaving, with every thread in place and colours lively and pleasing, despite the white background. White was never popular in folk costume – it was cheap and was equated with poverty or laziness or both! However, in the Highlands it was clearly a matter of choice – the men had to be impressive in their plaids, perhaps to impress their womenfolk as well as other men.

Blue and white striped material is also mentioned as worn by women. I have read that tied-and-dyed cloth was made in the Highlands in the old days but there seems to be no record of this practice. There was no real documentation of women’s wear. The women always managed to combine practicality with elegance and even mystery – when they wore plaids they could be as discreet and anonymous as a veiled Eastern Lady – hence the edict banning the wearing of plaids by women in Church (they could sleep right through the service and no one would know)! Otherwise, they seem to have suited themselves with good taste and so we can today.

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