Dressed to Kilt

Blog by Lindsay West | 26 Aug 2008

As local heroes go, there can be few candidates with a history as motley and contentious as good auld tartan. If it weren't such a terrible pun, we might say that it's past was checkered; but given that we're far above that sort of cheap gag, we'll just say that both in and outside of fashion, our traditional weave has been through the mill a good few times.

Banned in 1746 for all but the toffs and the army, then reinstated and cleaved by approximate notions of clan from 1815, the origins and significance of tartan are seemingly multiple, contested, and contradictory. And to add Skinny Jeans' noisy opinion to the national clamour, it seems to us that, ideologically and stylistically speaking, tartan runs via two paradoxical threads, still knotted to the 1746

The first, the warp, is the rebel yell – the spirit of the highland army and those defying the Dress Act, the tartan adopted by punks decades on. It's this thread that Good Queen Viv Westwood has been twirling round her finger ever since she stormed on to the Kings Road, a loyal subject without any undue reverence, messing with the check and reimagining it season after season.

The weft, however, starts from the other side, where the toffs left off – deep in the heart of Country Casuals turf, embedded in the 'heritage' look punted by Sloane Rangers sporting calf length kilts all year round. And it's here that tartan unfortunately got tangled with the twee. Seemingly reserved for tourist tat, our short-lived bursts in international football tournaments, and born and bred Americans who swear blind they're as Scottish as Tunnock's Caramel Wafers: tartan has been stuck in the novelty bin, in fashion terms, for multiple seasons. With the exception of Dame Westwood, who's always known how to keep tartan bleeding at the cutting edge, it seemed that the national check might never again make it to the couture catwalks in force.

Until, that is, the dawn of Autumn/Winter '08. Flip open any recent glossy mag and chances are you'll fairly swiftly be greeted by D&G's pre-fall ads – a double-page spread of leggy glamazons assembled on a gloomy country backdrop, swathed head-to-toe in full-throttle tartans. The fashion mags might have had their heads turned by the knotted neck scarves and tweedy styling enough to hail it as 'English heritage', but make no mistake: it's tartan, it was ours first, and it's bloody everywhere.

From Paul & Joe to Preen, through House of Holland and our very own Jamie Bruski Tetsill (featured in this month's spread), everyone is calling tartan, checks, tweeds, and plaids as the common thread tying up Autumn/Winter.

Though admittedly the Scottish Parliament and its proposed national register of tartans might contest the lineage of many of these catwalk checks, let's just take credit for them all anyway, and revel in all the various incarnations set to flood the high street. Though head-to-toe might only be for the truly brave of heart, a well-chosen dose of check is just the ticket for Autumn/Winter, and there are always accessories for the tartan-shy. So salute this much maligned local hero by, at the very least, strapping on a pair of sky-high tartan platforms and striding through the rain with pride. Do it for your country.