"A lie has travelled halfway round the world before
Truth has got its kilt on"
(with apologies to Mark Twain)
Here's where we look at traditional myths and modern urban
myths . . . and tell you the real facts! If
you have a favourite myth connected with tartan or Highland dress
that we haven't featured, then send it through to us!
The number of colours
in a tartan denotes the rank or status of the
This myth is always suggestive of there being an official system
of ranking wearers by the number of colours in their tartan. As far
as all the research has always shown this idea is . . . .
However, there might well have been circumstances where it held
true when a tartan incorporated expensive imported colours that
were not available in the local area or introduced used silk for
colours such as white or yellow. That would suggest a wealthy
wearer which in turn would suggest high rank of some description.
Tenuous but not totally out of the question.
Each colour in a
tartan has a symbolic meaning.
Not so! Whilst modern tartan designers certainly ascribe
significance to the colours they use, colours per se did
not and do not have any standardised meanings - as evidenced by a
particular blue in one tartan symbolising the sea and in another,
the Scottish flag (the Saltire).
Clan tartans are a
To counter the myth that clan tartans were worn from the most
ancient of times, many commentators swing completely the other way
and insist that clan tartans are an invention of the Victorians and
the wicked weavers! As with so many claims in all walks of life,
the truth lies somewhere between the two.
It is widely accepted that in many of the isolated Scottish glens,
members of the same clan or family would be grouped together. In
all probability they would have one weaver amongst them who would
churn out his standard design which would be worn by all. That
could be regarded as the 'district' tartan for all the inhabitants
of that glen. Since they were invariably all of the same family
grouping, then it was also a 'clan' tartan although it wasn't
regarded in that light for quite some time. It wasn't until the
early 1700s that evidence (by no means irrefutable it has to be
said) appeared, to suggest that some codification of those tartans
was taking place.
It wasn't until Culloden in 1746 that firm evidence surfaces that
some tartans were definitely regarded as clan rather than district.
That evolutionary process was firmly hit on the head however by the
post-Culloden proscription of tartan. When George IV visited
Edinburgh in 1822, that's why there was such a scrabble amongst
many of the chiefs to find or identify their traditional
The Lord Lyon King
of Arms registers tartans.
This is a real old chestnut which is quite understandable and
has come about because some clan chiefs and armigerous organisation
have, since 1946, asked the Office of the Lord Lyon to record the
fact that the tartan they regard as their official clan tartan was
'such-and-such' tartan. Lord Lyon has obliged and recorded that
fact in the Lyon Court Books (LCB) or the PRA (Public Register of
all Arms and Bearings in Scotland). Lyon would/will also record
details of a tartan if that tartan was/is part and parcel of the
chief's coat of arms. Since 1946 69 tartans have been so documented
the list of which can be seen at Lyon Tartans.
Note: armigerous means having a coat of arms.
You can't wear a
tartan unless it matches your surname.
Nonsense! Whilst there may have been pedantic individuals around
a few decades ago who invented sets of rules and regulations to
safeguard the exclusiveness of the kilt-wearing fraternity, you can
actually wear almost any tartan that you like. However, most people
like to feel that, at best, they have some 'genetic' connection
with their tartan or, failing that, a geographical or professional
If there is no tartan for your name, then start looking back at
all the surnames in the family - male and female. In your
search you may come across one or more names that have a clan - and
therefore a tartan - connection.
You can't wear two
different tartans at the same time.
Normally speaking, convention and good taste suggest that that's
correct . . . . but you can wear a fly plaid in the
hunting version of the clan tartan of your kilt. Beware however
since as Michael Caine was famously misquoted as saying "Not a lot
of people know that" so you might need to defend your sartorial
elegance from comments from well-meaning know-it-alls.
You're not a real Scot unless you go commando - that is, without
Don't be brow-beaten into believing that nonsense. Whilst it might
be fun for young lads on a night out 'talent hunting' and gives the
girls a good giggle, there are very practical reasons why you
should ignore it.
We've discussed the matter elsewhere on the site but in essence,
toiletting skills when in a kilt are something not easily learned
and the results of that give kilt hire companies perennial
headaches. It's also produced many horror stories over the years
with which we won't regale you. Putting it another way - just ask
yourself the question: "Would I wear my normal trousers without any
underwear?" We rest our case M'Lud!
There is a tartan
flag on the moon.
Wrong! It's a widespread belief that Commander Alan Bean left a
piece of his MacBean tartan on the moon during his 1969 Apollo 12
trip as the lunar module pilot. We are delighted to have been given
a small portion of that tartan about which Alan bean wrote:
"To the Scottish Tartans Authority. This piece of MacBean
tartan was flown to the moon in our Apollo 12 Command Module
'Yankee Clipper.' It was then transferred to our lunar module
'Intrepid' and was landed on the moon, November 1969. I am
entrusting this valuable piece of tartan history to your care.
(Signed) Alan Bean, Lunar Module Pilot."
By strange coincidence Canadian Doug Maclaren climbed Mt. Everest
in 2001 and left a MacBean tartan flag there saying that it was
just where the name belonged - on top of the world.