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Clan and Tartan

7 universal tartans that anyone can wear (including a big surprise!)

7 universal tartans that anyone can wear (including a big surprise!)
By Nick Fiddes

Probably the most common question we're asked at CLAN Scotweb HQ is "what tartan can I wear?". We always find a few plaids to wear with pride. But what tartans are there for non-Scots, or if you've no connections with Scotland? Here are seven ideas for universal tartans that can be worn by everyone. And we'll save the best for last!

Today some tartans are seen as universal, so anyone can wear these plaids whatever their background. Most famous is Royal Stewart tartan, originally designed for Queen Victoria. Then there's Black Watch tartan, which now commemorates Scotland's most famous regiment. Other examples include Macleod Dress or 'Loud Macleod' to its fans. Lindsay which is so popular it's almost public property. Dress Stewart is much loved for womenswear. And Scotland Forever is Scotland's gift to the world. Lastly (wait for it!) there's... almost any tartan on earth. Want to know why?

1. Royal Stewart tartan - where the modern tradition started!

Royal Stewart tartan

The Royal Stewart tartan is the best-known plaid on the planet. It was chosen by Sir Walter Scott for King George IV's visit to Edinburgh when the old laws banning tartan began to be lifted. Commoners soon highjacked the Royal Stewart plaid to show their royalist loyalty. So the royal family later adopted the Balmoral tartan (said to have been designed by Prince Albert) which convention dictates is worn only by them and the Queen's piper!

Nowadays Royal Stewart is the most widely produced tartan commercially thanks to its striking red colour scheme. No one thinks of it as even expressing royalism. It's simply the most widely worn tartan in the world.

2. Black Watch tartan - honouring the brave

Black Watch tartanThe Black Watch tartan is also known as the Campbell tartan. Dark, moody, and suited to both menswear and womenswear as well as interiors, the subtle depth of Black Watch is what makes it so popular. Even the British Prime Minister (at time of writing) Theresa May often sports a Black Watch suit, cutting a dash while staying on the safe side of sober. No wonder it's so popular.

Its common name of Black Watch is becauuse the army adopted this plaid for kilts worns the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, or Argyll Regiment or just Argylls for short (now the 3rd Battalion) giving yet another name: Government 1A tartan (though 1B is more commonly woven commercially). This renowned regiment was of course best known as the Black Watch.

3. MacLeod of Lewis tartan - or proudly Loud MacLeod!

Macleod of Lewis tartan

The MacLeod of Lewis tartan (or MacLeod Dress) is famously known as Loud MacLeod, and it isn't hard to see why. This is a plaid for someone who likes to stand out in a crowd.

The MacLeods are found on the the Isle of Skye and all over the Inner & Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland, and into the western mainland of Scotland. But MacLeod of Lewis tartan has outgrown these origins to be universally recognised as one of the boldest fabric patterns in the world.

4. Lindsay tartan - richly coloured with depth

Lindsay tartan

The Lindsay tartan is another that's been commercially successful thanks to its sophisticated beauty and flexible styling. Popular for everything from school uniforms to ladies' skirts and jackets, the Lindsay tartan has a place in countless hearts.

Descended from Danes, the first Lindsay recorded in Scotland was in 1120 and the family prospered both in both Scotland and England until they had to give up the English parts during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Now the family is found all over the world. But their tartan is found much more widely still!

5. Dress Stewart tartan - both traditional and modern

Dress Stewart tartanThe Dress Stewart tartan is another plaid found in many a school uniform. But its popularity is much wider than that, used in everything from high fashion to traditional interiors. Dress tartans are typically showy, designed of course for dress-up occasions. But Dress Stewart somehow does so in a way that's classy.

Dress Stewart is nowadays so widely used for commercial production that few wearers probably even reflect on its historic links with the Stewart clan. But it remains a source of pride for many Stewart family members to see their fabrics being enjoyed all over the world.

6. Scotland Forever tartan - something we can all agree on

Scotland Forever tartanThe Scotland Forever tartan is a more modern invention by one of the Scottish weaving mills. Taking its name from a famous battle cry heard at Waterloo, the Scotland Forever was created especially to meet the need for a plaid design that could be worn by anyone, wherever they lived, and whether or not they had Scottish blood. After all, which of us wouldn't agree: Scotland Forever!

7. Any tartan you love - or even just like the look of!

Tartans aren't only for families and clans. The tradition is really about honouring a community you belong to and love. So there are plaids for countries, cities, regions, and villages. There are tartans for companies, clubs, and events. Lots of universities and schools have their own. Heck, you can even design your own tartan .

But here's the big take-away: there's no rule to stop you wearing any old clan or family tartan! That idea's a myth. Scottish tradition is all about welcoming outsiders into our community. To wear someone's plaid is a sign of respect and friendship. So it's fine to choose any traditional tartan just because you like it! This is Scotland's beautiful gift to the world. We love it when you love our tartan - whichever you choose.

What next?

To find other tartans you can take pride in owning, we suggest our article about what tartan can I wear?

Or if you've a fairly common name, search our Tartan Finder for your surname to see a vast choice of plaids.

And if you've found this article helpful, please help others find it! Spread the word by linking to it on your own blog or sharing it on your social media.

Posted in: Clan and Tartan