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Guides and Insights

What Tartan Can I Wear?

What Tartan Can I Wear?
By Dmitriy Maslenitsyn

One of the most common questions we get goes something like this: "My surname is X- am I allowed to wear this tartan?" It's an understandable concern. After all, one of the most powerful aspects of tartan is its ability to invoke a shared history, symbolising a belonging to a particular family, clan, or group. It's also quite common to get somewhat lost in the sheer amount of tartans available.

So today, we're tackling a few of the most common questions you may have about choosing a tartan and hopefully, alleviating some of the confusion surrounding picking a tartan that you can proudly wear.


Do I have to be Scottish to wear tartan?

Let's get the most common question out of the way first. No, you do not have to be Scottish to wear tartan! Evidence of tartan-wearing has even been found as far away as China, and more generally, tartan is just about showing that you belong to a group. The way you come to belong to a group, however, can come in many forms. Marriage, close friendships, business partnerships, and a whole host of other ties are all perfectly reasonable justifications for why you would want to wear a given tartan. And if you're still concerned after all that, we can suggest some universal tartans that anyone can wear.


What if I don't like how my tartan looks?

Choose a different one! In the broad history of Scotland, clans and families married one another, conquered each other, and mixed allegiances on a regular basis. If you're committed to wearing a tartan your ancestors wore but don't like the tartan, have a look at whether they may have been a sept of a different clan, or had a close relationship with a family with a tartan that you find aesthetically pleasing.

It's important to highlight that nobody will fault you for choosing a tartan based on aesthetics alone either! If you just like the way a particular tartan looks, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting it. The tartan may not reflect your family's history, but it still showcases your attachment to Scotland more generally.

So many tartans to choose from!

I have a common surname and there's tons of tartans. What's the "main" one?

One of the most common reasons why there may be so many tartans available for your surname is simply that your ancestors were powerful and formed an extensive network of ties through war, marriage, or otherwise. You may also notice that your tartan comes in an extensive array of variations such as "hunting"or "dress", which may also be available in different palettes such as "modern", "ancient", or "reproduction". As a general rule of thumb, people consider the "modern" version of a clan or district tartan as the "main" design variation of that tartan, but at the end of the day, they're all equally valid options. Just choose the one that you find to be the most pleasing to the eye.


Are there any tartans I can't wear?

For the most part, you're free to wear any tartan you wish. However, some tartans may be restricted. Corporate tartans, for example, are usually not available for purchase unless you represent the company in an official capacity. Other tartans may have other restrictions, such as specifying that they may only be purchased or woven with the express written permission of the original designer. Determining whether a tartan is restricted or not can sometimes be difficult, so if you're not sure, it's almost always best to just ask. If special permission is needed, you may be asked to write to the holder of the rights to the design and request permission from them directly.


Can I just design my own tartan? What do I need to do to make it "official"?

If you can't find a tartan you like, designing your own tartan can be a very rewarding experience! Recognising this, we've created a free online tartan designer that you can use without the need of a tartan expert (though an eye for design certainly helps). If you'd like to utilise elements of your family's tartan, you can load the tartan design and then tweak it to make it your own. Or, start from scratch and create something completely unique. Check out the commemorative tartans we've designed using our tartan designer to celebrate some Scottish connections with Hollywood here and here.

It's worth noting that if you really want to elevate your tartan design, an expert opinion can make a big difference. So if you've got a particularly special occasion coming up that you'd like a tartan designed for, consider enlisting the help of a tartan expert.

Once we weave your tartan, we can also provide you with the necessary design information should you choose to register your newly-created tartan design with the Scottish Register of Tartans, cementing you as the proud owner of an officially recognised tartan. Note that the Tartan Register asks for a small sample of the tartan, so you may need to send a portion of your fabric order to them as part of this process.

A range of vibrant dance tartans to choose from


Like shopping for a car, choosing a tartan can be difficult due to the extraordinary amounts of tartans available. But in this choice, there's also ample room for freedom and creativity. We hope we've alleviated some of your concerns, but if you have any questions we didn't cover, please: don't hesitate to get in touch!