The History of the Tartan

If you recall one of our earlier posts on How To Choose A Kilt, we shared some basic information regarding what a tartan is, with a little bit of history behind its origins. Today, I want to talk more about the history of the tartan, since there seems to be a lot of uncertainty regarding when tartans actually became a thing.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in different colors, which result in a distinctive pattern known as a sett. A tartan, which is often referred to as plaid in the U.S., is almost always associated with Scotland and Scottish kilts. 🙂


The reason why tartans are always associated with Scotland is because for centuries records make countless references about inhabitants of the region, describing them as dressed in “mottled” or “chequered” clothing. Seems like sufficient evidence to me, seeing as these records date alllll the way back to the 16th century!

However, from what I gather from different sources, it seems like these records only account for what we consider a tartan today! There is even further evidence linking the tartan to ancient Celtic civilizations in Central Europe between the 8th and 6th century BC. How crazy is that?! Actual tartan-like fabrics have been found in places like Austria and Scandinavia.

Another piece of tartan fabric was recorded in Britain around the 3rd century AD in Falkirk, Scotland, which was then coined the Falkirk tartan. The Falkirk tartan is one of the earliest forms of the border tartan, which is a simple crossweave of dark and light checks, and is believed to date back to Roman times.

After that, most records support the history of the tartan evolving among tribes and communities living on the various islands and the mainland of the Highlands during the 16th century and on. Since tartans stuck around as the main, everyday attire for the highlanders, it eventually became associated with Scottish clans and culture.

Today there are over 4000 registered tartan designs, and only 500 designs have actually been woven! Whoa. Bet you didn’t know that one! 😉

We have quite a selection of tartans available as well, definitely worth checking out in light of all this talk about tartans!! I hope you enjoyed a little taste of tartan history today! Share our blog and keep your eyes peeled for our next blog post! 🙂