The Differences in Tartan

One of the most common questions we get asked by our customers is which tartan should they choose? With over 4,000 tartans to choose from when purchasing your kilt, deciding on which tartan to pick could be overwhelming. Even if a customer has a clan and would like that particular clan’s tartan, there can be still several variations of the tartan to choose from! Tartan is a personal choice, and whether you prefer an ancient tartan or a modern tartan, there’s one for everyone. We often get asked about the difference between Ancient, Modern, Hunting and Weathered tartans so we wanted to take the time to explain the differences between each tartan.

Top Row: MacGregor Ancient Tartan, MacGregor Weathered Tartan Bottom Row: MacGregor Modern Tartan, MacGregor Hunting Tartan.

Ancient Tartans

Centuries ago, when tartan was first worn, the process of creating tartan was limited to the technologies of the time. Usually only consisting of two or three colours, the dyes for the tartan would be produced using plants, roots and berries from the specific area the tartan was created. This was the beginning of the clan tartans, each clan would only use products of their native lands to create their tartans. As a result of the natural dyes, these original tartans are known for their lighter and softer colour. As technology improved, the dyes became stronger in colour (more on that later) and the demand for traditional tartans increased. This is where the “Ancient Tartans” come from as tartan weavers in the 20th century sought to create a variation of the Clan tartan that was more in-keeping with how the tartans would’ve looked all those years ago. As you can see, the Ancient Tartan has much lighter shades to give it that natural dye look. 

Weathered Tartan

Kilts weren’t just for show in its early years. The “Great Kilt”, or “Big Wrap”, would be completely wrapped around the wearers in harsh conditions and at night to keep the wearer warm and protected from the elements. Their kilts would take a beating from the rain, snow and biting wind of the Scottish Highlands and the colours of their kilts would start to look “weathered” and faded. This is where the Weathered Tartans originate from. The weathered tartans offer unique, muted colours that provide distinctive, traditional styles.

Hunting Tartan

For tartans that feature a bright, vivid red design, Hunting variations of those tartans were later created for when the Clansman would go hunting for food. The Hunting tartans focus on darker, and more natural colours that would help the wearers blend in with the countryside and forest surroundings of the Highlands. Tartans that feature red and yellow so predominately will have a hunting variation that has darker colours and more of a focus on forest colours of green and brown. 

Modern Tartan

Although there are many variations of each clan tartan as discussed, the Modern versions are the most popular variations. With much bolder and darker colours, the Modern tartans are in stark contrast to the softer shades of the Ancient tartans. The bright, vivid colours featured in Modern tartans were originally used to show off the wearer’s wealth and status. Red was a very expensive dye to use, with shipments of the bright red dye originally coming from South America. This meant that it was only those with wealth who would be seen in such bright tartans. This is why so many historical paintings feature the subject in a bright red tartan. Nowadays, however, technology has progressed and the sight of modern tartans is a very common one.

Design Your Own Tartan

If you’re still struggling to decide on the perfect tartan for your kilt, why not design your very own tartan? Whether you can’t find your ideal tartan or would like to commemorate a special corporate event or a family milestone with a tartan that will be part of history forever, we are proud to offer a premium tartan design service to our customers. With your tartan being registered with the Scottish Tartan Authority, our in-house tartan designer will work with you every step of the way to create your completely unique tartan.

If you are unsure of which tartan to choose or would like to know more, you can contact us at [email protected]

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