In the material world, tartan is one of fashion’s most enduring designs.
From military kilts to the catwalk – Vivienne Westwood, Burberry and even singer-songwriter Harry Styles have all turned their hand to this woven wool and rocked the ‘rebel cloth’.
Whether it’s a clan tartan (which represents a certain Scottish family) to thousands of timeless interlocking stripes, the collections are endless. But how best to weave this iconic pattern into Burns Night celebrations on January 25 – and make sure you’re on the right foot?
“As far as I’m concerned, on Burns Night anything goes when it comes to tartan, although tradition would have it that, if you’re Scottish, you would wear your family tartan,” says Julie Hamilton, whisky brand ambassador for Elixir Distillers.
For those without Scottish heritage, Brian Kinsman, master blender at Drambuie, says there are no rules to stop you wearing any family or clan tartan, and there are even universal ones available: “The only word of caution I would say, is choose one tartan and stick to it, rather than mixing and matching different clan tartans within your outfit.
“And as there are so many tartans to choose from – it’s a gift Scotland has given to the world – it just looks fantastic and shows you’re getting into the spirit of the occasion,” Kinsman adds.
“From my point of view, the more tartan the better for Burns, whether you’re attending a formal affair or hosting a casual get-together at home. In fact, at Drambuie Liqueur, we have our very own bright red tartan designed by Kinloch Anderson, who are Kiltmakers to Her Majesty The Queen.”
If it’s a particularly cold night, this might be your chance to consider tartan trews, known to most as trousers, and traditionally worn during the Highland winter, when a kilt would be impractical in such cold weather. “Trews tend to be high waisted, so you can also accessorise with braces,” suggests Kinsman.
Georgie Crawford, distillery manager at Elixir Distillers, says she’s not aware of any official rules and it depends how formal the event: “If it’s black tie, then a kilt or tartan trews with a Prince Charlie jacket, or for men who don’t own a kilt or trews then a dinner suit with either a tartan cummerbund or waistcoat, or just a tartan bow-tie would work.
“If it’s a more relaxed affair, then a kilt with tweed jacket, or a good old woolly jumper for a more modern twist at your local village hall event,” notes Crawford.
For guys used to a six-pack of cotton socks, this is where you need to tread carefully.
“Heavy woollen socks are always worn with the kilt, but again the shoes depend on the event, from formal dress brogues through to Timberland boots,” says Crawford.
Clanswomen traditionally wear a tartan sash over their right shoulder secured by a Celtic brooch, and whether you go for a kilt, tartan dress or pleated skirt, tout your tartan with pride.
“Generally, there’s tartan in the outfit somewhere, even if it’s just in the accessories and jewellery,” says Crawford. “I have several nice pairs of tartan high heels and matching handbags.”
Whatever you choose to wear, Kinsman says the most important thing is to have fun together: “Enjoy the haggis and cranachan, and of course the whisky toasts, and show you’ve gone to some effort to celebrate the Bard himself.
“Finally, if someone is wearing a kilt, don’t ask what’s under the tartan!”