Worldwide Influences On Kilts And Tartan

Scottish kilts have a reputation that spreads across the globe! From adventurous ancestors, Scots have now put down roots worldwide and the diaspora has a strong presence in nations as diverse as Australia, Italy, the United States, Poland and Canada! But we haven’t only influenced other nations with our characteristic national dress and reputation for great hospitality – they too have influenced us. The kilt, and Scottish culture in general, is vibrant and modern; always changing in this fast-paced world, and always willing and able to adapt to new situations. Perhaps it is for this reason that kilts remain so fashionable and popular into the modern age!

Read about Kilt And Tartan
kilt, CamouflageOne often noted aspect of outside influences on the Scottish kilt is in design variances. Men don’t always want to wear the full, traditional version of the kilt, especially to casual events. Taking notes from American style jeans and military fatigues, utility kilts are fast becoming a popular alternative to the typical tartan kilt. Usually made from a plain coloured canvas or cotton fabric, utility kilts often feature elements such as stud fasteners instead of buckles, box pleats as standard (whereas for tartan kilts, knife pleating remains more common), and even side pockets to negate the necessity of wearing a sporran! Originally most commonly seen in black, and popularised by punk and goth fashions, utility kilts are now available in a range of shades such as khaki or tan, and are in fact very practical garments – allowing for high intensity or dirty activities such as playing sports, hiking, manual labour, and many other things, without worrying about ruining a precious or expensive garment as the traditional kilt tends to be!

Read about Contemporary Kilt Alternatives

Utility kilts are often cooler than traditional ones as well, an added bonus for kilt hot climates or strenuous activity; but many people do still prefer that traditional kilted look. The Scottish diaspora in these hot places have found that using lighter fabrics than the expected 16oz worsted wool can relieve them considerably, and make it possible to wear the important tartan designs that are so meaningful to clansmen and women worldwide. Most commonly men will opt for 13oz wool, or a medium-weight polyviscose fabric as a smart and breathable alternative, although in East Asia and other very hot locations, 10oz wool, cotton and silk tartan fabrics have all been used for men and ladies to display their Scottish heritage. This has meant a change in how the kilt and other garments are worn of course, as very light fabrics cannot really be used to make kilts – but waistcoats, sarongs, even turbans! have all been made in tartan patterns to allow those with proud Scottish links to show their affiliations no matter where they are!

Read about International and Occasional Tartans

The tartans used in kilts and other garments are hugely important too of course. A hundred or so years ago very few patterns were in use, and by far the most common tartans to be seen were clan or “surname” tartans, linking a person directly to their family of birth. While clan tartans are still massively popular in the present day, many people can no longer trace which clan (if any) they precisely belong to, and might only know of a vague and distant genealogical link to Scotland. Due to this, tartans relating to one’s district, vocation, hobbies and many other aspects making up one’s personality are growing in popularity – with more and more of these registered every year. Naturally, these are especially popular among emigrant Scots who wish to adopt traditional dress while honouring the land that is now their families home, and may have been for several generations. The United States especially has a long list of American-specific tartans, many states have an official design registered for their district, likewise for the armed and emergency services, and many other corporations, universities and clubs are following suit.

Read about Kilt Accessories


Isle of Skye ModernIn fact, one of the most popular “universal” (can be worn by anyone) tartans was not designed in Scotland;  Isle of Skye is a beautiful design honouring the rugged landscape of Skye, but was in fact designed by an Australian (who traced her lineage back there and loved the island so much she eventually moved “back home”). World religions too are represented, with tartans designed to illustrate the faiths of Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish Scots (among others) all being available. The way in which tartan, that most striking example of Scottish design, has been used to portray and represent all these wonderfully diverse different groups of people truly does show how varied and widespread Scottish influence has become, and in turn how Scottish culture and tradition has been shaped and influenced by the different cultures and countries which it has touched.

Read about Tartan for Ladies

Do you have a fond memory of a time you influenced or were influenced by Scottishness abroad? Or perhaps you have a story about your life as part of the diaspora, living, possibly even born, outside of Scotland – while holding onto your heritage? As always, we look forward to your comments!

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11 Responses to Worldwide Influences On Kilts And Tartan

  • Yvette Moore says:

    Sadly, the only tartan/ Scottish link I have is by marriage to someone named Moore. I would LOVE to find a stronger link to the best country in the world!

  • David Reid says:

    It was thought until a few years ago, that our family were of the Cameron Clan, as that was my father’s middle name as well as my younger sisters. In doing research, I discovered that the only connection to the Cameron’s was my great-grandfather’s third wife, whose mother’s surname was Cameron. Our traditional surname clan and tartan is the Robertson, or Donnachaidh; but we’ve also discovered there is a Reid tartan.. The personnel who served with the U.S. Navy in Edzell, Scotland registered a Navy Edzell tartan, and I’m proud to wear that also, having retired from the Navy, and being among those. DNA testing indicates that I’m Scot/Viking (Nordic/Scandinavian)

    • Cooper says:

      Hello David,

      Great post. I am wondering where you had your DNA testing done? I have researched my father’s family back to the Isle of Arron, Scotland. My ancestors immigrated from Isle of Arron in 1742 and settled in Wilmington, NC. My family surname is Lamb. Thank you.

      Be well,
      Cooper

  • Gary EJ says:

    If you’re a Sassanach (low lander?) like me, frae Edinburgh, chances are you belong to no clan! Although I do have a Craig and a Drummond in my genealogy.

  • Lorna Mac Lean says:

    My Great Great Grandparents from both sides of the family arrived here in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with their parents, when they were children towards the end of the Highland Clearances in the early to mid 1800’s, MacLean/MacKeigan on my Dads side and Campbell/MacCritchie on my Moms side. We grew up immersed in our Scottish Heritage and traveled to all the Scottish concerts when we were kids. In keeping with that tradition, my brother and sister and myself volunteer at the Celtic Colors International Festival every year at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s, Cape Breton. The Scottish Blood runs very deep.

  • Kathy Brooks says:

    My husband and I don’t care for the utilikilts. The lighter weight version of the traditional kilt is not uncomfortable (according to him), and the tartan is the most important aspect, so what is the point of a plain or camo fabric? I suppose if you’re doing a messy job, but if you aren’t sure of which tartan to choose, there are plenty of universals to select from. NH has their own! My husband is a Brooks and Irvine from Aberdeen, Scotland, and I’m a 3rd gen American with relations to Christie, Pirie, Stott, Rennie, Rae……so many names in my tree! I usually wear the Farquharson colors or my husband’s Irvine, but I’m excited to order my Christie sash this year!

  • In connection to David Reid’s note, their was a Polaris Tartan designed for the USN personel/family at the Holy Loch, Dunoon, Argyllshire. i cherish my kilt. I know my grandfathers family came from Ayr, and my Dad’s (14 generations ago) came from near Gretna Green. Johnston and Woodall. Their is a Johnston tartan. Will have to research for my Dad’s family. Certainly was more homesick leaving Scotland than I was leaving the US as a teen in the 60’s. God Bless America, of course. Pray for us!

  • Still have Kilt & cap.of buchannan tartan. Husband plaid.,When visitng Scotland stay Ile Of Sky. was told that the nameof “WATSON” was fading out ,Sad to say we lost a son, that might have carrried . his name on………

  • fiddler4me says:

    The tartan as a clan’s identity is a Queen Victoria idea. Originally tartans were all similar because the dyes were concocted from the plants in the surrounding areas of a clan. The way the clans identified themselves before QV was a flower in the tam. As late as 1999, when I was in Scotland one time, I was told, “No Scotsman would be caught dead in [a tartan] shop or wearing the blasted things.” Americans are stuck in the romantic notion of what a Scottish Highlander is. I think we need to get out of the bodice-ripper novelettes and come into the 21st Century – they need to grow up in our minds. Just sayin’

  • Carl H. Lock says:

    My mother was North Carolina Lumbee Indian, with a touch of Scots. I was born as a result of a casual flirtation during WW II, a liaison with a man from South Carolina. When I was about ten years old she told me she thought he was German, and his last name was Munn. So, all my life I thought of myself as Indian/German. It’s what I told my sons about our ancestry. I was adopted by an Englishman named Lock, from Bromyard, Herefordshire, England.

    After I retired from the Navy, I took a trip to NC to visit my sister. Thanks to her, I actually located my natural father’s family. Turned out I had six half brothers. After a day long, pleasant visit with my next-younger brother, I asked him what the families heritage was. I nearly fell of my chair when he said, “Why, we’re Scottish!”

    All of my life, I had loved everything Scottish. The food, the music, especially the pipes, the Highland dress—all of it. I was about to celebrate my 63rd birthday when I found out I was a Scot. But in thinking about it since then; I always knew. I just knew it on a deep and spiritual level.

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