Scottish Weddings; Whose Tartan Is It Anyway?

Scottish wedding wows the crowd, Bellagio, Italy

Image by David Spender via Flickr

Much has been written, and less understood, about Scottish tartan and who should wear which tartan or indeed who is entitled to wear whatever tartan. I would like to discuss this point and give my opinion of the answer to this problem and hopefully shed a little light on the area.

The Scottish nation has been going for quite a wee while now and it has successfully spread its wings to many distant corners of the world. It still seems to have kept a lot of its traditions and especially with evenings like Burns Suppers, continues to flourish well even outside its borders; in fact some would contend it flourishes better outside its borders!!

One such Scottish tradition, which is recognised throughout the world, is tartan. It is so well recognised that there is even a “Tartan Day” in America which was on the 6th April this year. I realise that there is a debate, nae argument, that tartan was invented by the Victorians (I will debate this at another time ), but the basis of tartans lie back in the past with the clan structure.

Clans were like big gangs. Not that I am in anyway trying to suggest that they were violent thugs, that is far from the truth, but they were the bygone eras’ way of people sorting themselves into families that could depend on each other for comfort and succour. Each clan had their own identification in a clan crest (taken from their coat of arms) and clan colours, tartan.

Technically there were only about 90 actual clans that existed, that is 90 families that were big enough to exist as a clan in their own right. The confusion comes when people think, “Well there are more than 90 names in Scotland”. Yes you are quite right. I do not have the latest figure but there certainly is far more than 90 !!!!

Back in the clan era families that were too small to be a clan in their own right would approach the local clan chief and basically ask for his protection. If that protection was forthcoming the family became a “sept” of the main clan. As a sept of the clan they would wear the clan’s colours and emblems to show their allegiance.

In fact a great example of this was at Glencoe. If I asked you how many MacDonalds were massacred by the Campbells, what would you say? 20?….30?….150?….1000?

Answer any of these and you are wrong. The technical answer is:

NONE!!!!!!

Bet you win the pub quiz now!!!

They were all MacIans a SEPT of Clan MacDonald from Glencoe and were all wearing the MacDonald clan colours and crests so in that respectthey were taken as MacDonalds.

Another example of this would be my family. My family name is Dickson. The Dickson’s were a clan sept of Clan Keith and to that end I wear the Clan Keith tartan and wear the clan crest.

There are, however, many Scottish names that were not associated with any particular clan. This is easily covered as there are many “District” tartans that can be worn.

So basically to find which tartan you should wear just trace back to see what clan you were affiliated with and you have an answer. Tartan is your clan or family colours that they use to identify themselves.

Now that’s the traditional part. There is of course the new way. Wear what you like. There are so many tartans available now that many people are choosing a tartan that they just like. There are many tartans like “Pride of Scotland”, “Heather Mist”, “Strathisla” just to name a few which have been invented in the recent years. They can be worn by anybody that cares to wear them and they are a wonderful addition to anybody’s wardrobe.

If you need any advice about Scottish weddings or indeed about clan affiliations or anything else Scottish, don’t hesitate to contact us and we will do our best to help.

By: Sreve Dickson

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