Know Your Tartans

Because dropping the lingo is half the fun of dressing well.
Photo: GQ.com

The Royal Stewart, exploded.

Fashion Week has been bringing out the Gaelic love this season with a sea of kilts, and one particularly notable use of the Royal Stewart Tartan (right) by Mssrs. Neville and Wainwright in the Rag & Bone show. If the Highlanders are indeed breaching the wall, we figured it was a good time to make sure we’ve got our most classic tartans straight.

Traditionally affiliated with a single family or clan, a tartan is a weave of colored thread with weft and warp alternating two over/two under at a single step to create a diagonal patterning. A plaid, on the other hand, is a piece of tartan cloth thrown over the shoulder to complement one’s kilt. Here, a few tartan stalwarts, and one personal favorite:

The Royal Stewart
Maybe the most recognizable pattern in the classic tartan family, the Royal Stewart is the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II. The tartan traces its lines back to Brittany, and added its ‘Royal’ designation when David I took the throne of Scotland.

Black Watch
Created in the Jacobite era as a catch-all, non-denominational tartan, Black Watch (or “Campbell”) was specifically tailored to be worn by the inter-clan membership of the highlands army Am Freiceadan Dubh (“Black Watch”). It is still the official badge of their descendents, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Black Watch

Also called Lord of the Isles (Hunting), the MacDonald, from Scotland’s oldest and most storied clan, is emblematic of Western Highlands military tartans with its thin blue and red lines over a green backing.

Lord of the Isles (MacDonald)

Considered a combination of the MacDonald and the MacKintosh tartans, this design came to the fore in the early oughts, as it made many an appearance in the collections of the late Alexander McQueen.


MacLeod Dress
Derived from the Lewis tartan, the affectionately titled “Loud MacLeod” was once described, in a letter to Sir Walter Scott as, “three black stryps upon ain yellow fylde” (which we think has something to do with whiskey).


Your classic, L.L. Bean-style tartan has a badass backstory: famous outlaw Rob Roy, né MacGregor, probably rocked this pattern as the Robin Hood of the Highlands.


A fashion favorite, and a variant on the MacDonald, the MacArthur hails from a clan of hereditary pipers on the Isle of Skye.


Notable for being the author’s clan tartan, and just generally awesome.

Wallace Tartan

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