I put on my tartan jacket and headed for the skatepark after a lot of deliberation on whether or not to be a responsible student. It was difficult to keep struggling with this research proposal, reading papers and none of it sticking — my mind was made and I left. “I deserve a break”, said every student ever.
Tartan began simply as a patterned cloth. In virtually every country, there was a pattern maker who weaved a motif on cloth that would be identified as tartan today. Tartan’s real cultural significance only came about when it gained popularity with Scottish Highland culture during the Dark Ages. In fact, the Scots took it so far as to don them during the 1746 Battle of Culloden, running into opponents, kilts fluttering in the wind. The aftermath of the battle caused the innocent tartan amongst other pieces of Highland garb such as plaid, kilts, and truis to be banned for a short while by the English monarchy, in order to try suppress the rebellious Scottish fighting spirit. Though the ban was widely opposed by the Scottish, the Proscription of the Highland Garb Act 1746 – 1782, was strongly enforced. With this cultural symbol no longer worn in the streets, many of the old tartan tailors died carrying the secrets of their craft to the grave.
It was only until large scale commercial production runs of tartan setts (the name of the actual pattern) began to be manufactured by William Wilson & Sons and others in the 19th century that Tartans went back in fashion. In fact, Wilson began making these traditional tartan wares during the ban, eventually sending tartan all the way to North American shores, where trade for the cloth went to West Indies Europe and India. Furthermore, the Wilson’s filing system is probably responsible for the whole clan mentality behind setts. When creating different coloured tartans, the company numbered them, eventually relabeling patterns with names of towns and Highland clans when the numbering became impractical. As one can imagine, different clans and towns were quick to jump onto their own pattern and claim it as a symbol.
Today, tartan setts are seen everywhere, from Burberry scarves to picnic blankets and are often mistakenly referred to as plaid or flannel though this misnomer hasn’t stopped it from being extremely popular with lumberjacks and Queen Bey.
Like the Scots however, Tartans are infamous for being loud. Therefore they deserve a jacket that can do the pattern justice. This extravagant one is part of a full-suit commission from Herman Bros and Co. which Will lovingly refers to as “The David”. And rightly so: it’s bold, eccentric, and incapable of writing essays. The triple patch pockets, 4 button double breasted design, waterfall shoulder construction, and the laughably enormous 10.5cm peak lapels is everything I ever wanted (though I also wanted a little brother but never got that).
It’s kinda difficult to match Tartans though. So in order to quiet down the brash Scotsman in me, I’ve separated the colours in the jacket and combined other garments with similar tones to disperse the “oddness” that I adore. Here, a pair of beige chinos and a navy polo shirt play off the gold and blue tones in the jacket respectively, while the trousers and the polo are unpatterned, to calm down the look. Also making sure that the jacket doesn’t clash like the Scots at the Battle of Culloden, the red in the Adidas sneakers plays off the light overcheck in the tartan as does the linen pocketchief with the white in the shoes. White linen is usually ideal for such violent combinations, and pretty much every other combination (three cheers for versatility!). All in all, the complimentary garments act as a comparatively quiet yet congruent backdrop to the jacket so that it doesn’t seem as out of place as I do at a skatepark.
But even with all the knowledge of contrasting and matching in the world, nothing can replace confidence in one’s own style. The rebellious Scots owned their Tartans, loud and proud. One’s style must be owned in a similar fashion, because who wants to follow the rules all their lives? Though it felt kind of strange at first being in the bowl wearing something other than a Santa Cruz shirt and floral drawstring shorts, in the end it’s all about confidence when you hit the streets. Clothes make the man, but the man makes the clothes too.
“The David” (Tartan Jacket) – Herman Bros & Co.
Navy Polo – M.J. Bale
Medallion Motifed Suspenders – Albert Thurston from Oscar Hunt Tailors
Beige Chinos – Polo Ralph Lauren
Red Suede Sneakers – Adidas Originals
(Photos by: Tanjim Islam)