"Hunting" and "Dress"
Clans (and families) frequently have more than one official tartan, some of
which are described according to the purpose for which they are named.
tartans were originally
worn by the women of the clan who preferred lighter-colored patterns.
Generally, the design is a variant of the clan's normal tartan, but with
one of the background colors changed to white. Dress tartans
were designed to be showy and were used on formal occasions and have
become popular wear at Highland dances. Not all clans have dress tartans and even in clans that do, the “regular” tartan is perfectly suitable for evening and formal wear.
Hunting tartans were devised for
those clans who normally sported very
bright tartans which were deemed unsuitable for the chase. In hunting setts, earthly colors such as muted browns and greens usually predominated. As with dress tartans not all clans have hunting tartans.
tartans at one time were
worn for the purpose for which they were named. They were generally
of black and white.
Nowadays few clans have mourning tartans.
"Modern" or "Ancient" Colors
The mills which weave tartan material are in the business of selling their product. To encourage sales and to satisfy differences in taste, the mills have developed variations of color. We now have “modern,” “ancient,” “reproduction” and “weathered” tartans. These terms do not apply to the age
of the tartan, but rather to the shades of color used in the weaving.
Modern is actually the oldest color. The brighter and darker “modern” hues were made possible by new dyes developed after 1855.
Ancient became popular in the 1950's and 1960's.
The “ancient” hues are softer and show the pattern better than the "modern”
Reproduction and Weathered tartans are even newer. The hues imitate
tartan long exposed to sun, rain, and soil.
As a general rule clans do not have a preference between modern, ancient,
reproduction, or weathered colors. The choice is entirely up to the
"Tartan" versus "Plaid"
The words “tartan” and “plaid” are not synonymous although many non-Scottish people wrongly use the words interchangeably. A “tartan” is a colored pattern while a “plaid” is a piece of cloth. (See the next page.) To distinguish this Scots pronounce “plaid” as “played” rather than as “plad.” A Scotsman would never refer to his tartan as his “plaid.”
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