To the uneducated masses a tartan is the same thing as a plaid. Oh, I love his plaid jacket! That tartan blanket is so adorable! Interchangeable? Absolutely not. A tartan is a pattern of horizontal and vertical colored stripes. A plaid is a cloth with a tartan pattern that is wrapped around the waist and flung over the shoulder.
Up until recently, the highland tartans were only associated with regions or district, and not clans. Local weavers would use the natural dyes available in their part of the country, thereby creating certain colors and designs for their local populations at the wearer’s preference. Just like nowadays some people like to wear polka dots and others lime green simply because they think it’s awesome. Once the Victorians came on the scene all that changed.
In 1822 King George IV was the first monarch to visit Scotland in 171 years. Sir Walter Scott encouraged all Scots to attend the festivities “all plaided and plumed in their tartan array”. Soon clans, families, and institutions of Highland and Lowlanders wanted patterns to associate with their Scottish heritage. New chemical dyes and long-range transportation meant that specific patterns of bright colors, or ‘dress’ tartans, could be created for those with a hankering to wear proud their sword-wielding Braveheart kind of pride history for all to see and marvel.
The Black Watch and Royal Stewart are the most popular tartans today and still used by the Royal Family.
The first color photograph in 1861 was of a tartan ribbon.