Tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors. Tartan patterns have long been associated with Scottish clans and families, and are an iconic part of Scottish fashion and design. In recent decades, tartan has also been embraced far beyond Scotland and incorporated into modern fashion and home décor in stylish and creative ways. Here are 7 stylish takes on how to incorporate tartan patterns into your wardrobe and home.

A Brief History of Tartan

Tartan patterns have been used in Scotland, and elsewhere, for centuries. The word “tartan” itself comes from the French word “tiretaine” which referred to a type of cloth. Many scholars believe that tartan patterns originated as a way for Scottish clans and families to distinguish themselves from others.

Each clan or family typically had its own distinctive tartan pattern and colors. These patterns served as a kind of identification, worn as kilts and other garments by Scottish Highland warriors and clansmen. Over time, particular tartan patterns became associated with individual Scottish surnames and regions.

During the 19th century, tartan patterns and textiles were mass-produced for the first time. This led to the creation of generic tartan patterns that were not affiliated with any specific clan. In the Victorian era, tartan patterns became fashionable among the British upper classes.

Today, tartan remains beloved in Scotland as a symbol of national pride and heritage. It also continues to evolve as a fashionable pattern used in innovative ways by designers around the world. From punk rock to catwalks, tartan’s bold graphic appeal makes it perfect for modern looks.

Classic Ways to Wear Tartan

There are some traditional ways to proudly sport tartan that endure as timeless looks. Here are some classic ways to wear these iconic criss-cross patterns:

The Kilt

Nothing is more synonymous with Scottish and tartan style than the kilt. Hand-pleated kilts in clan tartans remain the formal Highland dress for men. The kilt’s origins trace back to the 16th century Scottish Highlands, when the garment provided freedom of movement for warriors.

Modern sport kilts in tartan patterns make this look accessible to all. They can be worn casually with a t-shirt or more formally with a jacket and tie. For a stylish look, pair a tartan kilt with a denim shirt, tweed blazer and chunky boots.

The Plaid

A tartan shawl or plaid is another quintessential Scottish garment. Historically, the large piece of tartan fabric could be belted and worn as a cloak, or wrapped around the shoulders or upper body for warmth and protection.

Today, a tartan plaid scarf adds warmth and a nod to heritage. Drape a plaid in soft wool or cashmere around your neck and pair it with a pea coat and jeans for traditional Scottish style.

Tartan Accessories

Small tartan accents can elevate an outfit with a touch of Highland spirit. Try a tartan scarf, bow tie, tie, or pocket square to accessorize dress clothes with a pop of pattern. For women, add fun flair to a little black dress with tartan tights.

Other tartan accessories like bags, hats, gloves and shoes boldly carry the iconic pattern in any outfit. Tartan accessories work well in both formal and casual ensembles.

Modern Ways to Wear Tartan

Beyond its traditional Scottish roots, tartan has been adopted and reinterpreted by fashion designers around the world. Here are some creative modern ways to stylishly include tartan patterns in your wardrobe:

Mix Tartan Prints

One trendy technique is to pair different tartan prints together in an outfit. This creates depth and interest by layering complementary patterns.

For example, try wearing a mini skirt in one tartan, then layer on a shirt in a different tartan plaid. Finish it off with tights or shoes that pick up one of the colors from the prints. Mixing tartan checks and plaids makes the look bold and edgy.

Tartan Dresses

From sleek cocktail numbers to babydoll dresses, tartan prints create eye-catching style on dresses. Mini dresses with long sleeves and a tartan print can be paired with black tights and ankle boots for a mod 60s vibe.

Full tartan print dresses make a preppy statement for daytime, paired with flats or sneakers. Look for dresses that use tartan creatively, like combining it with lace or leather accents.

Tartan Coats and Jackets

For both women and men, tartan outerwear acts as a stylish statement piece. From tailored tartan blazers to oversized plaid coats, choose one in a bold tartan print as your standout layering piece.

Pair tartan coats and jackets with solid colored pieces for balance. A tartan pea coat or moto jacket makes an outfit look instantly more cool and current.

Tartan Trousers

Trousers in tartan patterns for both men and women offer more ways to sport this print below the waist. Balance legging-style tartan pants with neutral colored tops to keep the look contemporary.

For men, red tartan trousers paired with a denim jacket and white tee create a bold music festival look. Or go for tailored women’s slacks with a houndstooth blazer on top. Modern pants and trousers let you creatively play with tartan.

Tartan Suiting

Traditionally, some of the most iconic tartan patterns are used in Scottish Highland formal wear like kilts and plaids. These same tartans like Royal Stewart or Black Watch lend themselves beautifully to modern suiting as well.

Menswear designers like Alexander McQueen have created runway looks featuring tailored tartan suits and tuxedos. For formal events or making a bold statement, consider a custom tartan suit or tux. Pair suiting with slim black ties to highlight the vibrant patterns.

How to Use Tartan in Home Décor

The eye-catching graphic appeal of tartan makes it ideal for home décor accents too. Here are creative ways to use tartan patterns in home furnishings and interior design:

Tartan Rugs

A tartan rug adds bold character to any room. Use a plaid tartan rug as a focal point in a neutral colored room. Or pick a rug with colors that complement other shades used in the space.

Wool tartan rugs look fitting in cozy living rooms or dens. For bedrooms, try smaller tartan throw rugs layered beside the bed. Allow the vibrant colors and lines to stand out against floors and furniture.

Tartan Pillows

An easy way to incorporate tartan into a room is with printed throw pillows. Tartan accent pillows on sofas or beds pull in the Scottish vibe. Choose pillows in your family or clan tartan for personalization.

Or use different tartan pillows in complementary colors to create an eclectic mix. Coordinate pillows with other plaid home fabrics like bedspreads or blankets. The lively patterns energize living spaces.

Tartan Upholstered Furniture

Another bold step is upholstered furniture covered entirely in tartan fabric. Wingback chairs, lounges or headboards in a dramatic MacGregor red tartan make a strong visual impact. Choose furniture in a classic style, then let the vibrant tartan fabric electrify the piece.

Using different tartan prints on separate chairs and sofas creates lively mix-and-match seating arrangements. Upholstered tartan furniture instantly energizes any room with dynamic spirit.

Tartan Wallpaper

For a contemporary take, use tartan patterns creatively on walls with removable wallpaper. Full tartan print wallpaper transforms one accent wall into a graphic focal point. More subtle options like striped tartan washi tape can be used as borders too.

In a bedroom, line the wall behind the headboard with a dramatic tartan print. Or try removable tartan wallpaper on the inside of cabinetry doors for a fun hidden detail when opened. Tartan wallpaper enlivens plain walls with heritage style.

Tartan Table Settings

Use tartan tablecloths, napkins, plates or other dining elements to bring the Scottish vibe to entertaining. Simple red tartan napkins can dress up place settings. Or opt for reusable tartan picnic blankets for outdoor meals.

Woven tartan table runners combined with plain white dinnerware create an eye-catching tablescape. Look for tartan patterns made into durable melamine plates and mugs for indoor and outdoor durability. Tartan settings let you change up your table style easily.

Tartan Style Endures

From its early origins in the Scottish Highlands to the runways of Paris and Milan, tartan remains a perennially stylish pattern. Both classic and contemporary fashions continue to embrace iconic tartan style.

By incorporating this graphic multi-colored plaid into clothing and home décor, anyone can add a touch of lively Scottish spirit. Tartan’s heritage patterns feel timeless, while also feeling invigorated with modern panache every season.

Whether worn traditionally or interpreted in new ways, tartan’s bold check prints create confidence and character. Stay stylish by adding some tartan into your own fashion and interior looks.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tartan Style

Tartan patterns are iconic symbols of Scottish heritage that continue to influence modern fashion and design. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about how to wear and use tartan fabric today:

What are some ways to wear tartan in women’s fashion?

Some stylish ways for women to wear tartan patterns include:

  • Tartan dresses from mini to maxi lengths
  • Skirts paired with neutral tops
  • Plaid trousers or jeans
  • Mixing different tartan prints together
  • Tartan coats and jackets as statement layers
  • Tartan scarves, hats, gloves as accessories
  • Tartan purses or totes

How can men wear tartan fashionably?

Men can incorporate tartan into outfits like:

  • Tartan kilts in traditional clan plaids
  • Tartan sport or casual kilts with shirts and sweaters
  • Tartan neckties and bow ties
  • Tartan scarves or pocket squares
  • Tartan trousers or jeans
  • Tartan peaked cap
  • Tartan jacket or formal tartan suit
  • Tartan accessories like wallets or gloves

What are good ways to use tartan in home decor?

Tartan makes for stylish home accents:

  • Tartan area rugs in wool or cotton
  • Tartan throw pillows on sofas or beds
  • Upholstered furniture like sofas or chairs in tartan
  • Tartan blankets or quilts
  • Curtains or drapes in plaid tartan fabrics
  • Tartan wallpaper or washi tape as accent wall
  • Tartan table linens like tablecloths or napkins

How do I know what tartan belongs to my Scottish clan?

Many major Scottish clans and families have registered tartan patterns. Check sources like the Scottish Tartans Authority to look up registered clan tartans and their colors/patterns. Familiar clan names like Campbell, MacDonald, Stewart and Scott have official historic tartans.

Is it only Scottish people who can wear tartan patterns?

Not at all! Although tartan fabrics are associated with Scottish heritage, anyone can wear tartan fashion today. Tartan patterns are no longer limited to those of direct Scottish ancestry. Tartans are embraced as a fashionable textile for all. Feel free to choose any appealing plaid tartan to make a stylish statement.

What are some ways to mix and match tartan patterns?

When combining multiple tartans, make sure to coordinate the color schemes. For example, pair a red, navy and green Hunting Stewart tartan with a purple, red and blue Royal Stewart tartan by coordinating the red shade in both fabrics.

Start with one bold tartan print, then layer with smaller accents of a complementary tartan. Mix varied sizes of plaid as well, like a large tartan coat with mini tartan skirt. Just be sure the overall look doesn’t become overly busy or mismatched.

What are some popular and historic tartan patterns I might recognize?

Some of the most well-known Scottish tartan patterns include:

  • Black Watch – blue, green and black plaid; one of the most prolific
  • Royal Stewart – red, white and black tartan associated with royalty
  • MacDonald – blue, green and red tartan of the MacDonald clan
  • Campbell – blue, green and navy plaid of the Campbell clan
  • Ancient MacGregor – red, navy blue and hunter green colors

There are countless historic Scottish tartans to discover beyond these most iconic patterns as well!

Is there only one way to tie a tartan tie?

No, you can tie a tartan tie in different knots just like any tie. The most common ways to tie a tartan tie include:

  • Full Windsor: Wide symmetrical knot good for wide collars
  • Half Windsor: Narrower knot, good for standard shirt collars
  • Four-in-Hand: Asymmetrical, narrower knot

A full Windsor knot makes a bold statement with a wide tartan tie. The half Windsor offers more versatility for wearing a tartan tie with various collared shirts.


Tartan’s graphic checkered patterns have decorated Scottish highlands and lowlands for centuries. As quintessential symbols of heritage, tartan plaids continue to infuse modern fashion with bold spirit.

Both timeless and timely, classic tartan simply refuses to go out of style. The enduring appeal stems from the limitless ways to incorporate tartan patterns into clothing, accessories and home décor.

From punk to preppy, designers constantly reinvent tartan’s iconic intersecting lines for new eras. By embracing tartan with your own personal flair, you add lively character to any look or space.

Whether a nod to your Scottish ancestry or just showcasing a stylish motif, tartan creatively transforms wardrobes and interiors. So make a fashionable statement by proudly sporting these brilliant multi-colored tartan checks and plaids.