Clash of The Tartans

Supposedly, tartan is best kept in certain families, but the fashion industry has other ideas on the matter. Originally featured in Issue 37 of The Rake by current Editor Tom Chamberlin he looks into how in the world of menswear, the options and availability have flung wide open.

  • fashion director Melissa Megan Tee

  • by Tom Chamberlin

  • photography Simon Ong

Venturer Small Seconds timepiece in red-gold case and brown hand-stitched alligator-leather strap, H. Moser & Cie; Red Stewart tartan cashmere single-breasted blazer, red Stewart tartan cashmere double breasted waistcoat, both Camps de Luca; blue medium-wash cotton-denim shirt Double RL; navy wool-silk trousers, Timothy Everest; wool knit tie, Mariano Rubinacci; Magnolia gold-plated sterling-silver lapel chain, Patinova from The Armoury; blue tartan cotton pocket square (all property of The Rake).

When our illustrious Founder first tasked me with writing this story, the subsequent rush of jingoism — part anxiety, part faux-patriotism (I’m not Scottish) — was a bizarre sensation. My spirit rallied, and a vision of me fully laden in Celtic garb — kilt, sporran, sheathed claymore and holding aloft my wee sharpened stag-antler Sgian Dubh in last-stand, Braveheart defiance — became somewhat alluring. Humankind impulsively rallies to flags and emblems. The cultural zeal they pollinate dictates their longevity. Yet, who’d have thought that a cloth pattern would do the job for so long?

During the course of human history, the cut of one’s jib has been the most effective means by which we human folk judge, identify and categorise ourselves and other people. Take, for example, the toga: we know that the Romans wore them. Fast forward to today, in any student town, should you see people with their bedsheets draped over the body in an Etruscan manner, you will think, ‘Oh, it’s a toga party’. Hussars wore a pelisse off the shoulder. The Bloods and the Crips sport red and blue respectively, as do Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs, another two parties with an ongoing blood feud, this side of the Atlantic. The Ghostbusters don jumpsuits and the New Zealand All Blacks wear, well…

None of these, however, have the resonance, the blood-summoning potency, the flash, the dash and the statement that are borne by tartan (plaid to our American cousins). Tartan is a statement of sovereignty, of kinship, of rebellion, and now, it seems, of fashion. Tartan has entered the style zeitgeist, with tartan making a cameo in the collections of celebrated maisons.

Bespoke has its idiosyncrasies, contingent as it is on the preferences of a specific client. It is only from a high-street perspective where things get more interesting. For ready-to-wear, tartan will carry a rationale and a story from the designers who have decided to incorporate it into their collections, and who believe that, ultimately, people are interested in wearing it. Acase in point is the tartan-patterned jacket in the autumn/winter ’14 Goodwood collection from British behemoth Belstaff.

    Duke of Windsor 'Wearing the Balmoral Tartan' in 1936. (Photo courtesy of Alamy).

    Published

    February 2020

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