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Tartan vs Plaid: What's The Difference Between Tartan and Plaid?

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Tartan vs Plaid: What's The Difference Between Tartan and Plaid?

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Tartan vs Plaid: What's The Difference Between Tartan and Plaid?

Confession time: prior to composing this article, even I was not fully aware of all the various applications of the term "plaid". Even in Scotland, we sometimes become a bit uncertain about the distinctions. So it is unsurprising that dictionaries, reference websites, and even kilt experts often muddle their definitions of plaid and tartan, or sometimes even get them completely incorrect. However, understanding the concept is quite simple, as we shall soon discover.

Find out about histories, family crest & coats of arms of over 400 Clans.

The key to comprehending plaids is recognizing that it is an old Scottish term for a blanket or wrap. This explanation clarifies why the term "plaid" has three overlapping yet distinct connotations:

  • "Plaid" may sometimes refer to the crisscross pattern of tartans or similar styles;
  • "Plaid" can also refer to the textiles or fabrics woven in those tartan-like designs;
  • For Scots, the "plaid" is mainly a type of traditional attire worn in various styles, such as the belted plaid, fly plaid, arisaid plaid, shepherd's plaid, and piper's plaid or drummer's plaid.

The use of the term "plaid" to describe a pattern can be broadly misconstrued, once again with three variations. However, it is relatively straightforward:

  • Plaids refer to any crisscross patterns of two or more colors;
  • Tartans are plaids with a name that identifies a community;
  • Checks are plaids with a regular pattern, usually of just two colors.

Tartan vs Plaid: What is the Difference?

The association between plaid and tartan patterns is the primary distinction between them. Any woven pattern with intersecting horizontal and vertical lines is referred to as plaid. The term "tartan" describes a distinctive pattern connected to a particular clan or group.

See more: How many Scottish clans are there?  The meanings and origins of the 10 most common Scottish surnames

Due to the fact that tartan is technically a variety of plaid, the term "tartan plaid" is also occasionally used to describe it.

Men wore highland attire and their tartan colors constantly as identifiers in the 16th century, at the height of the Highland culture. Tartan plaid is now most frequently used for highland clothing like kilts, sporrans, and jackets. It is frequently saved for formal occasions or cultural events.

The primary distinction between tartan and plaid is one of cultural significance. While generic plaid patterns are attractive, they don't necessarily mean anything. Tartans are significant historically or culturally.

Tartan vs Plaid: What is the Difference?

What is Tartan Fabric? "Plaid Fabric"

Tartan fabric is a plaid design with a name and history associated with a specific Scottish family. Often, these unique designs are registered in historical archives or online databases as clan tartans.

But first, let's talk about the terminology. In America, the words "plaid" and "tartan" are often used interchangeably. Both words sometimes refer to any plaid pattern characterized by horizontal and vertical crisscrossing lines.

In Scotland, however, the term "plaid" originally denoted the blanket or piece of clothing itself, while "tartan" described the woven design.

The iconic Scottish kilt may have its origins in the use of tartan blankets that could be draped over the shoulder. These blankets were referred to as "plaids" by the Scottish people.

The transition from blankets to garments involving intricate pleating and belting around the waist remains shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, this practical fashion choice enabled Scottish men to keep warm while keeping their hands free at the same time!

In present times, the term "tartan" specifically refers to distinct Scottish designs associated with particular clans or families. These patterns incorporate more than two colors and feature intricate crisscrossing patterns, resulting in a complex design.

Moreover, many tartan designs incorporate a component known as a "sett." Within plaid designs, a sett is a square that serves as a template for the entire design, repeating in a continuous pattern. This square may include intricate crisscrossing of multiple colors.

Tartan vs Plaid: What is the Difference?

See more: Everything You Need to Know about Scottish Clans?

The history and origins of the term 'Plaid'

The term 'plaid', pronounced as 'played' and occasionally spelled as 'plaide', was initially documented in Scottish Gaelic around the years 1505 to 1512, wherein it referred to a 'blanket'. Over time, its usage has broadened to encompass any type of regular or irregular woven or printed design that features intersecting stripes or bands running horizontally and vertically, or any material that exhibits such a pattern.

The word 'plaid' serves as both a noun that describes the design or material itself, as well as a modifier that can be used in various contexts. For instance, one may refer to plaid suits, plaid skirts, plaid jackets for examples. Today, these designs adorn a wide range of products to cater to the preferences of individuals while preserving the cultural essence of Scottish Tartan. Examples of such products include Tartan T-shirts, Tartan Hoodies, Tartan Shoes, Tartan Jewelry, Tartan Quilts, and many more.

Is Tartan Plaid Irish or Scottish?

While tartan plaid is a distinctively Scottish creation, the 19th century witnessed the emergence of unique Irish plaids too.

Each Scottish tartan design is associated with a specific clan or family, and as of today, there are over 25,000 registered and distinctive tartan plaid patterns! On the other hand, Irish plaid designs came into existence relatively recently, with the purpose of representing each county of Ireland as a symbol of national pride.

To illustrate, suppose you reside in Galway. In that case, you might don the Galway colors in your kilt while participating in a parade.

Tartan vs Plaid: What is the Difference?

Is there a Tartan for every Scottish name?

Not every Scottish surname has a historic tartan design registered to it. Individuals with Scottish heritage often opt to wear the tartan associated with their mother's maiden name in such instances.

In the present day, Scottish regions, sports teams, and even businesses frequently register their own unique tartan designs. People have the option to wear these tartans as a symbol of their support for their beloved sports team!

With a staggering number of over 25,000 officially registered tartans documented, there exists a rather favorable probability of discovering one that holds significance to your family if you possess Scottish lineage.

See more: What are Scotland's Most Famous Clans?

Tartan vs Plaid and check are distinct criss-cross patterns.

The term "plaid" is commonly used worldwide to describe a crisscross pattern, while in North America, the terms "plaid" and "tartan" are used interchangeably. In Scotland, however, certain patterns are recorded by the Scottish Register of Tartans.

To clarify this distinction, the term "plaid" can be used to describe any crisscross pattern. However, within the broad category of plaids, tartan fabrics must have a recognized name or history and are typically irregular in pattern. While a tartan does not need to be formally registered, a personal creation made using the ScottishPlaid.Co online tartan designer is spiritually just as much a tartan. Check fabrics are also considered plaids, but usually have a regular pattern and are typically only two colors, though a check may have an overcheck of a different shade or some other detail. Also check the clan name to find matching tartans.

"Plaid" as a term synonymous for tartan fabric or material.

In addition to describing the pattern of colored lines, the term "plaid" is also frequently used to refer to fabrics that feature these patterns. This means that "plaid" can be both a type of design that is either woven or printed onto materials, as well as the actual fabric itself that can be made into clothing or homewares.

In this sense, "plaid" becomes an abstract noun. Therefore, when you go to a fabric store, you would ask to buy "some" plaid, not "a" plaid. However, what you are ordering is the cloth, not the pattern. And while we're on the subject, it's worth mentioning that the ScotsTee Finder has the largest selection of plaids in the world, including tartans and checks, of course.

Speaking of tartans, it's interesting to note that the plaid meaning has also evolved over the centuries. The ScotsTee was traditionally woven from wool or a wool/linen blend, and this material was what the word "tartan" originally described. The tradition was to incorporate stripes of various colors using natural dyes. When woven in both directions (on the warp and weft), it created a check pattern. Each region had its own preferred designs, which often reflected local plant life for the dyes. This might have been helpful for distinguishing friends from foes in battle, which is how tartan came to be known. However, the formal system associating specific tartans with clans didn't come about until the nineteenth century, which is how we still think about tartan today.

It's somewhat ironic that "tartan" used to refer to a type of material, but now mainly denotes a pattern. Conversely, "plaid" originally referred to a garment, but now has a much broader meaning. At least now you should have a clearer understanding of all the different ways in which these terms are used.

Tartan Names and Colors

The clan, or extended family system, who first wore that design gives most tartan designs their names. The clan's colors serve to distinguish it, but they occasionally also signify something else.

For instance, the catholic religion is associated with red and green patterns. At various times throughout history, bluer designs stood in for the protestant religion.

Tartans By Surname

Tartans By Surname

In the Scottish highlands, a person's surname typically indicated the clan to which they belonged. When smaller clans owed allegiance to stronger clans, this association could become complicated. This indicated that surnames might alter over time.

Your tartan pattern shares the same name as your surname because each clan typically had its own distinct tartan pattern! Clan Fraser, for instance, has several distinctive tartans. These include Frazer of Lovat, Fraser of Lovat, and Fraser Red.

By using your surname to search online databases, you can discover your tartan pattern if you have Scottish ancestry. Please be aware that surname spellings frequently change significantly over time, so you might need to conduct some preliminary genealogical research.

A modern registry for clan tartans has been developed by a number of societies and organizations. The current most official registry is the Scottish Register of Tartans.

See more: 17 Well-Known Scottish Castles and the Clans that Occupied Them

Names and colors of tartans

Names and colors associated with tartan are highly significant culturally. Today, each tartan pattern is linked to a particular family, clan, or group. Many designs have meticulous records that have been formally registered.

Unfortunately, not all tartan designs worn in the past have been meticulously documented. Many of the earliest clan tartans have been lost to history because natural fibers rot easily.

Modern colors, historic colors, and subdued colors are all mentioned in tartan literature. These words describe the type of dye that is utilized to produce a tartan pattern.

Bright, chemical, or synthetic dyes are used in modern color. This produces the vivid reds, greens, and blues that come to mind when you think of a kilt!

The original highland weavers' use of natural dyes was imitated in ancient colors. This results in a lightened, less colorful version of the original design.

As people became interested in re-creating the original color of the design, muted colors started to emerge in the late 20th century. In essence, it's a contemporary effort to mimic the hues of antiquity.

The clan or family that first wore a particular tartan gets credit for most of its names. For hundreds of years, clans and families wore woven clothing. But after George IV visited Scotland in the early 1800s, tartans experienced a significant increase in popularity among Scottish and British people.

Prior to this, no English king or queen had visited Scotland in over a century! The "Georgian craze" for tartan resulted from this.

This ultimately motivated Queen Victoria to travel to Scotland and purchase Balmoral castle. Even their decorations featured a unique royal family pattern! The Dress Stewart and the Hunting Stewart are two of the patterns in this tartan.

By ScotsTee

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