We instinctively recognise tartan whenever we see it. Yet those familiar criss-crossed lines and checks, in all their varied arrangements of size and hue, demand deeper inspection and appreciation. Look more closely and you find strands of tartan woven throughout key subcultures from past and present and stitched into fashion’s ongoing timeline. Those Scottish highlanders who wore tartan as daily attire, hundreds of years ago, clearly knew they were on to a good thing.
From the middle of the 20th Century onwards, tartan-ism has been embraced by the young and rebellious. In the 1950s, for example, lightweight Harrington jackets lined with tartan (hitherto donned for gentle outdoor pursuits such as golf) were re-appropriated by the era’s freshest heroes of music and film. Elvis Presley and James Dean boldly wore theirs semi or fully-unzipped, accessorised with quiffs and sex appeal. The look was emulated by teens worldwide.