If you use our Tartan Finder to search for your family Tartan, you might notice that your name returns several Tartans, each with a slightly different range of colours used in the design. There are a selection of colour variations used in the Tartan industry, and this article will explain the differences between each one.
The 5 main variations in Tartan styles are Ancient, Modern, Hunting, Dress and Weathered (sometimes referred to as Withered or Muted). Within these groups you can also have a mixing of some of the style, for example a Ancient Hunting Robertson Tartan, or a Modern Dress Gordon Tartan. (Though you can’t get an Ancient-Modern Tartan combination!)
Tartan’s with the prefix ‘Ancient’ are not necessarily older than other Tartans, it simply refers to the colour palette used in the design. The colours are often softer and lighter to what you would see in a ‘Modern’ Tartan design. These colours are choosen to have a closer link to the historical colours of Tartans in years gone by – produced with the natural dyes available. The colours are pastel-like, creating a softer feel, and giving the look of material that is worn beyond its years.
Here you can see the Ancient and Modern Lamont Tartans. Note that the Sett of the Tartan is the Same, but the colours used in the Ancient Version are lighter/pastel.
As with ‘Ancient’ Tartan’s, the name ‘Modern’ relates to the colours used in the Tartan, not the date of the design. Ancient and Modern design’s tend to share the same sett, the change is in the colour palette used. While ‘Ancient’ Tartan use lighter softer colours, ‘Modern’ Tartans use stronger, darker colours.
Hunting Tartans traditionally were worn when the wearer was on a hunt. To tie in with this, the colours usual are suited to match with the woodland background linked with a hunt – Greens and browns being the strongest colour here.
Hunting Tartans - MacFarlane Hunting Modern, MacGregor Hunting Ancient, MacPhail Hunting Ancient and MacRae Hunting Modern Tartans
It is often easy to identify Dress Tartan’s with the abundance of white thread used to make up the design (An exception to this is the Dress MacLeod Tartan, which uses yellow thread instead of the normal white). These designs are most popular with Highland Dancing Kilts, though they can also been worn to give a brighter looking Tartan Kilt. Dress Gordon is perhaps the most recongizable Tartan in this range as it has been incorporated into many popular fashion items such as scarves and jacket linings.
Modern Dress MacDonald, Ancient Dress Gillies, Modern Dress Gordon and Ancient Dress MacLeod Tartans. Note that the MacLeod Dress Tartan Uses Yellow instead of White
Tartans of the Weathered Styling use a colour palette to reflect the name – tones that are faded, giving a look of the Kilt being aged by exposure to inclement weather. In years gone by the Great Kilt worn by the Scots would have endured the harsh Scottish Weather and terrain. The Great Kilt would be used to protect the wearer from the elements, and would gain a worn and aged look from this. (Weather Tartans are also sometimes referred to as ‘Withered’ or ‘Muted’, depending on what Mill that Cloth is produced from.)
A range of Weathered (Withered) Tartan - Watson, Sutherland, Murray of Atholl and MacLaren. You can see the Browns and Weather-Beaten Colours used here.
While there are many different varieties of Tartan to choose from, at the end of the day it is down to preference what Tartan you decide upon. There is no right or wrong Tartan for any occasion – as long as the wearer likes it! Search now for all your families Tartans with our Tartan Finder!