Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tartan: The Manliest of Materials?

If asked to think of tartan as a fashion item, you’d be forgiven for conjuring images of kilts to your mind. True, tartan has become somewhat synonymous with this traditional Celtic garment. Kilts originated as the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands during the 16th century and, in a way, tartan continues to be regarded very much as a man’s material.

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Jonathan Falers, author of Tartan: Textiles that Changed the World, called the material “the uniform of rugged masculinity”. Dr Falers, a lecturer in cultural studies at Central St Martins art school in London, goes on to suggest that “tartan signals a back-to-basics feel”.
There is something undeniably masculine about pieces crafted from unique tartan blends. It potentially has something do with the fact that a large number of these pieces come from heritage brands like Barbour, usually associated with the traditionally male-dominated agricultural industry.

Check out this Barbour shirt, from the range of men’s country clothing at House of Bruar. The simple block cheques and earthy colours of the material itself reflect the notion expressed by Dr Jonathan Falers that tartan reverts back to basics. What’s more, the oversized tailoring and cut of the shirt contribute to the masculinity of the piece.

(Barbour Rannoch Shirt, Classic Tartan, £69.95, from House of Bruar)

If you’re loving this as much as we are, we’d advise wearing it with dark-wash denim in a regular cut; finish off the look perfectly with heavy, bulky boots, like this suede ankle design, also by British heritage label Barbour.

 (Barbour Readhead Shoe, £119.95, from House of Bruar)

So it is just the link with the earth and the outdoors which implicates tartan as a man’s material? provides a very interesting insight into the link between golf and tartan, which again would serve to explain why it’s considered a somewhat masculine textile. The sport has always been famous for its loud trouser designs, although the popularity of tartan on the catwalk means that golfers are now some of the most fashionable sports people in the world.

Tartan trousers have since escaped the boundaries of the sporting arena, making their way onto the high street. Retailers like Topman now include tartan pieces, like these red and black cheque trousers, as part of their formal collection, reflecting the Scottish tradition of using this material for formal wear.

Of course, no one is saying that tartan is solely the property of male fashion followers. Women explore the outdoors, work as farmers and put up a mighty fight on the golf course. What’s more, tartan is just as prominent in the world of women’s fashion. But it’s hard to escape the powerful associations between tartan and masculinity.

Either way, some key pieces make for a fantastic addition to your wardrobe!

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