Tartan always enjoys a merry resurgence around this time of year, as rich checks – once a symbol of clan kinship – bring festive cheer to knits, scarves and anything that makes the frost-bitten months a touch more bearable. But as well as royals spreading good tidings with their “setts” – one of the original words for the linear print – a handful of stars is also embracing Scottish heritage this season.
Step into Christmas Jodie Turner-Smith, one of 2022’s standout style plates. The Queen & Slim actor might have declared that “fashion is back, baby” while hosting the Fashion Awards, but Turner-Smith is an old soul at heart, mixing her slinky sequin 16Arlington party dresses with Gucci’s time-travelling looks by her history-obsessed friend Alessandro Michele. When it comes to modernising tartan then, this chameleon is a worthy ambassador. On Turner-Smith, her deep moss-green, navy and postbox-red Gucci checks look directional rather than conventional and show the power of great tailoring – something the royal family knows only too well.
While the new Princess of Wales’s chequered outerwear is the product of her relationship with trusted British brands, from Alexander McQueen to Emilia Wickstead, Queen Elizabeth II’s quintessential patterns were often the Royal Stewart tartan, dating back to 1800 and named after the Stuart dynasty of Scotland, or the Balmoral tartan, which the Scottish Register of Tartans states was created by Prince Albert in 1853 after he and Queen Victoria acquired Balmoral, and is still a favourite of King Charles today. As with everything in the former Queen’s wardrobe, tartan represented the best of UK craftsmanship and signalled quality clothing – not fashion – built to last (watch the latest series of The Crown to see how Her Majesty incorporated archetypal swathes of tartan into her formal regalia as well as her outdoorwear.)
Want to know your Black Watch tartan from your Hunting tartan? The V&A Dundee is curating a landmark exhibition in spring 2023 charting how “tartan – a cloth of unity and dissent, inclusivity and diversity, ritual and rebellion – has connected communities worldwide, both adored and derided.” With 300 objects spanning categories, from fashion to fine art, and donations acquired via major houses, from Chanel to Dior, the show promises to delve deep into the print’s “complex, rich and sometimes painful history”, and is a brilliant excuse to head up north next year.
For now, seek style inspiration from the spring/summer 2023 runways, which were packed with plaid, including Riccardo Tisci’s farewell checks for Burberry, Daniel Fletcher’s experimental womenswear and Prada, Kenzo and Junya Watanabe’s fresh colour combinations for the classic squares (a huge leap from the early tartans pigmented by the dyes of plants and berries and even those in later years, when newer clans adapted patterns by adding extra stripes).
The bonniest take on legacy checks? Dior’s collaboration with ERL for Resort 2023, which saw Venice Beach style provocateur Eli Russell Linnetz put a SoCal spin on Gianfranco Ferré’s designs for the house in the early ’90s. The finale look? A patchworked pillarbox-red cape worn with a bare torso save for a knitted marl scarf that wouldn’t have looked totally out of place on blustery walks around Balmoral. While there was plenty to take from that showmanship, the splashy tartan was a signal that sometimes it’s time to get off the trend grid and put new twists on forever pieces that have a through line from then and now.