From Kilts To Catwalks - Tartan At The National Museum Of Costume.

By Caroline Lewis | 19 April 2007
photo of a woman among many tartan garments on mannequins

Exhibition curator Kristina Stankovski with some of the tartan-wear on display. Courtesy the National Museum of Costume

A symbol of Scotland and its historic clans, Tartan pops up on the catwalk every year. Now these designer tartans are taking centre stage at the National Museum of Costume near Dumfries.

Tartan creations by Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier and Sir Hardy Amies will feature alongside a thorough historical context of the textile at Fabric of a Nation, running until October 31 2007.

Tracing the origins of tartan and its development as an emblem of Scottish national identity, the exhibition also displays 18th century Highland Regiment uniforms, everyday dress worn by Highland women in the past and the romanticisation of tartan in the 19th century.

The latter phenomenon was largely the result of George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822 and, later, Queen Victoria’s enthusiasm for the Highlands.

photo of a woman looking at a fancy dress with a tartan skirt

Kristina with the Hardy Amies dress. Courtesy National Museum of Costume

It was Queen Victoria who popularised the wearing of tartan at functions during her reign. Before then, most of southern Scotland never wore or owned a piece of tartan, but Queen Victoria, entranced by Balmoral and the Highlands, made it a necessary accessory at any dance or occasion.

“Tartan wasn’t originally seen as a symbol of clanship, or indeed as Scotland’s national dress,” commented Maureen Barrie, Exhibitions Officer at National Museums Scotland, “so this new exhibition provides a fascinating insight into how this enduring fabric developed into a symbol of Scottish identity that is now seen on catwalks across the world.”

The exhibition goes on to look at the role of tartan in the 20th century, from its use in battledress to ball gowns and punk style bondage trousers.

A Sir Hardy Amies dress with a leaf green lace bodice teamed with a red Fraser tartan skirt and a men’s three piece suit by Vivienne Westwood are some of the striking couture displays.

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