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The History of the Tartan

If you recall one of our earlier posts on How To Choose A Kilt, we shared some basic information regarding what a tartan is, with a little bit of history behind its origins. Today, I want to talk more about the history of the tartan, since there seems to be a lot of uncertainty regarding when tartans actually became a thing.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in different colors, which result in a distinctive pattern known as a sett. A tartan, which is often referred to as plaid in the U.S., is almost always associated with Scotland and Scottish kilts. 🙂


The reason why tartans are always associated with Scotland is because for centuries records make countless references about inhabitants of the region, describing them as dressed in “mottled” or “chequered” clothing. Seems like sufficient evidence to me, seeing as these records date alllll the way back to the 16th century!

However, from what I gather from different sources, it seems like these records only account for what we consider a tartan today! There is even further evidence linking the tartan to ancient Celtic civilizations in Central Europe between the 8th and 6th century BC. How crazy is that?! Actual tartan-like fabrics have been found in places like Austria and Scandinavia.

Another piece of tartan fabric was recorded in Britain around the 3rd century AD in Falkirk, Scotland, which was then coined the Falkirk tartan. The Falkirk tartan is one of the earliest forms of the border tartan, which is a simple crossweave of dark and light checks, and is believed to date back to Roman times.

After that, most records support the history of the tartan evolving among tribes and communities living on the various islands and the mainland of the Highlands during the 16th century and on. Since tartans stuck around as the main, everyday attire for the highlanders, it eventually became associated with Scottish clans and culture.

Today there are over 4000 registered tartan designs, and only 500 designs have actually been woven! Whoa. Bet you didn’t know that one! 😉

We have quite a selection of tartans available as well, definitely worth checking out in light of all this talk about tartans!! I hope you enjoyed a little taste of tartan history today! Share our blog and keep your eyes peeled for our next blog post! 🙂

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History of the Blackwatch

The myriad of tartans available, which we’ve discussed before, never ceases to amaze me! Luckily, most of you who know which clan your ancestors originated from probably know a thing or two about the history of your familial roots. As we mentioned before, for those of us who are clan-less, it’s more than common to wear the super popular, neutral tartan kilt – the Blackwatch.

What do we really know about the history of this beloved kilt?


Well, let me tell ya, it’s always interesting to hear a bit of history behind such a timeless tartan whose symbolism has been ingrained in the Scottish culture for sooo many years.

In fact, this tartan is representative of the Scottish military, whose origins date waaay back to the early part of the 18th century. The Black Watch is the senior and oldest Highland regiment, which, according to Royle’s book on it’s fascinating history, attributes some of it’s popularity to the story behind it’s creation.

Early on in the Highlands of Scotland, during a chaotic and rebellious time, an infantry regiment composed of tough, fighting soldiers were needed to bring criminals and rebels to justice. This regiment was composed of 525 native Highlander men from six independent companies, who together were known as Am Freiceadan Dubh, which is Gaelic for “the dark” or “black watch.”

The origin behind the name is unclear, however one theory suggests The Black Watch name came from the dark, plaid uniforms they had to wear. This set them apart from the other government regiments whose soldiers wore red coats.

Another interesting theory suggests that they were actually referred to as “black hearts,” since they supported the government’s desire to enforce law and order in the Highland region, going completely against the so-called “true Highland spirit” – which, at the time, included cattle rustling and extortion. Tsk tsk.

Over time, The Black Watch was not only seen as a military regiment, but rather a representation of the country’s people as a whole. One of the regiment’s most distinguished soldiers, Field Marshal Earl Wavell, sums up the essence of The Black Watch quite nicely:

“The Jock of Today comes from the city as often as from the hills or fields. But he still inherits the spirit and traditions of his Highland forebears – the clan feeling ,the toughness, the fierceness in assault, the independence of character, the boundless self-confidence in his own powers in all circumstances and conditions.”

The Black Watch has been around for over two centuries, and evolved into such a well-regarded and admired military force. The history behind its founding and it’s necessity also continue to contribute to The Black Watch’s allure and prestige, which persisted throughout the country’s history!

It’s no wonder the Blackwatch kilt is sooo popular, as the tartan is literally rooted in so much history and Scottish pride. 🙂

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History of the Sporran

So, we’ve given ye a bit of insight on how to choose a kilt, pick the perfect tartan, and select the best kilt accessories for the complete Scottish look.

After sharing some common accessories available for achieving the perfect Kommando Kilt attire, I began wondering how one of the most popular “must-have” accessories – the sporran – came about.


As ye learned in our earlier blog, the sporran, which is actually Scottish Gaelic for “purse,” is typically worn along the waist of yer kilt, hanging right below the belt buckle. In order to understand the history of the sporran, ye must also understand the history of one of the oldest, most original, OG kilts – the Feileadh Mor, also known as the Great Kilt.

The Great Kilt (aka, the Original Gangster kilt) is the most basic form of the kilt, dating  back to the 12th century. The Great Kilt was created and worn in a way that suited the lifestyle and climate of the Scottish Highlands.

For example, in comparison to traditional trousers, kilts were customarily made from wool which dried out quickly and could be unraveled to be used as a blanket. Additionally, kilts provided a Scotsman a greater range of motion.

While kilts were very popular in this region, they were missing one key component traditional trousers always had: pockets.

So, how was this resolved? How would they hold all the basic, daily necessities, such as their keys and iPhones, conveniently in one place?

Okay, maybe their personal items didn’t include car keys and iPhones. However, this ingenious little bag was still born out of a necessity to carry other items we can also relate to today, such as coins, food and even pistols (maybe some of ye can relate to the last one?).

Anyways, a simply designed pouch made of leather was made, gathered at the top with basic drawstrings and later dubbed what we know now as the “sporran,” or, as I like to call it, the medieval man-purse. 🙂


From this point on, the medieval man-purse actually stuck and became a thing! While it was originally made from leather, most commonly deerskin and calfskin, over time sporrans evolved into more elaborate and decorative pieces for the Scottish Highlanders.

These elaborate decorations included intricately designed metal clasps and adornments, as well as detailed etchings and designs. They later evolved to include fur accents and tassels as well.

Belt Military McKee Buckle 72

As sporrans became more and more decorative, their aesthetic appeal became more enticing over time rather than their function. Sporrans were eventually grouped into different categories, primarily revolved around Scottish attire for different occasions, such as semi-formal, formal, and daily wear.

So basically what was once bore out of necessity eventually became a “must-have” accessory. 🙂

Now that ye know a little history behind the medieval man-purse, consider taking a look at some of these sporran beauties. In fact, our hand crafted sporrans are exclusively made from %100 high-quality leather, and are available as a single pouch, a double pouch, or with a genuine fur accent. We even offer a classic Sporran with Tartan, which undoubtedly ensures the sporran complements yer kilt! ;P

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How to Choose a Kilt: Part 4 Kilt Accessories

Now that you’re all sorted out with your perfectly fitted tartan kilt, let’s accessorize! What’s a Scottish outfit without all the accessories, eh?

Kilts and Accessories

First, let’s begin with the Fly Paid. What’s a Fly Paid you ask? Well, only the flyest accessory of them all! The Fly Plaid is a long piece of fabric, sort of like a scarf, that matches your kilt.  These babies date back to the 18th century, introduced around the time modern kilts replaced the Great Kilt and the traditional Féileadh Mòr (Great Plaid) worn in the Scottish Highlands.

Unlike a Sash (which makes a loop around the body), a Fly Plaid is pinned to the chest with a brooch and draped over one shoulder. At Kommando Kilts, we offer some of our very own handcrafted Celtic adornment, such as the Pewter Brooch or the Fireman Brooch, as well as other more traditional artwork– in fact, some of the Celtic designs in these brooches can be traced back to Early Medieval metalwork!

Now onto another must-have accessory – the sporran!

A sporran, which is actually Scottish Gaelic for “purse,” is the perfect accessory to go along with the traditionally pocketless kilt. Where else will you carry your wallet and keys? Our hand crafted sporrans are exclusively made from %100 high-quality leather, and are available as a single pouch, a double pouch, or with a genuine fur accent. They are typically worn along the waist, hanging right below the belt buckle, which we also offer. 😉 If you really want to go all out and make sure the sporran complements your kilt, we even offer a classic Sporran with Tartan. This way you’ll match all around!

Now that you’re filled in on a few common accessories used to add the finishing touches to your Scottish attire, come join us at one of our upcoming shows! Check out our 2016 schedule to see when we’ll be near you. 🙂

Just know there are still countless accessories available to help spice up your outfit, including traditional Scottish hats and much more! Make sure to take a look at some our previous posts if you’re in need of some guidance on choosing the right kilt or sett before you deep dive into the accessorizing!

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How to Choose a Kilt: Part 3 – Size and Measurements

Now that you got the gist of the different styles of kilts and tartans available, determining how to get adequately  fitted for one of these buggers is a whole different story! After the sett is chosen, deciding on how to tailor the kilt correctly is often a concern.

Traditionally. the waist of the kilt is measured at the bellybutton and the length of the kilt should hit the middle of the kneecap. What this means is, first, measurements must be made around the natural waistline – about an inch above your bellybutton. Then, similarly, measurements along your hip bone will also be needed, which is roughly about 5 inches greater than your waist. As for the length of the kilt, generally, measurements are made starting from the bellybutton all the way to your knees.


However, as we said before in earlier posts, really, anything goes! At Kommando Kilt, when taking measurements into consideration, we would highly recommend simply tailoring the kilt to fit however you feel most comfortable wearing it. 🙂

Although these traditional measurements are more geared towards our male counterparts (since conventional kilts were designed for men), women can also wear one if they so please! We won’t stop ya. 😉 On the other hand, it is much more common for a woman to wear a kilted skirt (and they’re so cute!), such as this Billie Kilt or even the Ladies Utility Kilt.

A typical kilted skirt is made up of an apron (the flat flap) at the front, which is worn with a seam on the same side as the men’s kilt.Traditionally, this means on the right side, however, placing it on the left is totally acceptable too. As far as measurements go for the ladies, the only difference will be the desired length and the placement of the waist. For women’s kilted skirts, measurements on the lower part of the waistline are much more common, versus above the navel for men.

Once again we’d like to emphasize that choosing a kilt that fits your body type most comfortably is highly recommended! Tailoring your kilt to be fitted so that you’ll want to wear it proudly and flaunt it as often as possible is usually a good judgement for measurement. 😀

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How to Choose a Kilt: Part 2 – Tartans and Setts

In our last blog post, we introduced the basics behind the origins of different styles of kilts that exist, as well as the different types offered exclusively at Kommando Kilts. Just as promised, this week we’ll get into the details of how to select the right tartans (err, pattern) for yer kilt! Now comes the fun part. 🙂

If ye didn’t know, a tartan is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in different colors, which result in a distinctive pattern known as a sett. Tartans originated in woven wool, but now they’re made of many other materials such as polyviscose or acrylic fabrics (which we offer!).


There are a variety of setts available, which include the Blackwatch, the Royal Stewart, the Hunting Stewart, the Mackenzie, the Dress Thomson, and the Dress Gordon. Each is associated with a different clan, and according to custom, one must wear their own proper set linked through ancestral bloodline. The differences between tartans is a result of how way back when, each community had a weaver who would create tartans with colors extracted from the dyes of local plants. Since different areas had access to different types of plants, each community had unique tartans that reflected their locality! And just like most things, dyes evolved over time and tartans became much more elaborate with vivid colors and patterns that we love love LOVE today. We even sing songs about how much we love them, like the classic Gentlemen-The Tartan by Murdoch Maclean:

Here’s to it!

The fighting sheen of it,

The yellow, the green of it,

The white, the blue of it,

The swing, the hue of it,

The dark, the red of it,

Every thread of it!

The fair have sighed for it,

The brave have died for it,

Foemen sought for it,

Heroes fought for it.

Honour the name of it,

Drink to the fame of it – THE TARTAN!

However, if ye don’t know which clan yer ancestors were from or if ye simply don’t like the tartan associated with yer clan, don’t fret! Much like the spirit of the Renaissance Festivals, anything goes! If ye really want to follow tradition and the former still follows, we suggest neutral tartans representative of the Scottish military—the Blackwatch. We also offer a couple of tartans based on official state designs, such as Oklahoma, Colorado, Wisconsin and the Texas Bluebonnet.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the How To Choose A Kilt Series for even more on how to prepare for yer next Scottish purchase! ;P

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How To Choose A Kilt: Part 1 Types

Selecting the right kilt may seem overwhelming at first with the myriad of patterns and styles readily available at your disposal. However, it’s much simpler than you’d expect, especially with some help from seasoned experts like ourselves. Before you dive into choosing the perfect Celtic attire, it’s always a good idea to learn a lil’ something about the origins and verbiage associated with such a timeless, fashionable product that reigns back to literally hundreds of years ago.

First, we’ll begin with the oldest and most authentic of them all, the Great Kilt. Back in the day these full-length garments were all the rage; in fact, the way one was put on actually required you to lay out the fabric on the floor and roll into it. Sounds fun, right? Not exactly. Although this may be the “original”, they evolved in such a way so you won’t have to break a sweat each time you put one on. As a result, the Wee Kilt was born.

In contrast with the full length Great Kilt, the Wee Kilt covers the lower half of the body from the waist to the knees. Nowadays, the Wee Kilts have a greater appeal since a.) they use less fabric (3 ½ to 4 yards of fabric on average), therefore making them lighter and more comfortable, and b.) they have a waistband, making it WAY easier to put on.

While different variations and styles exist of these two basic kilts, at Kommando Kilts we offer traditional Tartan Kilts and Casual Kilts.


Our casual kilts line offers our very own Kommando Kilt. This kilt maintains a distinct style that combines casual with the traditional look, perfect for everyday wear. It even has an adjustable waistline! We also offer the awesome Fusion Kilt, which is a whole new take on a timeless classic and the lightweight AND functional Utility Kilt.

Part 2 of this blog series will delve deeper into the patterns and etiquette associated with the Tartan kilts, as well as Gaelic heritage. From there, you’ll be even closer to confidently choosing the perfect kilt!