What Do Kilt Colors Mean?

If you’re fascinated by the beautiful kilts of Scotland, you’re not alone. You can find tartan patterns throughout the world, but kilts are perhaps the best-known example of how a relatively simple pattern can send a powerful message.

But what makes one kilt different from the next? What do kilt colors mean? 

Kilt colors represent many things:

  • A parent clan
  • An occasion
  • A traditional style such as the classic tartan greens and blues

Traditional Scottish tartan is also a fashion item. However, the history behind what kilt colors mean is complex and represents centuries of Celtic customs.

From our family to yours, the Celtic Croft is here to share how kilt colors represent the uniqueness and history of Celtic culture. Read on to learn more about Highland dress, its history, and the meaning behind the colors of Scottish tartan design.

Once you’re inspired, you can find your favorite kilt pattern from The Celtic Croft today. We have kilts for clans, official Outlander gear, and fascinating, unique items you can’t find anywhere else. 

Why Do Scots Wear Tartan Cloth?

A shot of a man walking away wearing a green and blue tartan kilt and holding a bagpipe.

If you’re wondering what do kilt colors mean, it’s best to go back to basics. While it may seem unromantic to some, the most likely explanation for the origin of the early tartan design is that it was akin to a manufacturer’s brand today. Each style is the mark of the weaver responsible for tartan design in a clan.

Why Do Scots Wear Kilts?

Modern tartan kilts are far shorter than traditional kilts, which were designed to protect the wearer and double as blankets in cold weather (not uncommon in Scotland). Scots wear tartan kilts to commemorate the fighting style of their ancestors, emphasizing freedom of movement in the rugged hills and Munros against English invaders.

What are the Oldest Tartans?

While tartan has existed in Scotland since at least the 3rd Century AD (one of the earliest is the Falkirk tartan, colored in rugged brown tones), the modern form of tartan wasn’t created until the 16th Century at the earliest. Even then, it wasn’t until the 18th Century that there was any identifiable unity in a Scottish district’s tartan pattern. 

Does Tartan Differ by Gender?

Tartan aprons from The Celtic Croft

There is no distinction of tartans between genders. Indeed, the classic tartan kilt is an excellent example of how traditional dress can challenge gender norms and preconceptions of who should wear what.

Outside traditional Scottish dress, the tartan pattern is beloved around the world. Manly men are drawn to the pattern (perhaps being lumbersexual has something to do with it). However, it’s also common for women to wear plaid colors and patterns you would see on a kilt in everyday fashion.

Thus, while Scots may have worn kilts to represent their clans or to take part in ceremonial affairs, the truth is that everyone can wear a kilt, even if you’re not Scottish. It’s all a matter of how you wear it and the pattern you choose. 

Why Do So Many Tartans Use Greens and Blues?

Morrison Green (Hunting) Modern

The tartan pattern was made using whatever natural dyes were available (frequently greens and blues, as these could be extracted from local plants and flowers). This likely originated with skilled weavers who created a consistent style so that their work would be recognized. That pattern later became a symbol of the clan and the answer to what do kilt colors mean: they bring a sense of identity.

From the 18th Century onward, companies such as William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn were mostly responsible for producing Scottish tartans. Still, natural dyes were used to create patterns such as the iconic black-red pattern of the Munro clan or the blue-black tartan that is still a popular choice today.

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What Do Kilt Colors Mean for Clans?

Wearing the cloth of your parent clan is an honor. It provides a link to your ancestry, whether you’re at a family event or just rocking up at someone else’s wedding dressed in a superb kilt. No explanation is necessary, you look incredible, and your ancestors are proud.

You can find your clan’s tartan by searching your name on this tartan finder from the Celtic Croft. You may be presented with several options, so you can search by using your ancestors’ names (such as a grandmother’s maiden name) to find a pattern you feel intimately connected to.

Once you’ve found your clan colors, it’s time to get your tartan on Celtic Croft’s official website! The good news about clan kilts is they’re not exclusive. At the end of the day, you can wear any kilt that makes you happy and shop for colors that aren’t part of your clan.

Which Tartan is Worn on Formal Occasions?

Welsh Black Dress Ysgrepan

If you ever see a Scottish wedding, you won’t just admire the bride and groom’s love but also their distinctly colorful tartans. Kilts are traditional Highland dress at events such as weddings. Both the bride and groom will represent their parent clan and those colors. 

There are also many tartans designed for formal occasions. These tend to include white and monochrome colors to complement the rest of your formal outfit. Strong red tartans are also popular choices for formal wear.

What Tartans are Worn at the Highland Games?

Kilts are also favored at the Highland Games by the braw lads tossing cabers. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a great place to learn about kilt colors and styles.

Diverse tartans are worn by participants from all over the world, showing that it’s not just about ancestry — it’s about spirit! In fact, Highland Games are held as far away as New Zealand. Traditional Scottish dress and sports have become beloved all over the world in this way. So, you can find pretty much all tartans represented at the Highland Games!

What Tartans are Worn for Hunting?

MacDonald of the Isles Hunting Ancient 6yd single

Traditional Highland dress such as hunting tartan (mostly earthy greens and blues, similar to modern camouflage) is also a popular favorite for formal events. While many clan colors include greens and blues due to how easy it is to find dyes in these colors, hunting tartans are a great neutral choice for everyday fashion. Put on a green and blue pattern and feel like a warrior. 

What Tartan Does The U.S. Military Use?

David Birkman Marine Corps Tartan KIlt

You may have seen someone in the military rocking a tartan. That’s because many tartan patterns are associated with military units, such as the U.S. Marine Corps tartan (nicknamed ‘leatherneck’). This pattern features bold yellow and red lines across a traditional blue-green weave.

Another famous example is the iconic Black Watch tartan (black-green). These patterns are required wear for members of that unit and provide a sense of identity.

Real Scottish Tartan for Every Occasion

People Wearing Outlander tartan outfits

There’s a tartan out there for everyone. You may be searching for a pattern that connects you to your heritage or just looking for some truly beautiful traditional clothing. Either way, you’ll find so many options for tartan kilts, shawls, scarves, and more at the Celtic Croft.

At the Celtic Croft, we believe in family and heritage above all else. From our family to yours, join us in celebrating our proud Celtic heritage through fantastic Celtic clothing. Visit the Celtic Croft for all your Highland dress needs and the best tartan pattern kilts and accessories.

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