Why Wear a Tartan Sash, and How?


Scottish and Irish dress is both beautiful and confusing. There are so many rules, some widely known and some that are a little more subjective. For the novice, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Wearing tartan shouldn’t be scary. It is a fun way to show off your heritage and look stylish while doing it. 

There are many ways you can incorporate tartan into your wardrobe. For the ladies, one of the best ways is to add a sash to your outfit. 

If you are wondering how to wear a sash, keep reading. We are going to talk a little bit about the history and significance of the sash in Irish and Scottish dress. We will also go over some of the common ways in which sashes are worn. 

So sit back, relax, and let The Celtic Croft introduce you to the sash.

outlander tartan sash

What is a Sash?

A sash is a light scarf or covering that is typically draped over the upper body. It is made from wool and matches the tartan pattern of the wearer’s clan. 

If you want to stick to tradition, your sash should be fashioned from wool. However, silk is an acceptable substitute. The sash is either secured with a pin or tied into a bow or rosette. 

Why Wear a Sash?

The customary tradition of scarf-wearing dates back centuries. They are deeply symbolic, but, in the end, they are more decorative than functional. Tartan sashes were most often worn for dances or balls. 

For the ladies in Scotland and Ireland, the rules of dress are much less strict than those for their male counterparts. The kilt has a plethora of accessories, each with a history and lore all its own. 

What the ladies lack in rigidity, they gain in flexibility, though. When the ladies don their tartan, they have much more freedom afforded to them in their fashion choices. 

Ladies can choose to wear a tartan skirt, and they can even choose whether or not they want to wear it pleated. They have a choice on the length as well, and it can range from micro-mini to full floor length. 

They can also add tartan to any outfit only by adding a tartan sash. 

homespun wool sash

How To Wear a Sash?

Traditionally, all women wore their sashes pinned to their right shoulders and draped across their bodies. There are a few exceptions, however. 

  • Wives of chieftains or women who were chieftains themselves generally wore their sashes over their left shoulder
  • If the lady wishes to increase her range of movement during a dance or a ball, she can pin the sash to her shoulder and drape both ends over her back

In modern times, though, the prevailing view seems to be, do what you want. Ladies should wear their sashes to match whatever outfit they are wearing or function they are attending at the time. 

That is not to say that there are no known rules. This is Scottish or Irish custom we are talking about, after all. Many regulations and guidelines have been put forth over the centuries concerning the wearing of the sash. 

Most of the rules concern whether or not the woman is married. Beyond that, they are dependent on whether or not the lady’s husband is in her clan or not. The question at hand is whether or not these rules are binding.

Even in their culture and customs, the rules are a little confusing. For instance, the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society instructs dancers to wear their sashes on the left side instead of the right. 

The reason for this seems to be the dancers need to keep their right arm free for their dancing and movement. This rule change is a change of utility, and it shows the flexibility of Scottish customs.

Surprisingly, this rule over which shoulder to drape your sash seems to be a more modern adaptation. These rules didn’t show up in their current iteration until as late as the Victorian Era. 

In fact, books and writings on how to wear a kilt didn’t generally appear until the late nineteenth century. It almost seems that these texts spring from a mix of nostalgia and propriety. People want to hold onto the customs of their ancestors. 

Traditions can make us feel more connected to the past. It is a special feeling to walk in your ancestors’ shoes. When we are talking about wearing tartan, it is like you are actually walking in their shoes. 

The history of the tartan sash as a part of a lady’s dress is not incredibly fleshed out. One of the first written references can be found in The Kilt: A Manual of Scottish National Dress. The author, Loudon M. Douglas, explains that sashes should be worn with evening dresses. 

He goes on the say that these sashes should be worn over the left shoulder. He even specifies that the sash should be attached with a circular brooch. 

This book is only one of many differing instructions on how to wear a tartan sash. In the end, you should just wear your sash however makes you the most comfortable. 

wool tartan sash

Your sash should be an extension of your own personal style. You can find countless examples of how to wear a sash all over the internet. For detailed instructions on one way to wear your sash, look here.

The same advice applies to all tartan. If you want to wear tartan, do it. Don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it. 

When you are ready to take the plunge into the world of tartan, be sure to check out all the fantastic offerings at The Celtic Croft. We are in love with all things Celtic, and we want to share that love with you.

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