Belted Plaid - Description and History

Description and History

The belted plaid consisted of a piece of tartan fabric approximately 4 or 5 yards in length and about 50 to 60 inches wide. Since the weaving looms in those years wove fabric in 25–30 inch widths, the actual item was generally constructed from 8 to 10 yards of such single-width fabric by stitching two 25–30 inch pieces together to get the 50–60 inch width.

It was typically worn as a kind of mantle or cloak cast about one's shoulders. In the latter part of the 16th Century, some in the Highlands of Scotland began putting a belt around their waist on the outside of the plaid, after first pleating or gathering the fabric.

The first clear reference to the belted plaid occurs in the year 1594. In that year, a group of Highlanders from the Western Isles went to Ireland to fight under Red Hugh O'Donnell. Writing about them, Lughaidh noted how they could be distinguished from the Irish soldiers:

"They were recognized among the Irish soldiers by the distinction of their arms and clothing . . . for their exterior dress was mottled cloaks of many colors. . ., their belts were over their loins outside their cloaks."

The belted plaid was used not only as a garment, but also for bedding at night, the wearer wrapping himself in it and sleeping directly on the ground.

It was made from wool or a wool/linen combination and twill woven in a pattern of colored stripes which today has become known as tartan, though originally the word tartan referred to the type of cloth (like linen, or cotton) and not the pattern of colors as the word almost exclusively signifies today.

These patterns (or Sett) were apparently chosen based on a sense of fashion or the availability and expense of natural dyes in the area of manufacture. The modern notion of "clan tartans" whereby each clan or name is associated with a particular design did not exist at that time, but instead dates back to the early 19th century. Thus if one desires to wear the belted plaid at Highland Games, it would not be inappropriate (much less incorrect) to wear any tartan pattern of one's choosing or invention. In fact, not all such garments were woven in strict accord with the modern definition of tartan pattern.

Read more about this topic:  Belted Plaid

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