As lately I've been all about building a Regency wardrobe, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I jumped at the chance to make Regency tartan. In particular, I am in love with these two fashion plates:
|Paris fashions after Waterloo, 1815. Please excuse the blur--I scanned this from the book The Costume of Scotland, by John Dunbar|
But was tartan really popular during the 18-teens? or are these images unique?
As I discussed here and here, the wearing of Highland dress was banned after the Jacobite uprising (the Act of Proscription, 1747, can be read in full here). The act was officially repealed in 1782, but for at least two or three decades before that the enforcement of the law had dropped off. In fact, even before the repeal the Highland Society of London was founded in 1778, which strove to preserve the art of tartan weaving as well as preserve the already dwindling Gaelic language and culture of the Scottish highlands. The society also maintained a philanthropic branch which aided expatriots and worked to promote economic and agricultural growth in the highlands. The society was instrumental in the repeal of the Dress Act, and was the first group to collect tartan patterns specifically from the clans, which they kept in The Collection of Certified Tartans--the beginnings of the modern governmental board.
|Diploma of the Highland Society of London, designed by Benjamin West 1805|
During the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, these Highland regiments played a large role and were well-known by their tartan uniforms, which had developed into a standardized set by 1812.
|Illustration of Grenadiers from the 43nd and 92nd Highlanders during Waterloo, 1815|
|"Mac Mhic Alasdair," by Henry Raeburn, 1812. Portrait of Colonel Alasdair MacDonnell of Glengarry, wearing a fabulous ensemble meant to show his heritage as leader of Gaelic society--but actually demonstrating the latest fashion in regency menswear|
These uniforms were similar to more traditional British military dress in that the color of facings and jacket details varied based on the regiment. The standardized kilt was of the "'Government Pattern,' a dark tartan of green, blue, and black in which distinguishing lines of red, white and yellow were added for different regiments" (Tartan by Hugh Cheape, p44). This tartan was adopted into women's fashion during the period as well; wearing military-inspired items was a common occurrence during the regency, and there are many other examples of this besides the wearing of tartan.
|a cartoon portrait by John Kay, in which the ladies are wearing feminized versions of the West Lowland Fencibles uniform, 1795 (courtesy of the British Museum)|
|Registered tartan of the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment, as recorded 1819|
|Black Watch tartan, originally dated 1725|
|Sir Etienne Tache, date unkown. Noted that the owner fought in the War of 1812|
|tartan of the 42nd Highlanders, dated 1797|
This is just an assortment of the ones I like--you can find all of them in the Register of Tartans, and several more of my selections on my Pinterest board.
But did women really wear tartan? We know from the 1801 fashion plate that plaid was present to some degree in women's fashion, and certainly tartan was quite popular by 1815.
|fashion plate 1814, plaid shawl and plaid ribbon-trimmed bonnet|
|tartan-themed opera dress (and hat!) in Ackerman's Repository, 1814|
|Day dresses for June, 1802. The one on the right is plaid!|
|"Portrait of a Lady, Half-Length, in a Plumed Dress and a Tartan Shawl" by Sir Henry Raeburn, c. 1756-1823|
|tartan walking dress, 1811|
For those on the other side? A tartan ribbon at the waist, on a hat (or a tartan bonnet!), or a piece of outerwear (shawl, spencer) are perfectly acceptable.
I will certainly be keeping an eye out for navy blue/hunter green-based tartans at the fabric store...
Scottish Register of Tartans (see the link above)
Costume of Scotland, by John Dunbar (1981)
Tartan, by Hugh Cheape (1995)
The National Museum of Scotland
The British Museum