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How tartan became a staple in wardrobes everywhere

Words by Hannah Cole

Illustration by Twylamae

It all started with a statement.

The fashion world is stuck in an endless cycle of Clueless meets Outlander, and I am not complaining.

If the recent Fall 2018 shows are anything to go by, tartan is an evergreen wardrobe staple. Marco de Vincenzo sent one model down the runway in shapely green and red plaid flares: a billowy hark back to the 1970s. Meanwhile, at Versace, Cher Horowitz made her runway debut. Vying for the hearts and wardrobes of every ’90s girl, the collection brimmed with tartan mini-skirts, blazers and everything in between. And at Christian Dior, plaid lent its hand to classic suiting and sheer, pleated skirts fit for famed street style stars.

But how did the classic Scottish Highland print make its way on to our runways and into our wardrobes?

It all started with a statement. Vivienne Westwood is arguably the Queen of Tartan, bringing the print into fashions’ scrupulous spotlight. An anarchic uniform trembled to the surface in 1970s punk London with her use and abuse of tartan, safety pins and shredded garments. Tartan became protest and provocation, which ultimately became high fashion. Westwood’s famed AW 1993 show, Anglomania, featured tartan mini-kilts and ball-gowns, now a significant mainstay within her collections. With a specially-designed tartan for Westwood, she has crafted a clan of her own: a group ready to protest and revolt while looking pretty fab.

The symbol of rebellion became synonymous with the coming-of-age experience, largely attributed to the ’90s film, Clueless. The typical school uniform shifted into feminine-yet-formidable costuming on Cher Horowitz and her kick-ass sidekick, Dionne. Just that opening scene – a yellow Dolce and Gabbana mini tartan two-piece – speaks to all my teenage dreams. Dripping in a fashion-forward suit any force can be overcome, from difficult men to unsavoury school marks.

Now the ultimate uniform of power presents itself in many forms; crossing the boundaries between luxury and fast fashion. We can’t get enough. No longer the identifying tool of a particular group, tartan has earned a place in the fashion sub-sets of all. Each of us can be part of the tartan gang – make it girly or masculine, Versace glam or rebel Vivienne Westwood.

If only I’d held onto my primary school tartan uniform because what goes around comes around. And tartan will always be around.

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