Choosing A Tartan

Posted on September 08 2017

Choosing a tartan you like is often the first step in discovering your perfect kilt outfit - but it’s not always easy. You may want a tartan that honours your Scottish heritage. Alternatively, maybe there’s a particular colour you want to showcase, or you know for certain you want a weathered look.

Not every tartan is linked to a family or place name. At Kilt Society™, we think you can (and should) wear whatever tartan you fancy. All the same, here are our answers to your most popular tartan questions.



The short and simple of it is that you can wear whatever tartan you want. There are very few exceptions to this rule; for example, the Balmoral tartan, by Royal decree, should only be worn by the British Royal Family. At the end of the day, you’ll want a tartan that suits your personal style. Regardless of your Scottish heritage (and even if you hate the look of your clan tartan), there’s a tartan out there for you.



Your first step is to head over to our Tartan Directory where you can browse our 1,000+ tartans, arranged in alphabetical order. Know exactly what clan or surname you’re looking for? Type it in the search box to see the available variations.

If you can’t find your name, try doing a bit of research over at the Scottish Tartans Authority. Their extensive tartan database can help you investigate your personal connection to different tartans. If you know there are different spellings of your surname, be sure to search those as well. Get creative, as many tartans are linked to place names (including those outside of Scotland), schools, corporations, and military divisions.

If you still haven’t managed to discover any Scottish roots, have a browse of our Tartan Directory. We’re positive you’ll find something you like.



Most tartans have colour variations, commonly ancient, modern, dress, hunting, and weathered. While the variations generally follow the same colour palette, the shades can differ significantly. 


Ancient tartans are lighter and softer than modern tartans, appearing more pastel-like. Reds will look more orange, while blues and greens won't be as bold. Because of its lighter shades, the pattern of an ancient tartan is more easily seen. 

An 'ancient' tartan is not necessarily older than a modern tartan. The name 'ancient' comes from the tartan's lighter look, made to look like it was produced with natural dyes (like vegetable and animal dyes). 


Modern tartans are much bolder. They often share a sett with the ancient tartan, but with darker, stronger colours. Blues will look navy, and reds and greens will appear much deeper. Because of this, the pattern of your modern tartan might be more difficult to pick out.

The name 'modern' comes from the darker look made available following the introduction of chemical dyes after 1860.


Dress tartans are inspired by the earasaids of Highlander women from the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, these tartans are most commonly found in Highland dancing, but are worn by men and women alike to all occasions.

The most distinctive feature of a dress tartan is its sofert look, achieved by replacing one of the ancient or modern tartan's prominent colours with white.  


Hunting tartans were developed using colours from nature so the wearer could better blend in with the woodlands when hunting. Clans whose tartan is already heavy in hues of green and brown often will not have a hunting tartan. These tartans pair particularly well with a tweed jacket and accessories


Weathered tartans are meant to give the impression that they've been left out in the elements, faded from exposure to the sun, wind and rain. No matter their colour, these tartans will appear worn and aged - a great option for a rustic look.



Once you’ve chosen a tartan from our Tartan Directory, you’ll be offered different cloth options for that tartan, categorised by weight. The tartan's weight refers to the thickness of the cloth. The thicker the yarn, the wider the sett and the heavier the cloth. 

A standard kilt is usually made from 13oz material. A 11oz is a great alternative if you’re looking for a lightweight kilt, while a 16oz or 18oz cloth makes a heavier, more durable kilt.

Each mill produces a slightly different quality of cloth, reflected in the price. A lower priced cloth may be made from recycled yarns, meaning it may not be as durable as a higher priced cloth - something to bear in mind if you wear your kilt regularly.

Regardless, each mill will follow the same colour pattern, so the tartan should look very similar across mills. Slight variations will occur from the mill’s chosen substance used to dye the yarn, and even across different batches of cloth from the same mill.

Still not quite sure? We've got you covered. Get in touch.


  • Gregers Mansfeldt: December 13, 2017

    Most informative! I very much appreciate your approach to kilt wearing.

  • The Skelton: November 19, 2017

    Which tartan for the above Surname?

  • Megan: September 11, 2017

    Hey Thomas. While there isn’t a McPherson Hunting tartan, our custom made kilts are available in both MacPherson Hunting Modern and MacPherson Hunting Ancient. Hope that helps!

  • Thomas McPherson: September 10, 2017

    Looking for a Hunting McPherson kilt.

  • Lianne Bruce: September 09, 2017

    We have Bruce Ancient

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