Tartan for St Andrews Day

the theme:


Writers on clothes like to talk about their tartans. So today for the feast of Scotland’s patron saint, St Andrew, we’re featuring a whole load of references to tartans in a wide range of books.

An early Clothes in Books entry – back on Burns Night in January - dealt with a young woman choosing a dress that her Scottish father was horrified by. It’s Mrs Gaskell’s wonderful Wives and Daughters.

In the much-featured Wings of the Dove, Henry James describes a mother and two daughters visting an art gallery:
The mother, the puffed and composed whiteness of whose hair had no relation to her apparent age, showed a countenance almost chemically clean and dry; her companions wore an air of vague resentment humanised by fatigue; and the three were equally adorned with short cloaks of coloured cloth surmounted by little tartan hoods. The tartans were doubtless conceivable as different, but the cloaks, curiously, only thinkable as one.

They seem to have no role in the plot whatsoever. Meanwhile in An Experiment in Love, one of Hilary Mantel’s wonderful books (we looked at the girl in fox fur back in March), Karina wears a tartan pixie hood - not much otherwise in common with The Wings of the Dove.

This little boy wears a tartan kilt in Josephine Tey’s The Singing Sands.

In another blog favourite, The Old Wives’ Tale, there is this, as one of the sisters works together with her future husband, pricing items for the shop:
Povey thought of some new and wonderful word to put on a ticket. His last miracle was the word 'exquisite.' 'Exquisite,' pinned on a piece of broad tartan ribbon, appeared to Constance and Mr. Povey as the finality of appropriateness.

And at the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Professor McGonagall “was wearing dress robes of red tartan, and had arranged a rather ugly wreath of thistles around the brim of her hat.”


Rosie - from Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie so not an insignificant character – is wearing a tartan frock and a brass necklance when she leads young Laurie under the wagon, 
and astray, at harvest-time. Isn't she lovely?

 Follow the links to the entries to find the picture credits.


  1. Moira - What a terrific idea for St. Andrew's day! Tartan is such an important part of clothing history that I'm glad you've mentioned it. You've given some terrific examples, too.

  2. I have a tartan carpet in the entrance hall to my block of flats in London. It took a Scottish fried to point out it was Black Watch. Great post as usual Moira.


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