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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Tartans for NC and SC

I got back last night from the first ever Greater Greenville Highland Games and Scottish Festival. First of all, I want to say that the event seemed to be a huge success! It was fairly well organized, especially for a first event, and very well attended. (There was a minor misunderstanding about the location of the museum's tent, but that was quickly handled in a very professional manner). I admit I did not get to wander about and see what all there was going on at the festival, as I could barely get away from the Scottish Tartans Museum's information tent. There seemed to always be a line of people waiting for information, but they all seemed to be having a great time. I look forward to going back to this event next year, and wish them the best of luck with it! They had a huge children's area (larger than any I have seen at other Highland Games) and as the father of three young bairns, I know my kids would have loved it. Next year we are bringing them, for sure!

But to the point of this blog posting; my father-in-law was there with me for the first half of the day, and he commented once after taking a stroll about the vendors that there was a tartan for South Carolina. "Yes," I said, pointing to a lady walking by wearing a Carolina tartan skirt. "That's the Carolina tartan -- it's the official tartan of the states of North and South Carolina." (This is the one pictured here at right).

"No," he said, "there is a different one for SC. It's more blue. There is one for NC, too. There was a guy over there selling them."

Sigh. Here we go again. I explained to him that all was not always as it seemed to be in the tartan world.

I dealt with this topic more than a year ago in a Scottish Banner article. In this article I made the point that, in order to be official, a tartan must be approved by some governing body. For a clan tartan, that would be the chief of the clan. For a state tartan, like we are talking about here, it would be the state legislature. There are lots of non-official tartans out there. Strictly speaking they are considered "fashion tartans," and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them, so long as one does not mislead people by claiming a higher status for them than they actually merit.

I dealt specifically with the Carolina tartan towards the end of that article. The Carolina tartan has been officially adopted as a state symbol by both NC (in 1991) and SC (in 2002). You can read about the history of this tartan and find links to the actual acts of legislature here.

But a fellow in Scotland has decided to design and market two new tartans under the names of North Carolina and South Carolina. Neither one has any official status with the states whose names they bear, and I pointed this fact out in my article. They are "fashion tartans." I also criticized the designer for using language on his web site that made it sound as if these tartans were official.

For my trouble I got a very long and angry letter from the gentleman (which I have not mentioned in public until now) basically making the following points:

  1. The Carolina tartan is not a very attractive tartan.
  2. The legislature officially adopting it was bad legislature.
  3. It is illogical for two states to share the same tartan.
  4. There is no such thing as a "fashion tartan."
  5. I was a stupid American, and what did I know?
  6. He actually compared me to Hitler and the Communists!
It was not a very rational letter, and I must say I never did give it a reply. For what it is worth, states share state symbols all the time (both NC and VA have the cardinal as the state bird, for instance). And it is also not unheard of for a tartan to be used by more than one family or place (such as the Russell, Hunter, Mitchell and Galbraith tartan; or the Black Watch, which is also Clan Campbell, Hunting Grant, Hunting Munro, and Sutherland District).

In any case, I let that lie until I met a gentleman who wanted two kilts, one each in the NC and SC tartans. I explained to him that the actual tartan adopted by both of the states was the Carolina tartan, and that these new tartans had no official status. He decided after talking with me to buy three kilts. One in the official Carolina tartan, and one each in the unofficial NC and SC tartans. That was perfectly fine by me. I could supply the cloth for the Carolina tartan, but as the NC and SC tartans were private designs, I told him he had to buy the cloth from Bonbright Woolens, who was licensed to sell it in the US. He phoned them up on the spot and ordered yardage for his kilts, and was told it was in stock and would ship within a couple of weeks. (I was standing right there when he made the call).

A few months later his Carolina cloth had come in and I had his kilt ready for him. He came to pick it up, and I asked him about the cloth for the other two tartans. He said he had been in touch with the woolen mill and apparently they were wrong when they told him it was in stock. They said they didn't have the cloth, and that due to a lack of interest in the tartans, they had no plans to weave it in the near future. So there you have it.

So I was rather surprised, then, to see a vendor representing these tartans at the Greenville Games. I went to see his booth -- it was a small booth, and he had mostly nick-nacks, like key rings and t-shirts, showing the two tartans. I did not get the name of the business, or the man working the table. I overheard him telling a gentleman that anyone could wear these tartans that wanted to. I was curious as to what he was telling people about the tartans -- I didn't want to be rude, but I wanted to know. (I also forgot I had a name tag on that identified me with the Scottish Tartans Museum, so I don't know if that played a role in his answers!). We had a brief conversation that went something like this:

Me: "Do you also sell the actual Carolina tartan?"
Him: "We could get it if someone wanted it, but we really try and push these two tartans because they are new."
Me: "Have either of those tartans been approved by the states?"
Him: "No, they haven't. But lots of the district tartans in Scotland have never been officially approved. They are adopted by popular use..."
Me: "Oh, sure. But both NC and SC have officially adopted the Carolina tartan, haven't they?"
Him: "Yes, they have. But these tartans have been registered with the Scottish Tartans World Register."
Me: "Yeah, but that doesn't really mean anything one way or the other..."
Him: "Well, lots of tartans aren't officially approved, but you can wear whatever you want."
Me: "That's true, you can wear whatever you want."
Him: "Really it's your own choice what tartan you wear."
Me: "Yes, that' true, it is a matter of choice."
Him: "I mean, there are no tartan police."
Me: (Suspecting that he was thinking I was the tartan police) "Yep, good thing, eh?"

At that point, he was looking like he really wished I would leave, and I really had no desire to be rude. Plus they probably needed me back at my own tent, so I quietly slipped away.

(For comparison's sake, can you imagine the same conversation about a clan tartan? What if I decided that I wanted to design an all new tartan for the Clan Mackenzie, without the approval of the cheif, and market that as the Mackenzie tartan? Can you imagine me telling people, "Well, it's been registered with the US Patent office, and really you can wear whatever you like, there are no tartan police...")

So the NC and SC tartans are still out there, and it seems there is still an effort to promote them. I was glad that the gentleman, when questioned, admitted that these tartans had no official approval. But I doubt he offered that information to people unless they asked, and I bet most people never think to ask.

Right down the way a bit was a booth selling items in the (official) Furman University tartan (the Games were held at Furman). So a visitor to these Games, the first ever in Greenville, SC, will walk past a booth and see the official tartan for Furman University. Then he'll walk past a booth and see a tartan for SC being sold, and a tartan for NC, as well. The actual Carolina tartan, adopted as a symbol by both states, is nowhere to be seen at the booth. The impression given to the average person is that these NC and SC tartans are legitimate.

I'm not saying people cannot wear them, if they want to. The man was absolutely right about that. You can wear whatever tartan you like under the sun! It would have been nice, however, if at the first ever Games held in Greenville, South Carolina, if the actual tartan adopted by the state would have been displayed and promoted more.


Heath Barkley said...

Great read Matt! It's sad that the official tartan wasn't promoted. Perhaps that is something you could sugggest to the organizers for next year. At the Heart of Tennessee Scottish Celebration games, the organizers have a booth set up for the official Tennessee tartan. They do alot to promote it. Unfortunately, I haven't seen a kilt in it yet.

Guitargasm said...

Hi Matt, I was at the Greenville games too...nearly passed out at one point, wasn't it overwhelmingly HOT?
Anyway, thanks for the information on these tartans, I too stopped by that tent. I thought it was aneat idea and that the palis were really pretty, but didn't know that they weren't official. Then again, I'm embarrassed to say, I was unaware of what goes into making them official etc. I'm very much into my Scottish heritage, but confess to being woefully ignorant in many ways regarding it. Going to the games (we usually go to the Loch Norman games) usually revives my interest, but this is the first time I'm come across anything online like this, so thank you. I will be reading all your blogs from now on, and I'm really glad I "ran into" you!

P.S.(I also confess to wearing "fashion tartans"...I can't afford real plaid yet. Plus, my family is so overwhelmingly Scottish, I really can't decide which one to wear! :D )


Guitargasm said...

Oops! *embarrassed* I meant to say PLAID, not "palis"...don't know where that came from! And me a writer with and English degree...

As long as I'm here again...what did you think of the "MacBubba" tent? Funny stuff!

Brian Carpenter said...

Speaking of state tartans, I'm really surprised that there isn't one for New York State (though there is a gorgeous one for the City).
A design opportunity, Matt...?


Hi, Matt. I met you at the Museum in March at spoke to you at the Tent at the Gville games. I too spoke to the gentleman about the "new" tartan. I'm glad I read your comments. I'm still a novice to kilts and I appreciated your remarks. I, too, try to keep a head on what's traditional and kosher with kilts. Thanks again for the history lesson on official kilt for SC and NC.

David (and Mary) Revan