Its Autumn, which means the very welcome return of “Outlander” to my TV screen and a sudden preponderance of warming knitwear, tweeds, and tartans in shop windows. A happy coincidence I’m sure. Just as the temperature starts to drop and I’m thinking about layering up and nestling in over-sized cardigans there’s an abundance of woolens, shawls, cardigans, and jumpers available for purchase – hurrah!
Materials are so important to our lives, for protection against the elements, for easy identification (i.e. uniforms), and increasingly in our modern times mainly for pleasure - but in general, do we give them any more thought than their suitability for the event we’re engaged in? If we’re off to work, heading to a party, or out washing the car we’ve got an outfit in mind for that I’m sure – but what if we were making a political statement or displaying our allegiance to a certain social group?
Once upon a time, our clothing choices could have had dire consequences. After watching the Culloden scenes in “The Battle Joined” (Ep 1, Season 3) I remembered back to my history teacher telling us about the banning of the bagpipes and clan regalia, and most importantly how the wearing of clan tartan was deemed an offense against the Crown. Those found in breach of the law, the Dress Act of 1746, faced 6 months in prison, or for repeat offenders’ transportation to the colonies.
If clothes truly maketh the man, then denying the demoralized remnants of the Highland clans their tartan – their very identity - was an intentionally cruel move by the victors of 1745. The wearing of tartan was rebellion – something perhaps the tartan-wearing punk rockers of the 1970s were fully aware of – the denial of its use was to force final assimilation on a defeated population.
It’s the tartan that gets me every time – there’s a sudden quickening within me on sight of it. I’m 50% Scot so I’m beginning to wonder if there is some deeply embedded facet of my DNA that is switched on when I see it – the Scot in me resurgent. There seems to be an advancement, discovery or new testing procedure announced every week by the science boffins leading our way through the 21st Century; I’m half expecting the geniuses investigating our genes to identify that our individual predilections and preferences are embedded in our familial DNA and mitochondria.
You never know, my DNA might be tartan coloured after all.