A collection of display cases featuring tartan fashion pieces, including dresses, jumpsuits and shawls.

Tartan Highlights

Last chance to see – Tartan is on show until 14 January 2024.

With over 300 fascinating objects in the Tartan exhibition at V&A Dundee there's so much to explore and see. Here are just a few of the highlights:

1)     The Big Yin’s Grand Marshal kilt

Legendary Scottish comedian Sir Billy Connolly wore this kilt in 2019 when he led a procession of 3000 people through New York for the annual NYC Tartan Day Parade. The kilt joined the exhibition in October 2023 as part of The People’s Tartan, a collection of objects displayed throughout the exhibition following an appeal for the public's tartan treasures. 

The kilt was designed and made for Sir Billy by Edinburgh-based master kilt-maker Howie Nicolsby and features Connolly’s mother’s tartan - the McLean of Duart.

Sir Billy says "I like to wear my mother’s tartan. It is McLean of Duart and I love this pinky, weathered one. For the Tartan Day Parade Howie Nicolsby made me a fantastic kilt. He's at the head of the movement to make the kilt a ‘Windswept and Interesting’ alternative to trousers all over the world. I love that.” 

2)     Frances Farquharson’s fashion

The marriage of American socialite and Vogue/Harper’s Bazaar fashion journalist, Frances Farquharson to the Laird of Invercauld in 1949 resulted in some of the most impressive modern interpretations of traditional Highland garments when she moved into the historic Braemar Castle in the heart of the Highlands.

Always stylish, Farquharson pushed the boundaries of colour and pattern, mixing with her fashionable friends, such as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. The exhibition presents three of Frances’ most fashionable and chic ensembles from her extraordinary wardrobe.

3)     The Glen Affric Tartan - Scotland’s oldest true tartan

Scientific findings in 2022 revealed that a piece of tartan fabric discovered in Glen Affric's peat bog was dated to circa 1500-1600, making it the oldest known ‘true tartan’ specimen in Scotland. Displaying this tartan at V&A Dundee is a historic moment, as it marks the first public showcase of this ancient textile anywhere in the world.

While earlier examples like the Falkirk tartan from the third century A.D. exist, the Glen Affric tartan stands out as a genuine piece of Scottish history, distinct for its true tartan qualities. A monumental find, which adds a new chapter to the rich tapestry of Scotland's textile heritage.

4)     Sir Jackie Stewart’s racing helmet

One of Britain’s all time sporting greats, three-time World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart famously wore a helmet with a band of Royal Stewart tartan round it to celebrate his Scottish heritage.

The tartan made him easily identifiable and became synonymous with his career. He also commissioned the Stewart Racing Tartan for his motor racing team.

5)     Kilt from Auber's Ridge 1914-15

Exploring tartan from a political and military perspective is a kilt worn by Private James Calder at the Battle of Aubers Ridge in the First World War.

While the battle claimed the lives of hundreds of his comrades, Calder was lucky to survive, returning home injured, deemed ‘no longer physically fit for service’. This kilt is a poignant reminder of the tragedy he witnessed and endured. It was kept in his family unwashed and donated to the Highlanders Regimental Museum in Fort George, Inverness, as a permanent testament to the horrors of war.

Don’t miss the extraordinary footage from National Theatre of Scotland’s ‘Black Watch’ play about soldiers from the legendary Scottish regiment also on display in the exhibition.

6)     Violet Chachki's ‘Tartan Eleganza’

Violet Chachki is an American drag queen who turned Tartan on its head with this statement look from RuPaul’s Drag Race – a global TV phenomenon which searches for the ‘next drag superstar’.

Whilst on the TV catwalk, Chachki unbuckled a black sequinned gown to reveal a tartan-spangled jumpsuit, whilst declaring ‘I’m giving you tartan eleganza!’, a sensational example of tartan’s enduring importance in high couture fashion and streetwear, as well as its ability to cross genders with an air of rebellion.

7)     Alexander McQueen dresses  

Alexander McQueen was one of the most celebrated British fashion designers of recent years, admired globally for his original blend of subversion and tradition. The exhibition presents three stunning garments, each in McQueen’s own family tartan, which draw on elements of Scotland’s more painful history.

The first outfit is from the ‘Widows of Culloden’ collection, made as if for a grieving Jacobite widow. The second, from ‘Highland Rape’, is informed by the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, where highlanders were forcefully evicted by landowners to make way for more profitable ways to work the land. The third outfit is from ‘Joan’, a collection dedicated to Catholic martyrs Mary, Queen of Scots and the French, Joan of Arc.

8)     Tartan Xbox controller

The Xbox tartan celebrates the close-knit community of video gamers who refer to each other as ‘clans’. The 21st century tartan was commissioned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the video game console’s launch in Scotland.

This tartan is an innovative example of weaving, using only single threads to create a digital pixelated effect for the tartan sett, inspired by video game graphics. The design was woven in by Lochcarron, the oldest weaving mill in Scotland and has now been endorsed by the Scottish Tartans Authority and entered into The Scottish Register of Tartans.

The controller is one of only 20 Tartan Xbox controllers in the world.

Tartan runs until 14 January 2024 - book online for an exclusive £2 discount.